Gunboat Diplomacy: Does It Have A Place In The 1990's? AUTHOR LCDR Thomas D. Goodall, USN CSC 1991 SUBJECT AREA - Foreign Policy EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: GUNBOAT DIPLOMACY: DOES IT HAVE A PLACE IN THE 1990's? Historically navies have been the tools often used by maritime nations for expressing the threat to resort to force. This use of maritime power is frequently defined as "Gunboat Diplomacy." This employment of sea based power to further the national interests, whether on the high seas or within the jurisdiction of a foreign state, has been described by some as an obsolete practice. An examination of the praxis of gunboat diplomacy questions this claim. Naval power can be applied either in a latent form as illustrated by the routine operations of navies in peacetime or in its active form. The active component can take the form of deterring an adversary, expressing support for an ally, or compelling foes to modify their actions. The unique abilities of navies as instruments of foreign policy, when contrasted with that of other military and diplomatic forms, provides gunboat diplomacy with some unequaled capabilities to assert diplomatic influence. The United States Navy with its unmatched ability to project power via aircraft carrier based aviation, ship launched cruise missiles, and amphibious assault forces furnishes the Unites States with a unique ability to exercise gunboat diplomacy. The careful management of this capability offers political leaders the opportunity to tailor the national response with an unequalled degree of precision. Gunboat Diplomacy has been likened to a screwdriver used to torque a particular screw, not a hammer used to drive home a point. As such it will continue to be an important term in the vocabulary of diplomacy during the 1990's. The challenges that face both political and military leaders are two fold. The first and most important is the optimum employment of naval forces when practicing gunboat diplomacy. The second is designing and maintaining a force structure to support the practice to the maximum degree possible while taking into account other competing missions. The concept is not obsolete, but does require refining in response to changes in both the diplomatic calculus and the technological environment. The 1990's will demonstrate that gunboat diplomacy is in fact still a valid tool of diplomacy. It will continue to play an important roll in diplomatic calculus, just as navies will continue to be important instruments to be used in support of national interests. GUNBOAT DIPLOMACY: DOES IT HAVE A PLACE IN THE 199O's OUTLINE Thesis. Some maritime strategists associate gunboat diplomacy with the bygone era of colonialism, concluding that it is an obsolete concept; however, gunboat diplomacy will be a vital element in the U.S. maritime posture of the 1990's. I. Definition of gunboat diplomacy. A. James Cable's definition. B. Cable's method of examining gunboat diplomacy. C. Edward Luttwak's paradigm for naval (gunboat) diplomacy. D. Differentiation between "gunboat diplomacy" and "showing the flag". II. Contention that Gunboat Diplomacy is obsolete. A. Peter Nailor's opinion that the utility of gunboat diplomacy is declining. B. Ken Booth's assertion that there is no prospect for the revival of gunboat diplomacy. III. Why gunboat diplomacy will continue to play a vital role in the global calculus of the 1990's. A. Unique ability of Maritime forces to further diplomatic interests in the 1990's. B. Situations in which naval leverage is appropriate. C. The future of gunboat diplomacy. Introduction Historically, navies have commonly been the instrument of choice for expressing the threat to resort to force by maritime nations. A 1976 Brookings Institution report concluded that naval forces participated in 177 of 215 recorded instances of U.S. military diplomacy between 1946 and 1975. The researchers summarized: "Naval units participated in more than four out of every five incidents. Land-based forces were used in fewer incidents, and rarely without simultaneous participation of naval units."1 The use of maritime power represented above fits the definition of Gunboat Diplomacy as defined by Sir James Cable in his thought provoking work, Gunboat Diplomacy 1919-1979. He provides the following definition: Gunboat Diplomacy is the use or threat of limited naval force, otherwise than as an act of war, in order to secure advantage, or to avert loss, either in the furtherance of an international dispute or else against foreign nationals within the territory or the jurisdiction of their own state.2 For the purpose of analysis, Cable defines the uses of Gunboat Diplomacy as either "definitive," "purposeful," "catalytic," or "expressive."3 A more useful concept for this evaluation is that outlined by Edward Luttwak in his study, The Political Uses of Sea Power. Luttwak defines what he terms "naval suasion," a "conveniently neutral term... whose own meaning usefully suggests the indirectness of any political application of naval force."4 Luttwak's suasion is either "latent" (routine undirected naval operations) or "active" (consciously designed naval operations). These "active" operations could be developed to deter an adversary, express support of an ally or compel a foe or potential foes to modify their action(s). In its "latent" form naval forces may be coincidentally positioned while exerting coercive influence. In the majority of instances the influential positioning is unplanned; the victim instead infers it.5 Luttwak concludes that accidental latent naval diplomacy can be converted to its active form with ease.6 Thus