BOOK REVIEW – The New Battle for the Atlantic

Nordenman, Magnus Fredrik, The New Battle for the Atlantic. Annapolis: USNI, 2019. 272 pp.

Review by Lt Col Michael Epper,
Director of Operations and Instructor, Department of History, USAF Academy

The focus of this book is to provide the reader with a brief overview of the current political and military developments of the Russian Navy for dominance in the North Atlantic Basin as it relates to NATO. The author, Magnus Nordenman is an expert on maritime affairs within NATO who previously served as the Director for the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council. Additionally, he has lectured at NATO’s Maritime Command, the US Naval War College and other military educational institutions. The book project began as a research project while Nordenman worked at the Atlantic Council. With the help of leading voices in the Naval Historical field it was developed into the product put into print in 2019.

The main focus of the book is what Nordenman calls “The fourth battle of the Atlantic.” As the current Russian Navy awakens from its post-Soviet slumber it is once again vying for dominance and potential control of the far North Atlantic and Kola Sea. The crux of Nordenman’s argument, is that in a post-Soviet Union/Cold War era the large infrastructure and national capital investments that NATO made to contain the perceived threat of the Soviet Union’s Northern Fleet, was no longer needed. Based on this deduction, many NATO countries, the US included, allowed their naval surface fleets and maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) assets to atrophy over the past twenty years in the face of limited to no threats.

Over the last ten years, the Russian Navy has made large capital investments in the development of new classes of submarines and the associated port capabilities needed to support the fleet. Additionally, there has been a large change in the tenner of the Russian government, from one of past superpower, to an emerging regional power player. This change in attitude has reinvigorated the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet and presented new challenges to NATO that are not easily overcome in the short term. The changes NATO needs to make require a fundamental shift in the political and fiscal priorities of the alliance at a time when many member nations are facing austerity cuts domestically. While large capital investments can produce results relatively quickly the manpower and expertise needed by NATO countries to accurately use the power projection platforms will take significantly longer to replace.

Nordenman backs his argument up with an extensive works cited page that captures the geopolitical dialogue in a NATO alliance that is no longer focused on maritime threats but defending itself against a real land threat from Russia. While the book was researched in the year’s preceding its publication 2019, a search of the two main topics (MPA and Atlantic Fleet Command) shows that Nordenman’s discussion points and predicted directions for NATO countries are accurate and the alliance is making progress to achieving the stated goals.

The book is interesting and easy to follow. While it is not necessary to understand the previous “three” battles for control it is helpful. For the uneducated reader, Nordenman does devote approximately one third of the book to a historical overview of World War I, World War II and the Cold War with the predominance of the background focused on US led NATO operations during the Cold War. The remaining portion of the book focuses on the question at hand. The book is best suited to serve as a helpful starting point for an overview of the topic for a graduate student or for someone looking to expand their knowledge on the topic. The book’s focus on higher level problems is too much for an entry-level college student but not enough to justify serving as a solid source for a graduate-level courses.

(Return to May 2021 Table of Contents) 

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