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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 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.


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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..."

  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • House of the Dragon: Whenever Daemon Targaryen wants to make a point or flex his muscle, he will break out his dragon Caraxes, who will often loom over the assembled party as Daemon is talking.
  • In just the second episode of Yes, Minister, Hacker finds himself faced with a tricky situation involving the new dictator of an African state who, for various reasons, they need something from, but who is threatening to cause an embarrassing incident. The foreign secretary muses jokingly that in the old days they would just send in a gunboat. Hacker then asks if that is absolutely out of the question, to shocked stares.note 
    • In Yes, Prime Minister, Hacker (now PM) arranges for a full battalion of paratroopers to pay a goodwill visit to a small third-world country, against Sir Humphrey's wishes, that may just be about to suffer from a Communist uprising.
    Hacker: And the Americans say they have an entire airborne division standing by in case we need reinforcements.
    Sir Humphrey: Of what?!
    Hacker: Reinforcements of goodwill, Humphrey!
  • Happens quite often in the various versions of Star Trek. Captain Kirk does it well because he is such a Badass.
    • Federation Diplomacy seems to consist of sending two diplomats to discuss things in a patronising manner, then holding the talks on a massively over-armed starship in orbit above one of the party's homeworld.
    • This is Lampshaded in the original script for "A Taste of Armageddon". Scotty protests "I haven't served 30 years in the engine room of a Starship to be accused of gunboat diplomacy!" In the episode, he actually says, "The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank!" One of the reasons why it happens so often is that the first contact goes violent often enough that you have to back it up with firepower simply to be safe — and as warp travel is generally too slow to get reinforcements there in reasonable time, that means the ship making first contact has to have that firepower. The ships simultaneously display the benefits of Federation friendship (access to amazing technology) and the downsides of enmity (very very big guns). End result: the Federation keeps making initial agreements with newly discovered species while a starship capable of wiping out a civilization hangs around nearby.
    • In the episode "A Taste of Armageddon", Kirk is taken hostage by the people of Eminar, and obtains his release by ordering the implementation of General Order 24 in two hours: destruction of any city, military structure, and evidence or hint that something on the target planet may have the ability to tickle the ships' shields, and Eminar's anti-orbit weapons had precisely that effect. He then ends the Forever War between the people of Eminar and the neighbouring Vendikar by destroying the computers that calculate what effect the attacks would have on the enemy and order people to disintegration chambers (that's why they try to destroy the Enterprise: the computers had calculated the Enterprise would have been destroyed as collateral damage), thus forcing both sides to engage in peace talks rather than restart actual war.
    • In Star Trek: Voyager, Janeway is not afraid to more or less punch her way through the Delta Quadrant, but she usually tries talking first. In the episode "Juggernaut", for example, B'Elanna complains about having to work with the Malon, who dump toxic waste in open space, and that Janeway's solution is always diplomacy. Earlier in the episode? Janeway telling the Malon they could help her fix their doomed ship or she would beam them back onto their escape pod, which was inside the blast radius. In Janeway's defense, she's operating several light-millennia outside Starfleet's jurisdiction, so it's understandable why she'd want to maintain a strong and intimidating hand in every alien encounter. As depicted in the below incident where Voyager encounters the Lokirrim, who don't like holograms (they're facing an AI hologram rebellion).
      Janeway: Your sensors should confirm [our holodecks have] been deactivated.
      Lokirrim Captain: You're still required to submit to inspection.
      Janeway: Your sensors should also confirm that our weapons are ready to fire. We're both reasonable people. I suggest a compromise. Your vessel will escort us through Lokirrim territory. That way, you can keep an eye on us, make sure we don't reactivate our holodecks. The other alternative is, we destroy your ship.
      Lokirrim Captain (suddenly looking a bit uncomfortable): Your proposal is acceptable. [Transmission ends]
      Janeway (sits back down in her chair): Sometimes diplomacy requires a little sabre rattling. [Chakotay smirks] Begin long-range scans.
    • In Star Trek: Discovery, this trope gets worked a few different ways in the series pilot. T'Kuvma, a Klingon leader attempting to rally the Empire against the Federation, argues that the Federation uses their peaceful exploration gimmick as a means to subvert and assimilate other races without having to fight them. Sarek notes that the Vulcans had previously gained the Klingons' respect by demonstrating that they were willing to engage them in battle, and when faced with a Klingon fleet gathering on the edge of Federation space, Starfleet rallies their own fleet of ships to face off with them before offering to talk things out peacefully (the Klingons don't trust the Federation's intentions, and a large space battle and an interstellar war promptly ensues).
  • In The Sopranos episode "Whitecaps", a real estate agent refuses to do business with Tony, so he has some of his men park a boat next to the agent's beach house and play loud music.
  • A fairly common tactic in Babylon 5:
    • Happens all over the place in A Voice In The Wilderness, with over a half-dozen races (including Earth and a previously-unknown race) all pulling this at once when some very powerful, very advanced technology is discovered buried beneath the planet that the station orbits. After a brief, inconclusive battle, the planet itself, now acting through its new caretaker, Draal, informs all parties that none of them can have exclusive control of the planet, and that any who approach without permission will be destroyed. The ship belonging to the previously-unknown race ignores the warning and promptly gets ventilated.
    • And subverted in Rumors, Bargains, and Lies, when Sheridan orders the Rangers to attack and destroy some random asteroids. The League races know that the White Stars have far superior sensors to anything they have, and thus assume that they were fighting an invisible enemy. Sheridan does nothing to make them question this assumption, and welcomes them into a new military alliance.
    • A common accusation is the invitation for Earth to join the Interstellar Alliance happened during the end of the rebellion, and included dozens of advance warships doing a flyover of the capital.
  • Andromeda: The whole reason why the High Guard had such fancy and overly powerful warships designed by now extinct Vedrans was so the High Guard could flaunt their unimaginable destructive potential and deter belligerent species from hostilities during negotiations. Usually these were discussions that involved joining the Commonwealth either by free will or with the guns of a mile long warship that looks like an Italian-sportscar-in-space trained on them. The XMC class or Glorious Heritage-class heavy cruisers like the Andromeda Ascendant were built for exactly this purpose. They were the diplomatic flagships of the Commonwealth that usually operated without a task force for extended periods of time. The stupid amounts of firepower and the ability to crack an M-class planet like an egg in only a few minutes and a legion of lancers gave the High Guard captain a pretty good bargaining position. XMC heavy cruisers were also used for long-range exploration because of this capability.
    • Of particular note is that in the post-Commonwealth dark age Captain Dylan Hunt frequently has to resort to gunboat diplomacy when dealing with the various planetary factions or powers he ends up dealing with.
    Dylan: "Andromeda, how long do you think it would take you to depopulate this world?"
    Rommie: "About sixteen minutes."
    • Also happens when Dylan is backing Prince Erik for the throne of Ne'Holland against the corrupt barons:
    Erik: Our entire defense fleet?
    Dylan: Rommie, how long would it take for you to destroy that fleet?
    Rommie: 6.2 seconds.
    Dylan: That long?
    • This didn't do much good against the Pyrians, whose ships were at least a match for the Glorious Heritage class. Also, unlike the Commonwealth, the Pyrians never went anywhere.