the transition from routine peacetime operations for naval forces to gunboat diplomacy is a diplomatic tool available in the arsenal of statecraft, even when the latent diplomacy is purely accidental. When examining the praxis of gunboat diplomacy, one must take care not to confuse the practice with the much more common naval practice of "showing the flag." Showing the flag becomes gunboat diplomacy only when the risk of encountering armed resistance is expected.7 Showing the flag can be nothing more than a gentle reminder of the existence of the navy concerned. It can be either invited or uninvited, but there is no real intention to use force. The resultant expectations of the nation showing the flag are extremely limited in their scope. The symbolic conduct of diplomacy finds its naval equivalent in this practice. A practice that may involve showing either a friendly flag to reassure a threatened government or an unfriendly flag to underscore a particular point in the diplomatic arena.8 For purposes of this examination I will define Gunboat Diplomacy as Cable does, "the use or threat of limited naval force, otherwise than an act of war." This act of coercive diplomacy finds itself embedded in the political application of limited naval force, whether it is defined as active or latent in Luttwak's model. Some maritime strategists associate gunboat diplomacy with the bygone era of colonialism, concluding that it is an obsolete concept; however, gunboat diplomacy will be a vital element in the U.S. maritime posture of the 1990's. Is Gunboat Diplomacy An Obsolete Tool? It has been postulated by some that gunboat diplomacy has outlived its usefulness as a major instrument of foreign policy. Peter Nailor writes that gunboat diplomacy is an outdated tool that was important when the global community consisted of a smaller number of sovereign states controlling or dominating a larger number of dependencies. He concludes that with the much greater degree of global interdependence, faster and more accurate means of communication, more developed and less complex international organizations, and growing sophistication of intelligence networks this traditional means of expressing national power is obsolete. Nailor relegates gunboat diplomacy to an era in which, "The use, or the threat of use, of force was a practical and legitimate tool of statecraft in a world where no one state was so powerful that its pretensions were incontestable."9 In his work Law, Force & Diplomacy At Sea, Ken Booth claims the relative utility of warships with respect to diplomacy has declined and will continue to do so. He does concede that for some nations, warships will remain important diplomatic tools and defenders of what he terms "maritime sovereignty."10 Booth very correctly points out that warships have the ability to "get countries into trouble" diplomatically as to well as further those same nations interests.11 He illustrates his point by referring to the U.S. Navy presence offshore Beirut in 1983. A situation in which warships "were not only providing to US troops and friendly Lebanese ashore, but were offering dangerous hostages to fortune in an overheated situation."12 Why Gunboat Diplomacy Will Be Important In The 1990's The ability of navies to influence the global diplomatic calculus as tools of their respective governments in situations short of war has not entered a period of relative decline, as Nailor and Booth both contend, but instead will play an increasingly important role in the future. Clausewitz's dictum that "war is a continuation of policy by other means,"13 will continue to ring true within the limited scope of gunboat diplomacy. A more contemporary, but nevertheless enduring, view of the utility of naval forces can be found in the writings of the chief architect of the modern Soviet Navy, Admiral of the Fleet Sergei Gorshkov. He fully understood the importance and influence of naval diplomacy when he wrote in his classic, The Seapower of the State: Demonstrative actions by the navy in many cases have made it possible to achieve political ends without resorting to armed struggle, merely by putting on pressure with one's own potential might and threatening to start military operations. Thus. . .the navy has always been an instrument of the policy of states, an important aid to diplomacy in peacetime.14 The 1990's will be characterized by movement toward multi-polar global spheres of influence. As the Soviet Empire contracts and focuses inward, the economic interdependence of nations increases, and the economic clout of the United States relative to other developed nations wanes, the 1990's present a new and dynamic diplomatic challenge to the global community. Europe, with its rapidly changing political map, and the Islamic world, with its inherent instability, present some of the most important challenges that will shape the diplomatic milieu of the last decade of this century. Armed forces will continue to be relevant to the equation, either showing support for a friendly government in "latent" terms or, at the other extreme of the diplomatic spectrum, launching a cruise missile attack against state supported terrorism. The strategic arena in which naval diplomacy functions will continue to constantly evolve at an ever increasing rate. As one German general has noted, not since the time of Moltke, has the strategic scene been so wide open.15 The greatest challenge in the exercise of gunboat diplomacy will continue to be, that in its active form, the next step up the escalatory ladder is a huge one. In 1961, a brigade of British infantry prevented an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by