O for the good old-fashioned days of Empire when sending a gunboat up the river usually sorted out most of the problems stemming from British foreign policy in all those far-off lands.
But the world has moved on from that former, halcyon era and yet, when it comes to dealing with the current crop of restless natives, gunboat diplomacy still seems to loom somewhat large in the arsenals of western democracies.
One would have hoped that, with so much time gone by, a more sophisticated and nuanced technique might have evolved from what had always been a highly dubious form of pacification and, in hindsight, a response far too over-the-top for comfortable and sober reflection.
But, if we can no longer count on overwhelming military might as the final arbiter in any dispute displeasing to our convictions or conscience, then how else can men of good standing and upright character prevail in this politically tempestuous world of today?
If the machinations of tyrants, despots and people who, to put it quite bluntly, are just not that terribly nice can have the lives and destinies of so many at their mercy, what should our best approach be in dealing with such dire situations?
Can’t send a gunboat any more; these days it can cause more problems than it solves. Iraq, Afghanistan, Falklands, Vietnam all come to mind.
Diplomacy has its limits; some of them are arrived at all too soon and then where do you go? Mr. Kerry has had some recent experience here.
Economic levers are slow to move matters forward in the direction intended and are also the source of much resentment, sometimes on every side. Iran, Cuba are still managing to hold out against such edicts.
Moral arguments tend to lack the necessary force, especially if western governments indulge in them.
So what is left?
No gunboats, not even a lightly armed dinghy.
Diplomacy is nowhere to be seen; this is an autonomous process, almost totally devoid of external influence.
Economic issues become irrelevant except insofar as a suddenly improved, global stability can easily generate better trading and business conditions all round.
Morality is left to the vagaries of chance and folly; there is only one outcome and that is a speedy return to whatever passes for normalcy in this crazy, mixed up world.
The world has indeed moved on. The questions now to be faced are these: Has it moved on far enough and, if not, then just how much further does it have to go?