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Gunboat Diplomacy

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"Oh, this old thing? She's nothing really.
You should see the real heat I'm packing back home."note 

"A summary of the Transcontinental Treaty: Andrew Jackson and his men basically rode up to the Spanish ambassador, put a gun against his head and said, 'Hey, wanna sell us Florida?'"
Jesse Savage

The demonstration or display of military force in a threatening manner to encourage a country's 'co-operation', done without issuing blatant threats or actually engaging in military action.

For example, sending a fleet of battleships to fight a practice battle just off the coast of a country that's not giving you what you want is a classic example of gunboat diplomacy. The idea is to remind the target that you're stronger than they are, so if they don't do what you want you can always destroy their stuff and kill their people.

If the power playing the Gunboat Diplomacy trope is (a great deal) stronger than their opponent, this trope is win-win for them - if the target attacks the military force you used to threaten them, then you're perfectly justified in using force against them. If they give in to your demands, no one dies and you get what you wanted. And if they don't give in, but don't actually attack you, either? You can always make it look like they tried. Or just say "screw it" and attack anyway (though this only works so long as there aren't any even larger powers looking for an excuse to start a scrap).

This isn't to say that all displays of force are meant to be negative or intimidating — "showing the Flag" is also a good way for a nation to reassure its friends of its commitment to The Alliance, or for a Hegemonic Empire to demonstrate its willingness to protect (or "protect") its periphery from outside interference. Even in those cases, though, there's usually a thinly-veiled message being sent to someone that messing around in ways the dispatching nation doesn't approve of is going to mean trouble.

Still pretty common today, even though the Cold War is over — chiefly involving the USA's dozen aircraft carrier battle fleets or tens of thousands of Russians with Rusting Rockets, or a large number of soldiers marching in formation by many countries (the largest ones routinely held by China, Russia, India, and North Korea).

Compare with: Appeal to Force and Aggressive Negotiations. Overlaps considerably with Flaunting Your Fleets because this trope is largely about trade disputes (even today, 90% of the bulk/weight of all modern trade is by water-based transport), which leads to the occasional Naval Blockade. Though non-naval versions do exist.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • At the beginning of Avengers vs. X-Men, Captain America decides to protect Earth he needs to take Hope into custody... Though Hope is currently in the hands of Cyclops and the X-Men on Utopia, which is unofficially a sovereign nation. Cap comes by and politely asks Cyclops to hand her over... Just so happening to bring along two dozen members of the Avengers and one of the SHIELD helicarriers. After being pushed around by humans for decades, the Mutants on the island don't exactly respond well and a fight breaks out almost immediately.
    Captain America: You chose this fight, kid. Not me.
    Cyclops: Right. You just showed up on my doorstep with a floating aircraft carrier and two dozen Avengers.
  • In the "Star-Crossed" arc of Runaways, Xavin, who's come to collect on a marriage pact forged by the Deans, threatens to nuke Los Angeles with their ship if Karolina continues to spurn their advances. It's a bluff, of course - Xavin's ship does not have that capability - but the Runaways don't know that.
  • To force the Surgeon to leave peacefully in Clean Room, Astrid threatens to destroy the demons' base with her cloudbuster. She gets bonus points for using an actual gun on an actual boat.
  • In W.I.T.C.H., the fortress of Kandrakar is meant to be neutral and has specific limits on what it can do, and usually negotiates-and when some individuals get too pushy Kandrakar's negotiators will be the Guardians of Kandrakar, five individuals with immense magical powers that are otherwise the ones sent in when the alternative is a catastrophe on multiple worlds.

  • Discussed in the Avengers of the Ring sequel Methteilien, when the Avengers are assured that the Sokovia Accords have been dissolved after the Snap in the face of the campaign against Thanos and Morgoth (Morgoth has the Mind Stone and Wanda Maximoff while Thanos assembled the Infinity Gauntlet using the Silmaril as a 'substitute' for the Mind Stone). Black Widow expresses concern that the government's offer could just be a trick by pro-Accord government officials to trap the Avengers, but the heroes are soon reminded that the return of the Hulk gives the Avengers a suitably big stick to deter such plans.
  • In the KanColle/Harry Potter crossover Harry and the Shipgirls, Fubuki the destroyer, along with her battlegroup of the destroyers Yuudachi, Mutsuki, and Kisaragi, along with the Battleship Kana, had rescued a group of Yōkai children from a man named Rokurou. However, standard procedure required that the children be turned over to the authorities, which would ensure that Rokurou caused the children to have an "accident". Fubuki declared that the children were going with her battlegroup.
    Jaw dropped, Rokurou stared at her before whipping his head around to boggle at Inoue, "She can't do that!"

