Define The Phrase Naval Diplomacy History Essay

1936 words (8 pages) Essay in History

5/12/16 History Reference this

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Naval diplomacy is a term which applies to a wide range of peacetime naval activities whose purpose is to influence the behaviour of another nation. Sir James Cable defines gunboat naval diplomacy as the use or threat of limited naval force by a government, short of an act of war, in order to secure an advantage or to avert loss. [i] Naval blockade forms one such level of use of limited naval force in a spectrum that runs from port visits by warships to freedom of navigation exercises to limited strikes on targets ashore. All of these actions are elements of coercive diplomacy which uses naval force to send signals of interest, support and concern, or to force change in the behaviour of another state.


2. A blockade is a “belligerent operation to prevent vessels of all nations, enemy as well as neutral, from entering or exiting specified ports, or coastal areas belonging to, occupied by, or under the control of an enemy nation”. [ii] It is defined as an act of war which is a belligerent right. This definition has evolved from the traditional description to now include the airspace above the seas as well as airfields within the blockaded area. Corbett in 1911 stated, “Under the term blockade, we include operations which vary widely in character and in strategic intention”. [iii] They are not always directed against a specific port or stretch of coastline, nor do they have to take place at sea at all, so long as their goal of disrupting naval trade is achieved. [iv] Corbett makes a further distinction with blockade being either intended for naval or commercial use. [v] They can be close and distant, near and far, partial and total, paper, pacific and belligerent, limited or unlimited, porous or tight. [vi] The popular image of the a line of ships standing off an enemy’s coastline with blockade runners attempting to break their way through the wall, though sometimes true, may not reflect the accurate form of a naval blockade.

Purpose of Blockade

3. Blockades, by their very history and nature, are naval operations. They are a means to an end, and can have a pronounced effect at both the operational and strategic levels of war. The fundamental reason for naval blockade and its methods of implementation have changed very little since its first recorded use in 14th century. [vii] The purpose of naval blockades is to deny a nation the use of its seaports to import and export commodities, with the aim of targeting the adversary’s morale, political resolve, and will to continue the national behaviour that precipitated the blockade. This denial of ocean commerce has a detrimental effect on that nation’s populace and its forces engaged in conflict.

4. By denying commerce to the enemy, blockade is a means to assist in terminating hostilities because it denies the enemy the resources that are necessary to continue fighting. Mahan stated the following about the effects of naval blockades: “[The blockade] is a belligerent measure that touches every member of the hostile community, and, by thus distributing the evils of war, as insurance distributes the burden of other losses, it brings them home to every man”. [viii] 

5. In its naval capacity, the blockading commander using superior forces, intends to either trap an enemy’s warships in port (thereby rendering them useless) or encourage them to seek battle at sea. Blockade in this role is a method of securing sea control in order to achieve freedom of action. In the commercial sense, blockade operations were initiated to “stop the flow of the enemy’s sea borne trade, whether carried in his own or neutral bottoms, by denying him the use of trade communications”. [ix] Both of these objectives remain applicable today, but perhaps the latter has the greater potential for future use.

Military Strategy or Political Tool

6. The blockade was once the domain of admirals. Since the end of World War I, it has become intertwined with the political measures by which states exert influence to achieve political ends. Then, and now, the decision to interdict the commerce of another nation is an overt, political use of naval force to militarily broach a diplomatic stalemate. Blockades outside the realm of declared war may present an attractive option to national leaders in influencing world events.

Acceptability and Relevance of Blockade

7. The association of blockade to existence of a state of war between two nations makes the term blockade unacceptable in the post-World War II era. Due to United Nations (UN) and other diplomatic efforts, today’s world is unlikely to see a declared war. This has brought into vogue other terms, such as quarantine, patrol, embargo, maritime interception, and maritime interdiction, to describe the use of this naval operation to achieve limited objectives during a time of violent peace. [x] These terms have all been used since the close of World War II as a variation of (or another name for) blockade.