going there and telling Iraq "not to be silly."16 Those days of easy authority are not lost forever, but they certainly are not the luxury of states facing large, modern and battle hardened foes across the international table. The lesson here is one of the cost of relative decline of military leverage and the resultant decline in diplomatic leverage. Gunboat Diplomacy has been and will continue to be a calculated diplomatic approach that offers maritime nations an important tool not available to those nations who either abolish or fail to establish this capability. Unique Abilities Of Navies To Influence Events A navy brings to the diplomatic process its unique ability to assert influence. As a general rule, the global political environment continues to make the stationing of troops on foreign soil a less palatable proposition for both host and providing nations. There is no reason to believe that in the last decade of the twentieth-century this trend will change, hence the advantage of navies, particularly those which maintain significant amphibious forces. Amphibious or marine forces bring to the calculus the ability to introduce quickly ground forces, forcibly if required. These same amphibious forces can be just as quickly withdrawn if required and are an important element in "rescuing" friendly nationals. The ability to influence from off-shore also provides an important advantage in that, should withdrawal be required, it can be done with much less fanfare and virtually no impact on the local populace.17 The political costs associated with a naval withdrawal are much less than those associated with the removal of ground based forces. The utility of naval forces is additionally magnified by technological advances that broaden the capabilities of modern navies. The existence of vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) aircraft means that large aircraft carriers are no longer required in order for navies to project power or maintain the threat to apply power beyond the range of naval gunfire. The advent of the ship-launched land attack cruise missile (SLCM) further extends that reach hundreds of miles inland. This allows unmatched precision without the risk of losing valuable pilots or aircraft costing tens of millions of dollars. The economy of force available within naval forces means that states can posture their forces without a great drain on their national treasury. The movement of light airborne forces can be done in many instances more quickly than naval forces, but they lack the sustainability of naval forces. More critically, they require either the acquiescence of a host nation or forced entry with all its resulting costs. Air forces can respond with the greatest haste of all, but their ability to linger on station and influence the diplomatic posturing is severely limited. This flexibility to manage carefully the escalation of power application is critical to understanding the inherent capabilities naval forces bring to the diplomatic environment. The nation that maintains escalation dominance across all aspects of the spectrum will retain the upper hand in shaping the diplomatic environment, if that dominance is used wisely. An implied threat to use naval power cannot be discounted by any nation. Recent demonstrations of the ability to do so reinforce the validity of a threat, either implied or specified. The aircraft carrier, so much a symbol of the United States Naval power in the late twentieth-century, provides the United States with a unique ability to expand the spectrum of actions associated with gunboat diplomacy beyond those available to any other contemporary nation. The aircraft carrier and associated escort ships can be called upon to exert influence "gently" by sailing a single escort ship within sight of a foreign port. It can very rapidly transition to the far extreme of the spectrum and apply large amounts of high-tech ordnance with great accuracy. The multitude of options organic to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier is universally recognized, this serves to increase the leverage associated with those platforms. This ability to manage carefully the spectrum offers American political and diplomatic leaders the opportunity to tailor the national response. Situations In Which Naval Leverage Is Appropriate Luttwak's paradigm for naval diplomacy divides the spectrum into "latent" and "active" components. Latent diplomacy can be seen in the operational patterns of the U.S. Navy during the 1980's. As Admiral Watkins explained in his exposition of the U.S. Maritime Strategy, "in this age of violent peace, the Navy is on the front lines already."18 This stabilizing presence that the U.S Navy undertook during the Cold war was much more demanding in many respects than routine operations or port visits. The U.S. Navy's presence mission can be expected to support allies, influence neutrals, deter potential enemies, protect friendly interests, and support a maritime nation's interests with respect to international law and convention.19 This "latent" use of naval power can be considered a preventive mechanism that provides a stabilizing influence. When the application of military power turns to an "active" employment many of the signals generated and ends served remain constant. Before proceeding to the active application of gunboat diplomacy it is important to note that the withdrawal of routine latent maritime power can have important repercussions. A considerable backlash can result from the phase-out or drawdown of force levels, regardless of the reason. An example can be seen in the considerable