(1) Gunboat Diplomacy
(2) Nuclear Deterrance
(3) Confidence Building and arms control
Diplomacy can be defined as the conduct of international relations by negotiation rather than by force, propaganda, or recourse to law, and by other peaceful means (such as gathering information or engendering goodwill) which are either or indirectly designed to promote negotiation.1
Diplomacy is practiced between states in almost every area, as the relations between states are always such that both states will have contrasting interests that they strive to best accomodate and achieve, to the detriment of the other.
In such cases, diplomacy acts as the method in which states negotiate with each other to either compromise, or force the other to compromise. As can be expected, these negotiations will also carry threats and benefits from each state to the other. This is where the role of the military instrument comes into the picture.
The military is an institution dealing primarily with the management of the organised means of violence and warfare. It is a creation of the state apparatus, and therefore has an holistic obligation to represent and protect the state. This naturally means that the military will be an indispensable factor in the world of diplomacy.
“Military diplomacy” can be said to comprise gunboat diplomacy (or deterrence diplomacy), atomic diplomacy (or nuclear deterrence), arms control, confidence building measures and peacekeeping.
Gunboat diplomacy, or deterrence diplomacy, is the use, or threat of use, of one’s limited naval force to achieve a benefit for one’s state over the enemy state, or to avert or lessen a probable loss to the enemy state. Atomic diplomacy, also known as nuclear deterrence, is the threat of using nuclear weapons to dissuade another state from taking military action.
Arms control is the process of establishing a mutual restriction and limit to arms possession to better improve the inherent stability of the situation, decrease the occasions or the approximate causes of war within the system, and decrease the destructiveness and other disutilities of any wars that eventually occur.2 Confidence building measures are unilateral, tacit or negotiated steps to improve cooperation or decrease tension.3 This includes opportunities for soldiers of territorially opposite armies to get to know each other better in the hope of decreasing the chance of triggering an accidental war.
While it can be said that the military, in its created role as an institution that represents and protects the state, is inherently linked to diplomacy, it is important to note that the use of military diplomacy can have its pros and cons as well. As much as this aspect of diplomacy can shape the actions of the opposing state, it can also backfire on the user state. It is important, in the study of diplomacy, to understand the risks of employing miltary diplomacy.
To facilitate this understanding, let us review gunboat diplomacy, also known as deterrence diplomacy.
Since the invention of naval warfare, gunboat diplomacy has been part and parcel of inter-state negotiations. Historically, maritime nations have been involved in greater instances of American military diplomacy. A 1976 Brookings Institution report concluded that naval forces participated in 177 of 215 recorded instances of U.S. military diplomacy between 1946 and 1975.4
This can be attributed to the fact that it is much easier for states to deploy navies than it is to deploy land forces. Deploying ships, holding land forces, in the waters near a country is arguably less threatening and invasive than deploying land forces on the country itself. Moreover, ships have the ability to leave immediately, while land forces will require extra transport planning and time, thus potentially worsening any politically hazardous situation caused by their presence. In other words, naval deployment can be seen as being an indirect action, as opposed to the very evidently direct action of deploying land forces onto an opposing state. In addition, the ability of ships to hold land forces make the naval option both indirect, and yet potentially direct if necessary.
For example, if China were to be in discussion with Taiwan over a diplomatic issue, and both sides have been deadlocked for some time, with tempers flaring, China might consider deploying a warship to patrol near the Taiwanese border, as a method in which to show its naval prowess and abilities. This action would be less controversial than, say, if China were to deploy a division of land forces onto an island of Taiwan. This would be an act of war, and would definitely have very resounding repercussions.
However, deploying the warship would be a less direct and controversial act, while still posing a stark reminder to Taiwan of the possible actions that China would be willing to take to ensure that it benefits from the discussion. This action would not have been a well received one, nor would it improve diplomatic relations, but would allow China to benefit from where it was previously unable to, or to prevent what it might probably have lost from the discussion.
Of course, this example ignores the political alliances and external factors concerning the two countries in the example, but the advantages of gunboat diplomacy over land force diplomacy are evident. In addition, it can also be seen that gunboat diplomacy can be seen as an action short of war, with its focus on the receiving state having the rationality to understand that the threat of war or harm is worse than compromising on issues that will benefit the user of gunboat diplomacy.
Other examples of gunboat diplomacy in the region include the Spratly Islands dispute involving China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and Brunei, and to a lesser extent, the Pedra Branca dispute between Singapore and Malaysia.