    With a glance at him, Inoue turned to Fubuki, "Normally, he would be right you know. This isn't something that I could let you do."

    A smile on her face, the Destroyer nodded, "Oh, I understand. But that would be normally." Still smiling, she gestured at the others, "However... right now, you have three Destroyers and one Battleship. And from what I remember, even one Destroyer would be, ah, difficult. Twenty-five millimeter can be quite nasty after all, and I have a few forties on me as well... not to mention sidearms."

    Slowly humming, Inoue looked towards the fairies, noticing that they had sidearms. His lips curled upwards a bit, "Oh, you are quite right. We're outmatched." Scratching his chin, he nodded, "Yes, completely outmatched right now and it would take far too long to contact some help. A shame..."
  • Linked in Life and Love: When Cardin and his team first see Blake with her ears exposed and move to start hassling her, they get a Death Glare from not only the rest of her team, but most of team JNPR as well. Nora is the only one smiling, but that's because she's letting Magnhild's appearance on her lap do the glaring for her.

  • The Sand Pebbles depicts Western gunboat diplomacy in 1920s China. Quite literally: the setting is a gunboat.
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: As leader of the intelligent apes, Caesar doesn't want war between them and the humans. He tells them this… with about a couple hundred apes armed to the teeth right behind him.
  • Star Wars: This is pretty much the doctrine behind the Death Star; as the worlds under the Empire would fall in line out of fear of having a planet-destroying battle station suddenly appearing in their systems and then blowing up their capitals.
    Grand Moff Tarkin: The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line, fear of this battle station.

  • "Please Hello" from Pacific Overtures has American, British, Dutch, Russian, and French admirals bringing Japan their demands for treaty ports and such, demands which are punctuated by shots from the cannons the admirals didn't forget to bring with them.
  • In the musical The Sultan of Sulu (1902), the American soldiers petition for Ki-Ram's consent to have the Americans take possession of his island to teach its inhabitants an enlightened form of government that derives its legitimacy "from the consent of the governed." Ki-Ram has only one question to ask before he capitulates: "Are all the guns loaded?" ("They are.")

    Video Games 
  • In the third act of Baldur's Gate III, this is how Lord Enver Gortash tries to "negotiate" an alliance with you once you reach Baldur's Gate in non-Dark Urge playthroughs. You're immediately accosted by the Flaming Fist and Steel Watch at the Southern Checkpoint, and the Steel Watch in particular makes it clear that they will go after any threats to the Cult of the Absolute, yourself included. Gortash, however, decides to "invite" you to his coronation, where he makes it clear that he actually needs your help in retaining control of the Elder Brain, and therefore proposes an alliance wherein his intimidating Steel Watch will leave you alone if you help him in his bid for political domination. He's more affable if you're playing as the Dark Urge, however, since the Dark Urge had a very fruitful partnership with Gortash prior to their amnesia, and he'd love nothing more than to rekindle that.
  • Pissing off a superpower in Tropico 1 and 3 will have them sent out a gunboat that will sail menacingly around your island. Continue to piss off the superpower, and they'll follow up with troop deployments.
  • Galactic Civilizations:
    • Works surprisingly well in GalCiv 2. Sure, your enemies won't like it, and they'll try to politically undermine you every chance they get, but hell if they aren't polite.
    "Oh, [Player Name], what a delight it is to speak with y- ...look, just don't hurt us, ok?"
    • This doesn't even appear to be exclusively military - the ability to make one quickly, being friends with someone who has one or even the ability to culturally dominate them seems to be enough.
    • In GalCiv 3, having powerful military vessels around will up your influence in the general vicinity, even against civs that you aren't at war with. It will even lower a civilization's influence on their own planets if you send fleets into their territory, though the other civ will take this as an aggressive move and get mad at you for it. They may not take it as far as declaring war right then and there, but your political standing with them will take a hit. One of the pre-defined political messages you can send another civilization is also "We request you remove any and all warships you have operating in our zone of influence".
  • In Tales of Vesperia The Empire stations the Heracles mobile fortress outside the city of Dahngrest during the negotiations with the leaders of the guilds, this is noted by the inhabitants of the guild city.
  • You can play a variant of this in Shin Megami Tensei II if your main character is sufficiently high level when trying to bind demons. When the demon demands payment for joining you, simply refuse. It starts kicking up a fuss. You can then either calm it down or rebuke it... which will scare it enough to immediately stop fussing and join you, for fear of what you might do otherwise.
  • In Mass Effect, it's said that the Alliance invokes this tactic as a deterrent to prevent pirate or slave raids on their planetary colonies. Want to attack? Go ahead! Just as long as you're aware of the whole fleet of heavily armed warships that are currently sitting no more than one Relay jump away. The asari criticize the Alliance Fifth Fleet's visits to various systems in the Attican Traverse as "gunboat diplomacy" but make no such noise when their own dreadnought does the same thing.
  • This is more or less the underlying purpose of the floating city of Columbia in BioShock Infinite. Having a floating city appear in the skies over your country in an era when horses were still the preferred method of transporation and electricity was only just appearing in the most modern cities carried a lot of implied threat with it. The city is also a flying superweapon, as it took part in the boxer rebellion, and ended it before disappearing in the skies.
  • A common and legitimate strategy in Civilization. If you have a sufficiently large military force, you can declare war, invade your enemies' lands, and take their cities... or open diplomacy with a neighbor and demand tribute from them, easy and pain-free. They may accept or refuse, depending on how powerful you are compared to them, whether you've made other demands recently, or whether or not you're simply asking too much. In Civ V, this is further expanded on with minor civs called City-States, from whom you can explicitly demand tribute in the form of gold or Worker units if you have a strong enough military near them. Doing so will anger the City-State and may also annoy major civs who are trying to curry favor with the City-State for the benefits it offers. There's even a late-game bonus called "Gunboat Diplomacy" which rapidly increases your influence with any city-state you have the ability to demand tribute from — this ability is available to those who pursue the Autocracy ideology.
    • Civilization: Beyond Earth expands on this in the Rising Tide expansion. Advantages like having a bigger military or more ideology levels instils Fear in inferior colonies. Fear thresholds are every bit as effective as Trust in greasing diplomatic wheels.
  • Persona 5: Knocking down all enemies will allow the party to hold them at gunpoint, after which the Protagonist can negotiate with an enemy to give him items, extort money, or make them become your Persona. Or you can just hit them all with an All-Out Attack.
  • Poseidon: Master of Atlantis: One mission has "maintain several frigates" as a requirement and Egypt stops selling grain during the mission. According to the post-mission briefing, the frigates were used to accompany the Atlantean king to Egypt to "negotiate" lower prices. Sure enough, in the next mission, the Egyptian cities are your vassals, sending shipments of grain every year.
  • Radiata Stories: Attempted by the humans, in response to the dwarves raising trade prices due to dwindling ore supply. An army accompanies two men sent to negotiate the price change. It was supposed to be a bluff, but unfortunately, one of the negotiators is a glory seeker; when the dwarves do not change their position, he orders the army to invade the village, which sparks a war between the humans and non-humans.
  • Stellaris has a variety of opinion modifiers determining how other empires respond to yours. These include border frictions, recent military aggression, insults, ethical agreements...and relative military power. This won't necessarily stop other empires from mailing you snide little insults, but it definitely helps your relations with your allies.

