Naval Diplomacy


From the UK John Heelan writes: "While walking my dog on the beach a couple of weeks ago, I saw the massive aircraft carrier , USS "Enterprise" and its support warships steaming into the Solent. Later, my ferry passed them at close quarters when they were anchored off Portsmouth. Was this "gunboat diplomacy" implicitly aimed at the UK at a time when Blair is in political turmoil over his undying support of the Bush Administration? Surely not!" RH: Heaven and the Pentagon know. The correct expression would be "showing the flag". I personally welcome support for Tony Blair and join in his decade celebrations .

Alberto Gutiérrez writes: "Naval exercises and "showing the flag" are not always aimed to scare. For instance until 1959 there was a lot of US training off Guantanamo with the participation of Cuban naval units. Neither Jamaica nor Haiti ever showed any concern. Often on weekends US warships visited Havana, and even when two US drunken sailors desecrated the statue of José Martí in the Parque Central, the enraged Cubans didn't denounce those visits as "gunboat diplomacy". To palliate the offense the US ambassador issued an apology and placed a wreath at the base of the statue". RH: The sailors relieved themselves on the statue of the Cuban hero José Martí. This was part of a friendly visit. Showing the flag is less friendly, and gunboat diplomacy is definitely unfriendly. WestPac is far from being simply a friendly exercise.

Tim Brown writes: "Gunboat diplomacy is usually friendly and often a gesture of friendship and solidarity. My favorite personal experience with gunboat diplomacy took place in response to a request to me, as American Consul General, from French authorities for a demonstration of US support for the presence of France in the Caribbean. Admiral Wes MacDonald, then CINCLANT, sent a battleship to Martinique for a port visit timed to coincide with the first ever visit by a U.S. Ambassador to France to my consular district. One of the highest honors I have ever received was to be piped aboard it during my cll on its Captain (a Consul General ranks the same as a three-star Admiral or General).

The front page of Ft. de France's major newspaper printed a four column photo of Ambassador Galbraith (Peter not John Kenneth) captioned "Gunboat Diplomacy?" and, right below it one of the battleship captioned "American Ambassador visits Martinique." This took place in the wake of Grenada and was a clear demonstration of our support from France's continued presence in the region. It was a deliberated gesture that put the local and regional populaces, including local independentistes and Marxist revolutionary elements on notice. On other occasions, and in response to specific requests from French authorities, we held a joint US Marine-French Marine "anti-terrorism" exercise on the island of Marie-Galante where the mayor was part of a Caribbean-wide Cuban run revolutionary network, joint special warfare exercises in French Guiana where there was another nest of hard-left separatistes, and joint US-French amphibious exercises on Vieques in Puerto Rico. In each case independentistses had been engaging in bombings and similar activities that today would be considered terrorism.

Gunboat diplomacy? Of course. But also a gesture of opposition to terrorism as well as one designed to help France. Whether or not this reassured or scared any given person depended on their politics. But I did notice a fall off in bombings and other nefarious acts of violence for a while".

RH: I am surprised that Tim would be fooled by descriptions as this gunboat diplomacy as friendly, Of course that is the way US sources would describe it, but as Tim says the aim was to cow revolutionaries is the area, and Tim says it was successful. Incidentally, since Tim knows the area so well, could he tell us who Marie-Galante was? Cherchez la femme.

Ronald Hilton -


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