Gunboat diplomacy, however, carries different effects and uses when compared to its use by Western naval powers a hundred years ago. Today, the world’s countries are less imbalanced military and economy wise, meaning that traditional naval powerhouses like Great Britain, United States, France, Germany, Italy and Japan do not necessarily possess the naval power to effectively use gunboat diplomacy. In fact, other than the United States, Russia, China and, to a certain extent, Great Britain, the rest of the world can generally be said to be on fairly comparative military terms. Of course, it is still possible for countries like Singapore or Malaysia to effectively use gunboat diplomacy against a smaller country like Brunei, but on a general level, gunboat diplomacy no longer carries with it the great fear that it once portrayed when the Royal Navy used gunboat diplomacy to great success in China during the Opium War.
In addition, the international relations has evolved since, and now carries a legal framework relevant to the balance of power in the world today. While the military powers of old were able to constantly use gunboat diplomacy and military means to shape diplomatic relations, their decline in military strength, as opposed to the general increase in the rest of the world, have effectively taken away their “right” to use excessive military force in diplomacy. Today, the only conceivable nation able to use military force and intervention to achieve its diplomatic aims and escape extreme condemnation is the United States, aided by its role as the sole overwhelming superpower in an increasingly uni-polar, anarchic, world.
Having discussed thus far, it is evident that using gunboat diplomacy as a tool of diplomacy possesses risks as well that have to be considered by any state attempting to use gunboat diplomacy.
POSSIBLE LEADING TO WAR?
A very serious consideration before choosing to embark on gunboat diplomacy is the possibility of this action leading to war. It is necessary for the state to estimate precisely the expected response from the receiving state, and the extent to which its own military is superior to the receiving state such as to illicit compliance, or the extent to which the receiving state is intent on avoiding war.
Gunboat diplomacy takes the form of different levels, ranging from simple ship operations where there is little or negligible resistance expected, to superior fleet operations where the aim of the naval fleet is to outnumber and overpower any expected resistance. These different levels of gunboat diplomacy can evoke different types of response, ranging from nonchalance to compliance and even to war.
It is essential in the run up to the implementation of gunboat diplomacy for the state to consider strongly the risk of war, and the expected response of the receiving state. In gunboat diplomacy, the main aim of the practicing state is always to benefit or to reduce loss through diplomacy, and not to evoke war. In the event that gunboat diplomacy evokes a war between two states, ten it can be said that gunboat diplomacy in that case has failed.
INABILITY TO WITHDRAW WITHOUT SUCCESS/COMPROMISE
Other than considerations on the possibility of war, the practicing state must also consider the possible scenarios that will enable the withdrawal of its naval forces. Upon activation of naval forces into a certain region in the name of gunboat diplomacy, the practicing state will be hard pressed to keep the forces in the region until a satisfactory agreement, or compromise has been made.
This is because a withdrawal of troops without a satisfactory result will signify a humiliating back down on the part of the practicing state. For example, if Britain were to deploy a fleet of warships to, say, Brunei to ensure that ongoing discussions will turn their way, withdrawing the fleet without a positive outcome in the discussion would be a humiliation to the British military, as well as to its international standing.
This is a very sensitive issue that has to be considered before any decision to use gunboat diplomacy. If the receiving state does not budge, or is not intimidated by the naval deployment, then two options will surface for the practicing state – to withdraw in humiliation, or to stay put and place more pressure. The first option is indeed one which many states will reject, due to its humiliating nature. The second, however, could escalate alarm in the region, and especially in the receiving state. If indeed the receiving state is already not responding or intimidated by the naval fleet, then the second option could even lead to conflict, first diplomatic and perhaps even armed conflict.
It is necessary, then, for any state planning to use gunboat diplomacy to consider seriously the possible effects that can arise if the gunboat diplomacy is not effective immediately.
BAD PUBLICITY, INTERNATIONAL DISAPPROVAL & PUBLIC OPINION
Gunboat diplomacy is a diplomatic action that will definitely result in a level of negative media coverage and international reaction. The level of negative media coverage and international reaction, evidently, depends on the level of gunboat diplomacy (whether it is a simple ship operation, or superior fleet operation), the situation in which it is used, and of course who the practicing and receiving states are.
To better understand this point, let us compare two examples of gunboat diplomacy. One example of the use of gunboat diplomacy is in the Singapore-Malaysia dispute over Pedra Branca. Both states have deployed naval boats to patrol around the island’s vicinity, both as a sign of territorial sovereignty and also as a deterrent to each other. The level of operations in this case can be seen as simple ship operations, both sides not expecting any resistance from the other. Taking aside media loyalty and censorship on both sides of the equation, the general response to this gunboat diplomacy is minimal.