    Web Comics 
  • Florence Ambrose of Freefall tries to be diplomatic but isn't afraid to flash her teeth at people who insist on being obstinate. For the uninitiated Florence is a red wolf who has been genetically engineered to have human intelligence and so her teeth make a very effective deterrent.
    Helix: Florence is good at keeping things civilized because she makes it so clear what will happen if things get uncivilized.
  • Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger says here that the Space Rangers are the Empire's first contact experts precisely because they have a tendency to resort to this.
  • Problem Sleuth: Invoked by the titular character's skill "Sleuth Diplomacy", aka shooting up the place with a Tommy-gun.
  • Schlock Mercenary: Once Petey gains control of the core generator and becomes a galactic power in his own right, while he's neither liked nor trusted by the rest of the galaxy's governments, they at least see the wisdom of staying on his good side considering the military and economic resources at his disposal.
    General Bala-Amin: Of course, this delegation has been sponsored by the Plenipotent Dominion.
    Admiral Emm: And you take orders from foreign powers, now?
    Bala-Amin: No, but I do have standing orders to start exactly zero wars with the psychobear of destruction at the galactic core.

    Web Original 
  • A recurring theme in several CGP Grey videos is what he calls "bigger-army diplomacy" in explaining how some political situations came to be, ranging from the existence of the Hong Kong and Macau S.A.R.'s in China to the succession of the English Crown (especially in the early days).

    Western Animation 
  • Kuvira uses this negotiation technique in The Legend of Korra as a means of forcing Zaofu's surrender. When Su doesn't bite, Korra steps up to fight and fails; but then Ikki and Jinora interrupt a potential killing blow by Kuvira, which she then turns around and uses as an excuse to attack as it "violates their treaty" and takes Zaofu shortly afterwards.


Video Example(s):


history of japan

Commodore Matthew Perry sails to Japan on a "diplomatic" mission to open its ports to trade with the United States. And by diplomatic, it involved threats to bombard Edo (now Tokyo) with their modernized fleet if the shogunate refuses to end their "sakoku" policy. Russia and the United Kingdom were also allowed to trade with Japan as well.

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