Maritime Power in the Black Sea
By Deborah Sanders

What constitutes power? How do states employ that power? Simply counting tanks, ships or missiles would be vast oversimplification, and yet that detail is still required for an accurate measure of power. Power, at its essence, is the ability of a state to force another to bend to its will, so measuring that ability is fundamental to the study of geopolitics. Yet power exists both in the physical realm of guns and bombs and in the more ethereal world that incorporates of cultural relationship to particular geographic features. How do you measure such a complex concept?

Deborah Sanders’ “Maritime Power in the Black Sea” is an attempt to answer that question. The focus of this book, of course, is the Black Sea, a medium-sized body of water that only has one non-riverine exit point to the wider world – the Bosporus. Geographic peculiarities such as these predispose the Black Sea’s shores to conflict. But Sanders goes beyond the military domain and attempts a broader examination of power that considers each state’s overall relationship, both military and commercial, with the Black Sea, and explores how geography limits or enables the exercise of that power.

Sanders approaches her analysis by defining three broad categories of variables: quantitative, qualitative and context. Quantitative is perhaps the most straightforward, focusing on the military and commercial inventory each state has available and its access to resources. Qualitative addresses issues that cannot be captured with a mere accounting, such as accumulated, cross-generational maritime expertise, or the level of training and professionalism of a country’s navy. Context is the most ambiguous, but also perhaps the most critical, and it is within this category that Sanders deals with relative interstate balance of power between Black Sea littoral states, as well as historical causes for either friendly or adversarial relations. Sanders uses these three categories to investigate each Black Sea state in turn, and though the book at this point is a little out of date (it was published in 2014), it is an exhaustive analysis of relative power in and around the Black Sea.

Xander Snyder, analyst