Gunboat diplomacy

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Gunboat diplomacy is the use of military force (or the direct threat thereof) to maintain hegemony over a sphere of influence, usually associated with the age of imperialism and colonialism. The term originates from the Second Moroccan Crisis of 1911 when the German Empire sent the gunboat Panther to the Moroccan port of Agadir in a precursor to World War I. French interests interpreted the naval incursion friendly ceremonial visit of the Panther as a militaristic response to a diplomatic dispute.[1]

In practical terms, gunboat diplomacy means (for example): when the peasants revolt against United Fruit in Latin America - send in the Marines. When a small republic or an obscure kingdom has a coup d'etat that you don't like the results of - send in the Marines.

Theodore Roosevelt famously described this policy in 1900 as "a big stick".

Smedley Butler (1881-1940), a retired Marine Corps general, wrote the booklet War is a Racket (1935) detailing how gunboat diplomacy works. In a famous quote from the book:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.[2]

Very few U.S. presidents since the late-19th century have not resorted to gunboat diplomacy. The five who notably eschewed it were Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. FDR (President from 1933 to 1945) promoted the "good neighbor policy" with regard to Latin America (which would mean fewer interventions) but ultimately became more occupied with other matters.

George W. Bush (President 2001-2009) took gunboat diplomacy to a new level of stupid after 9/11.

Gunboat devolution[edit]

Gunboats as heavily-armed warships went somewhat out of fashion in the course of the 20th century. The functions of the gunboat as a means of bullyingcoercing recalcitrant locals passed more and more to aircraft, which had the advantage of projecting power further inland while saving on the messiness of boots on or near the ground. Note:

More examples of U.S. gunboat diplomacy[edit]

Use of gunboat diplomacy by Great Britain[edit]

The U.S. of course, learned from the best. Interestingly, most of the following occurred during the Pax Britannica period.

  • The War of Jenkin's Ear with Spain (1739-1748) - Officially due to the captain of a British merchant ship having his ear severed after being boarded by the Spanish coastguard eight years before the war started. In reality, it was to protect Britain's right to sell slaves to the Spanish colonies.
  • The First (1839-1842) and Second (1856-1860) Opium Wars against China - basically the War on Drugs in reverse.
  • The Don Pacifico Incident (1850), when the Royal Navy blockaded Greece in response to an angry mob unconnected to the Greek government burned down the house of a British citizen, who might not have even been a British citizen.
  • The Anglo-Zanzibar War (1896), a war that lasted less than an hour.
  • Attempting to overthrow the Egyptian president to prevent him nationalising the Suez Canal (i.e the Suez Crises, 1956).

In fact the UK has at one point or another invaded all but 22 countries.[3]

See also[edit]