8. As an all-out declared war seems unlikely in today’s world, blockades conducted during wartime like the North’s blockade of the South in the American Civil War, and the Allied blockade against Germany in World War I and World War II are likely to be rare. This brings us to situations short of war questioning the very relevance of naval blockade. Thus, the blockade, an element of maritime strategy that evolved into a political gambit, needs redefinition to retain its utility as a coercive tool.


Statement of the Problem

9. This study aims to investigate the continuing utility of the naval blockade in the attainment of foreign policy objectives in operations short of war likely to be encountered in the twenty-first century. It seeks to establish a common set of factors that influenced the effectiveness of sanctions enforced by a naval blockade through a historical study of three blockades and developing trends in international sea-borne trade. A coherent analysis of the common factors will provide the answer to the main research question.


10. Throughout history seagoing nations have nurtured their navies to protect their ocean life lines and influence regional and world events. Blockades are one way in which a naval power has historically influenced these events. In time of war and violent peace, this tool of naval coercion is still a viable option to be exercised by nations during world or regional crises.

Justification of the Study

11. As the post-cold war world develops its new power distribution in 21st century, the call to discard old paradigms in favour of new, “information age” models, is a popular subject in both military journals and the popular press. Many Cold War based military assumptions are being examined to ensure their relevance to current and future strategic environments.

12. The 21st century presents the navies with a changed and dynamic world, forcing them to explore new and ingenious solutions to deal with the variety of international crises that may arise. However, does the geo-political scenario in 21st century spell doom for some long-established means of influencing world events?

13. Throughout history maritime nations used naval blockades as a way to influence foreign relations within and outside the realm of declared war. Economic sanctions are routinely the first punishment levied on an outlaw state, naval blockade being the enforcement part of any sanctions. Blockade type operations present a number of flexible deterrent options available to the Governments to influence the events of a world crisis.

14. The traditional blockade conducted during wartime aimed at isolation of a belligerent state, thus affecting the state’s ability to wage a protracted war. Other blockades, directed to change a national behaviour, have limited scope and objectives. With the globalisation of economy, changes in international trade patterns may influence the effectiveness of either blockade option. The use of overland and air routes for conduct of trade, coupled with emerging landlocked nations in Africa and Asia possessing great economic potential, may result in diminishing effectiveness of the enforcement of an embargo. With the evolution of technology, the use of cyber trade for the exchange of hi-tech information further complicates situation. Additionally, in the present geo-political scenario due to international repercussions, a declared war may be a thing of past. These issues call for a study of whether naval blockades will be as effective in influencing world events in the 21st century as it was in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


15. The research will be limited to only three blockades that have taken place post World War II. A study of the blockade of Rhodesia by the British Union will focus on the ability to blockade a land locked country, with an access to a neutral port, over a period of years. The paper would than take a look at blockade of Cuba by the US to discuss limited interdiction during crisis and undeclared war. Additionally, these two studies will allow a look at how Britain and the US conducted unilateral blockade operations after World War II. An investigation of the blockade operations in support of UN sanctions against Iraq will look at contemporary blockade operations in a multinational setting. The study will also investigate current commercial shipping trends to determine statistics in the amount of international trade carried by ocean transport.

Method of Data collection

16. The data for dissertation has been collected from various books, periodicals, magazines, research papers and material available on internet.

Organisation of the Dissertation

17. The study has been divided into six chapters. The main text is contained from chapter II to V with Chapter I as the Introduction and Chapter VI as the Conclusion. The main aspects of the study as covered in each chapter are:

(a) Chapter I. This chapter introduces the dissertation and contains the methodology of the study. The statement of the problem, the justification of the study, scope of the topic and the organisation of the chapters are the important parts.

(b) Chapter II. This chapter discusses the Cuban Missile Crisis and its salient features.

(c) Chapter III. This chapter discusses the Beira Patrol and its salient features.

(d) Chapter IV. This chapter discusses the UN sanctions on Iraq and its salient features.

(e) Chapter V. This chapter discusses the emerging trends in the fields of sea-commerce and how these could impact the blockade operations in 21st century.

(f) Chapter VI. Analysis and conclusion.

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