Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Gunboat diplomacy is the pursuit of foreign policy objectives with the aid of conspicuous displays of military superiority.
In the age of European empires, such displays typically involved demonstrations of naval might. A country negotiating with a European power over, for example, trading rights, would notice that a warship or fleet of ships had appeared off its coast. It was rarely necessary for such boats to illustrate the point with cannon fire.
The effectiveness of such simple demonstrations of an Imperial nation's projection of force capabilities meant that those nations with naval power, especially Britain, could establish military bases (for example, Diego Garcia) and arrange economically advantageous relationships around the world.
Those lacking an empire found that their own peaceable relationships were readily dismantled in the face of such pressures, and they therefore came to depend on the Imperial nations for access to raw materials and overseas markets. For up-and-coming industrial nations in the later 19th century, such as Germany and Japan, the rules of the game were clear: establish an empire, or lose.
As the USA became the world's pre-eminent military power in the 1910s, the Rooseveltian version of gunboat diplomacy, Big Stick Diplomacy, was partially superseded by dollar diplomacy: replacing the big stick with a juicy carrot. However, during Woodrow Wilson's presidency, conventional gunboat diplomacy did occur, most notably in the case of the U.S. Army's occupation of Veracruz during Mexico's civil war.
Gunboat diplomacy in the post-Cold War world still depends on naval activity. Changes to the disposition of the major fleets of the United States Navy have frequently been used by US administrations to influence opinion in foreign capitals. More urgent diplomatic points were made by the Clinton administration in the Balkans (in alliance with Britain's Blair administration) and elsewhere, using sea-launched Tomahawk missiles.
- 1991 article examining potential role of US navy in 1990s diplomacy
- Article from a US/liberal perspective considering America's global military 'footprint'
- A UK sailor's-eye-view of two modern gunboat diplomacy missions
- Storm in a teacup? Gunboats on the Caspian Sea
- Anti-war analyst Noam Chomsky applies the term to NATO's action against Serbia
- TIME magazine on Clinton's Tomahawk Diplomacy
- On-going legal dispute at the International Court of Justice over the legality of NATO actions against Serbia
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