Diplomacy is not a role for which navies are technically designed. Nevertheless the main task of navies is not to fight wars but to prevent them and therefore naval diplomacy gains importance. Navies offer a wide range of diplomatic instruments for use in normal peace time, in times of strain and in times of crisis. Naval diplomacy is the use of sea power in furtherance of diplomatic and political objectives of a country. It involves creating a favourable general and military image abroad, establishing one’s right to be interested in happenings in areas of interest, providing reassurance to allies and friendly regimes, influencing behaviour of other governments, threatening seaborne interdiction and finally threatening intervention. That the Navy is better at this type of activity than the other services is borne out by foreign policy specialists and academic analysts. Warships have some significant advantages in their use as instruments of state policy and some of these are:
Flexibility – Warships are equipped for various and multifarious tasks. The weapon and equipment fit permit a graduated response. A warship is symbolic of a nations resolve and interest. They are versatile in the sense that they can convey goodwill and strength. A warship’s position could on one hand be used to send a political signal, while on the other it could be quickly converted to host a reception for a visiting dignitary.
Controllability – Because warships can be so easily inserted into an area or withdrawn from it when required, a naval power limits the liability of those using it. A confrontation at sea is less sensitive and less prone to accidental escalation than on land. The lack of borders on the oceans combined with the international character of the seas ensures that the use of naval forces is less provocative, less dangerous and more controlled than that of their equivalent in the other services. The excellent communications on board permit their fine tuning in conjunction with diplomatic moves.
Mobility – The lack of quick mobility of ground formations and difficulty of shifting them from one place to another is well known. Aircraft often depend on the availability of routes over other countries and bases abroad. Formations of warships with supporting auxiliaries can loiter in likely areas for days on end, being a hand and on call. They can quickly appear at a trouble spot and just as quickly disappear over the horizon.
The word Gunboat diplomacy, a fairly familiar term that has been defined as the use of threat of limited naval force otherwise than as an art of war in order to secure advantage or to avert loss either in the furtherance of an international dispute or else against foreign nations with the territory or jurisdiction of their own state. The political application of limited naval force is a special case of more widespread practice ie coercive diplomacy. Gunboat diplomacy had come a long way from the earlier part of this century, in that Chinese rivers and Latin American coasts are no longer the geographical scene of such diplomacy. The exercise of gunboat diplomacy has also been transformed from a local initiative within the discretion of consuls and captains to an act of state exercised on the authority of the president or prime minister.
Showing the Flag
The more the Navy is seen to be in its area of interest the lesser the chance of trouble brewing. Showing the Flag or presence is not the same as coercive diplomacy. It is a gentler reminder of the existence of the Navy. It is not always a friendly reminder, but there is no threat or intention of using force. Showing the flag is a naval equivalent of the ceremonial and symbolic practices of diplomacy. Visit of warships to foreign ports is one method of showing the flag. The idea may be to impress another navy or gain public opinion. The emphasis is not always on smartness, paintwork, marching of sailors, etc. A firepower display (by consent) is one way of impressing a foreign navy or country.
Coordination with Other Elements of Sea Power
The navy is only one constituent of sea power. The presence of a strong navy is beneficial to the accomplishment of the task of the other constituents of sea power. The effect of sea power can be brought to bear in times of war only if the necessary linkages have been built between various organisations involved during peace time. The navy has to interact with a great many organisations such as merchant marine, customs, port authorities, ocean technology agencies, deep sea mining agencies, Meteorological departments and coast guard, etc, during peace time.