Supplementing Gunboat Diplomacy against Iran

It was in the Spring of 2013 that 41 countries dispatched 35 ships, 18 unmanned underwater vehicles and more than 100 Explosive Ordinance Disposal divers to the Arabian / Persian Gulf. Ostensibly The International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) 13 would last from 6 until May 30; amid growing tensions over Iranian nuclear intentions; it was a clear show of force; namely Gunboat Diplomacy. Gunboat Diplomacy is the Big Stick; it is the pursuit of foreign policy objectives with the aid of conspicuous displays of military power; it implies or constitutes a direct threat of warfare, should terms not be agreeable to the superior force, in this case the United States; but will it succeed?

Iran shows apparent calm for the fleet gathering in the shadows of the clouds of war in the Gulf is 1500 km as the crow flies from the capital Tehran and the nuclear installations; while Israel as the F-15 flies is also 1500 km away. Tehran is landlocked in the far north of the country while the international naval fleet in the Gulf is in the far south. Maybe air forces would be more applicable than naval forces as a show of force for Gunboat Diplomacy; but this would constitute a violation of  the territorial air space of Iran; and would under international law be a casus belli for an Iranian response. Thus the use of naval power for Gunboat Diplomacy or power projection seems to be trifling; especially as the intended recipient of the message Iran is ignoring the message. Iran is edging closer to attaining the ultimate counter-tool of any diplomatic effort, nuclear weapons. If they attain nuclear capability Iran will be the country demonstrating force to get others to wield to its desires, whims and wills.

The term Gunboat Diplomacy comes from the period of colonial imperialism, where the European powers would intimidate other states into granting trade or other concessions (unequal treaties) through a demonstration of their superior military power. A country negotiating with a European power would notice that a warship or fleet of ships had appeared off its coast. The mere sight of such power almost always had a considerable effect, and it was rarely necessary for such boats to use other measures, such as demonstrations of cannon fire. To resolve the Iranian nuclear quest there is a need to demonstrate cannon fire against Iran.

The failure of Pearl Harbor was the mentality of doing all or nothing knowing the probability of a Japanese attack. Nothing was done by the United States even knowing the likelihood of a Japanese attack. Nothing was done because it was considered impossible to do all; impossible to everything. It was not contemplated that doing something was better than doing nothing. This is the same mentality regarding Iran; to do all or nothing. The probability of Iran attaining nuclear capability is high; yet the world persists in diplomatic efforts knowing they are going nowhere. The international community needs to do something against Iran.

Iran needs to experience a show of limited force; Iran needs to experience a demonstration of cannon fire; a small and select number of Iranian nuclear facilities under construction needs to be attacked and destroyed. Israel did this against Syria last week; with no retaliation; Syria now knows who is boss. Iran needs to be shown their irrationality, by making them sensitive to the costs of their actions. The United States undertook a limited attack on Libya in 1986 and its irrational leader Qaddafi understood the price he would pay; he became sensitive to the costs of threatening peaceful democracies; and he changed his ways. It is time to use limited force against Iran to demonstrate to them their irrationality; it is time to make Iran sensitive to the costs of their actions. It is time for Iran to change its ways.

There are four purposes of Gunboat Diplomacy that need to be supplemented by a limited use of military action against Iran: Definitive Force: the use of gunboat diplomacy to create or remove a fait accompli – without a decisive yet limited attack on Iran there is a high probability that it will acquire a nuclear weapon; Purposeful Force: application of force to change the policy or character of the target government or group – without a decisive yet limited attack on Iran there is a high probability that it will continue its policy of nuclear acquisition – there is no need to effect regime change; Catalytic Force: a mechanism designed to buy a breathing space or present policy makers with an increased range of options – decades of diplomacy and shows of force have not achieved the desired goal, time is running out and action against Iran is needed not just words; and Expressive Force: the use of navies to send a political message – Iran is not part of the international system, it is rogue, it refuses to read the message. There remains only one option; it is necessary to effect a decisive yet limited attack on a select number of Iranian nuclear facilities to supplement Gunboat Diplomacy.

Dr. Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.