consternation the withdrawal of one of the two Sixth Fleet aircraft carriers for just a few days caused NATO when in the late 1970's. The United States required one of those two aircraft carriers to boost force levels in the Indian Ocean in response to a deteriorating diplomatic environment.20 The active use of naval power as a diplomatic tool allows the state an important political-military signalling tool. This signalling can take place at any stage in a diplomatic crisis, with perhaps the most utility being when the signaling prevents the interchange from ever reaching the crisis stage. As a crisis unfolds the signalling will as a general rule become more focused in both context and time-frame. Without careful control, crisis management can lend itself to reactive signalling rather than carefully postured decisions. Active suasion moves along a continuum that at its lowest level can be termed a "show of interest." The next step up the spectrum of crisis is a "show of resolve." The final step is the recourse to a "show of force." When a show of force fails so does gunboat diplomacy, the parties concerned move into either limited or general war.21 The Future Of Gunboat Diplomacy As the reach of modern navies is extended by technology (do not disregard the dimension deployment of conventional land attack cruise missiles in submarines adds) the symbolic value of a warship increases correspondingly. In the past, the full weight of sea power appeared to be concentrated in the capital ships of the era, whether they were cruisers, battleships, or the more modern aircraft carrier. Today, the demonstrated ability of a cruise missile to fly down the streets of a hostile capital dramatically illustrates the ability of navies to influence diplomatic events. This ability to influence with near surgical precision the course of events hundreds of miles from the sea adds to the number of littoral states that naval diplomacy can affect. The ability of maritime forces to insert forcibly landing forces is an important weapon in the arsenal of maritime powers. This reach ashore and beyond is continuing to expand. As an example of advancing technology the introduction of air cushion landing craft allows amphibious landings on beaches previously unsuitable. The development of a tilt-rotor aircraft that will allow the incursion of forces hundreds of miles behind the surf-line will enhance the ability of naval forces to exert influence. These developments in the tools available to maritime powers will continue to add additional leverage to their influence. Conclusion As Cable points out, "Gunboat Diplomacy is a screwdriver intended to turn a particular screw. It is not a hammer that will bang home any old nail." 22 This political application of maritime power will continue to play a role in the unpredictable and multi-dimensional global calculus of the 1990's. The challenge for military leaders is to design a force structure capable of exploiting its full diplomatic potential. The corresponding challenge faced by the political and diplomatic communities is to employ effectively gunboat diplomacy when are where it is appropriate. To relegate this important diplomatic instrument to the history books would be a grievous error. NOTES 1 Barry M. Blechman and Stephen S. Kaplan, The Use of Armed Forces as a Political Instrument (Washington D.C., 1976), p. 4. 2 Sir James Cable, Gunboat Diplomacy: Political Applications of Limited Naval Force (New York, 1971), p. 21. 3 A critic of Cable's classifications as he presents them in his 1971 book, "Gunboat Diplomacy: Political Applications of Limited Naval Force," is provided by Edward Luttwak. He contends that Cable's classifications are flawed as they "intermingle functional and intensity criteria." Luttwak finds that Cable's classifications are "more Useful for descriptive than analytical purposes." For addition discussion see Luttwak's work cited in note 4. 4 Edward N. Luttwak, The Political Uses of Sea Power (Baltimore, 1974), p. 3. 5 Brent Alan Ditzler, Naval Diplomacy Beneath The Waves: A Study of the Coercive Use of Submarines Short of War (Naval Postgraduate School Thesis, 1989), p. 6. 6 Luttwak, pp. 1-38. 7 "Showing the Flag: Past and Present," Naval Forces, VII (No. III/1987), p. 38. 8 Sir James Cable, Navies in Violet Peace (London. 1989), pp. 71-72. 9 Peter Nailor, "A New Environment for Navies?" Maritime Strategy in the Nuclear Age, Geoffrey Till ed., 2nd ed. (New York, 1984), pp. 163-164. 10 Ken Booth, Law, Force and Diplomacy At Sea (London, 1985), p. 170. 11 Ibid., pp. 190-191. 12 Ibid. 13 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Michael Howard and Peter Paret eds. (Princeton, 1976), p. 69. 14 Sergei G. Gorshkov, The Sea Power of the State (Annapolis, 1976), pp. 247-248. 15 "A New Flag: A Survey of Defense and the Democracies," The Economist, (September 1, 1990). p. 18. 16 Ibid., p. 6. 17 Charles D. Allen, Jr., The Uses of Navies in Peacetime (Washington D.C., 1980), p. 15. 18 James D. Watkins, The Maritime Strate (Annapolis, 1986), p. 5. 19 Allen, p. 18. 20 Ibid. 21 For a comprehensive discussion of the political-military signals concerned and their relationship to naval forces see Charles D. Allen's The Uses of Navies in Peacetime (Washington, D.C., 1980). 22 Sir James Cable, "Gunboat Diplomacy's Future," United States Naval Institute Proceedings (August, 1986), p. 39. BIBLIOGRAPHY Allen, Charles D. Jr. The Uses of Navies in Peacetime. Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1980. Belchman, Barry M. and Stephen S. Kaplan. The Use of Armed Forces as a Political Instrument. 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