Another case of gunboat diplomacy is that of Iran in the Caspian Sea. On the 23rd July 2001, an Iranian gunboat intercepted and pointed its weapons at a ship hired by Britain’s British Petroleum (BP) oil company to research an offshore oil field, which Azerbaijan lays claim to, under a contract signed with Azerbaijan in 1998.5 Iran also lays claim to the same oil field, arguing that it should have sovereignty over an equal 20% portion of the Caspian shared out amongst the 5 shoreline states around the Caspian Sea. While it is disputed that a strong protest to the Azerbaijan government and BP would have achieved the same effect, it can be noted that the Iranian government chose to use military threat instead to prove its point, and perhaps achieve greater leeway in its proposal to lay claim over 20% of the Caspian.
It is interesting to note that in reaction to this incident, the United States sent naval forces to train Azerbaijan in coastal defence, Russia held its largest Caspian Sea military maneuvers together with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, Turkey increased military support for Azerbaijan as well as training programs for other Central Asian countries, while France and Germany deployed military forces to Central Asia to represent their interests as well.6
Comparing both cases against each other, it is of great interest to see the different reactions both examples encountered. Evidently, the political environment, attractiveness of the dispute (to foreign bodies), level of aggressiveness and media coverage play a pivotal role in distinguishing how such gunboat diplomacy incidents will turn out, and are definitely of great importance to consider when considering utilizing gunboat diplomacy.
Public opinion of one’s population is an essential consideration as well. It is necessary for every state to be able to sell its reasons for gunboat diplomacy, or for any action that shows aggression or involves the military, or at least to package its actions in such a way that its population is behind it.
Having gone through the risks of employing gunboat diplomacy as a form of diplomatic negotiation, it is evident that gunboat diplomacy, and the military instrument as a whole, still is a valuable part of the diplomacy process.
Of course, it is necessary for states to be aware and wary of the risks that can occur due to the use of gunboat diplomacy, but the military is still undeniably an integral part of the inter-state diplomacy, and can be used to further and protect state interests in the world of international relations.
Berridge, G.R., “Diplomacy: Theory and Practice”, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1995
Cable, James, “Gunboat Diplomacy 1919 – 1991: Political Applications of Limited Naval Force”, Basingstoke, Hampshire : MacMillan in association with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1994
Bundy, MacGeorge, “The Unimpressive Record of Atomic Diplomacy”, in Robert J, Waltz and Kenneth N. Waltz (ed.), The Use of Force: Military Power and International Politics, 4ed, Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1993
Brodie, Bernard, “On the Objectives of Arms Control”, in Robert J, Waltz and Kenneth N. Waltz (ed.), The Use of Force: Military Power and International Politics, 4ed, Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1993
Van Atta, Dale, “The Folly of UN Peacekeeping”, Reader’s Digest Vol.66 (392) November 1995
Lewis, Flora, “A Strong Blow to Hypocrisy at the United Nations”, International herald Tribune 19 November 1999
Goodall, Thomas D., LCDR, US Navy, “Gunboat Diplomacy: Does It Have A Place in the 1990’s?”, GlobalSecurity.org Website, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1991/GTD.htm
“The Revival of Gunboat Diplomacy?”, The MacKenzie Institute Website, http://www.mackenzieinstitute.com/1999_04_World_Gunboat_Diplomacy.html
Blank, Stephen, “The Arming of Central Asia”, Asia Times Online, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/DH24Df02.html
Lelyveld, Michael, “Iran: Hurdles Remain in Improving Ties with Azerbaijan”, Radio Free Europe Website, http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2001/08/21082001111410.asp
“Caspian Sea Region: Regional Conflicts”, Energy Information Administration Website, http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/caspconf.html
1 G.R. Berridge, “Diplomacy: Theory and Practice”, Pg.1
2Herman Kahn & Anthony Weiner, “Technological Innovation and the Future of Strategic Warfare”, Astronautics and Aeronautics (December, 1967), Pg.28
3Michael Krepon, “Conflict Avoidance, Confidence Building, and Peacemaking”, Global Confidence Building: New Tools for Troubled Regions, Pg.1
4LCDR Thomas D. Goodall, “Gunboat Diplomacy: Does It Have A Place in the 1990’s?”, GlobalSecurity.org
5 Michael Lelyveld, “Iran: Hurdles Remain in Improving Ties with Azerbaijan”, Radio Free Europe
6 Stephen Blank, “The Arming of Central Asia”, Asia Times Online