Expert Workshop: Conceptualizing Maritime & Naval Strategy

In “Alice in Wonderland” (1865), the novel’s main character comes upon a cat sitting on a tree at a fork in the road. “Where should I go?” Alice asks, to which the feline responds, “Where do you wish to go?” “I don’t know”, says the protagonist. “Then it doesn’t matter“, quips the cat. The lesson is clear: Without a defined goal or end state and absent a clear raison d’être, the result of any decision-making is chaotic.

This message resonated with more than twenty specialists from eight nations who gathered in Kiel on 20 June 2018 for the Center for Maritime Strategy & Security (CMSS) side event to the Kiel International Seapower Symposium held the day before. In the personal setting of a workshop, these experts were invited to share their insights and views on maritime and naval strategy, discuss some lessons learned, and to identify needs and opportunities in synchronizing naval capstone documents. Some of the guests were (or continue to be) active participants in writing such documents, whereas others serve as analysts and policy advisors at think tanks and ministries in their respective home countries.

In the first session, Dr. Sebastian Bruns (Head of CMSS and Director Kiel Seapower Series) provided a brief about the efforts of a strategic advisory group to the German Chief of Navy. Between 2014 and 2016, a hand-picked group of naval officers and civilians drafted a capstone document to articulate the state of strategic thinking within the Deutsche Marine, some language of which has found its ways into naval planning and operations. The second session, chaired by Dr. Sarandis “Randy” Papadopoulos of the Navy Department/U.S. Department of Defense (Washington, D.C.), added perspectives on allied strategies: Prof. Andrzej Makowski, Polish Naval Academy (Gdynia), shed light on writing Poland’s Maritime Security Strategy, whereas Dr. Eric Grove reminisced about his contribution to British Maritime Doctrine. The third and final session, chaired by Dr. Bruns, focused on the U.S. Navy. Bruce Stubbs, Director OPNAV 50 (Department of Defense, Washington, D.C.) and Professor Peter Dombrowski, U.S. Naval War College (Newport, RI), reflected on best practices and lessons learned – a timely endeavor given the increasing inner-alliance strain.

Sensing an increasingly high responsibility for maritime thinkers in this day and age, the participants agreed that modern seapower has an important role to play in the systemic sense for the global system as well as for deterrence, national defense, and alliance security. Forums such as those hosted under the aegis of experts from the CMSS and its Kiel Seapower Series can contribute to the exchange of ideas and promote learning from each other. Or as one participant put it, “Shared knowledge is empowerment.”


The Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK) provides research, analysis and commentary on conflicts and strategic issues. ISPK is committed to furthering the security policy discourse in Germany and abroad by way of focused, interdisciplinary, policy-oriented research.