  • The Howard Taylor novel Show of Force starts off as this by both sides over a missile deployment in the Indian Ocean and ends up turning into a full-scale naval battle.
  • Jack Ryan:
    • In The Bear And The Dragon, attack subs are maneuvering near the Chinese coast long before hostilities begin, along with naval ships anchored in Taiwan, and Executive Orders has a premier tank squadron training in the Negev desert just before the UIR's invasion of its neighbors. Debt Of Honor subverts the whole thing by having the US and Japan conduct a joint training mission, and then having the Japanese navy doing the equivalent of cold-cocking the American forces returning to Pearl Harbor.
    • Considered, but not actually implemented in Rainbow Six, where the Rainbow troops were considering making their existence public just to intimidate the terrorists into keeping their heads down.
  • The New Republic did this to the Hutts in the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Darksaber.
    • And in The Thrawn Trilogy, Thrawn in the Chimera would, ah, persuade neutral worlds to support the Empire.
    • The Empire liked this. There's something called the "Tarkin Doctrine", which basically goes that it's better to rule by fear of force than force itself. A planet that surrenders without a fight gives its resources fully intact. On the other hand, the Empire is decidedly not bluffing about actually following through on their threats, and any resistance (even non-violent resistance) will be put down brutally to make sure everyone knows they're not bluffing.
    • Threatened to happen in Starfighters of Adumar. Both the Empire and the New Republic were trying to win over a neutral world, and both had beforehand signed treaties stating that if they were not the favored party, they would withdraw all forces for three days and not return except under "formal banners of truce or war". The Empire intended to ignore that if it came to it, but the Imperial in charge hated being ordered to break his word so much that the New Republic ambassador, Wedge Antilles, was able to talk him out of it. Thus, the Imperial admiral sent his ship back on a route that would take 3 days to reach the capital, and locked down its holocomm systems so that even if his orders were disobeyed they'd have no way of delivering a message except by shuttlecraft, and left a message announcing his resignation from the Imperial Navy while he stayed behind on Adumar.
  • One of the space ships in Iain M. Banks's Culture novels is actually named Gunboat Diplomat. The Culture are rather good at doing this, albeit in a subtle way, too - their enormous General Systems Vehicles leisurely cruise their way around the galaxy, showing other civilisations the many wonders of the Culture... And also providing a pointed reminder as to just how powerful their society really is - if you repeatedly get in their way, and ignore them when they ask you nicely to stop doing so, you will be destroyed.
  • The final book in Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series features two Human spaceships dispatched to the homeworld of the lizard-like aliens known as The Race. The first is the Admiral Peary which is close in capability to the conventional sub-lightspeed sleeper ships The Race themselves use, and was sent to negotiate a peace deal on equal terms. The second is the Commodore Perry. Its purpose is to negotiate on less equal terms. The fact that the Commodore Perry is an FTL-capable ship that took only six weeks to get from Earth to Tau Ceti—something that The Race firmly believed was technologically impossible—ends up scaring The Race more than the fact that the ship is also a full-scale nuclear launch platform. Even if they managed to destroy the ship, the humans would just send another that could attack as soon as it arrived in orbit in a matter of weeks, as opposed to decades.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • Aral Vorkosigan pulls a clever reversal of this; he draws up a list of a neighbouring polity's top five requested diplomatic concessions and suggests it as an agenda for a summit. The diplomacy, in this case, is purely so that he can get his gunboat closer to where he suspects the action will take place. He's right, and it results in one hell of a Gunship Rescue moment.
    • 'Diplomatic Immunity' is an interesting inversion of the trope: the gunships have been impounded, and the main character has to diplomatically mediate between his ferocious military subordinates and the peaceful natives who see them as barbarians.
    • Pierre Le Sanguinerre was the warleader for Emperor Dorca who carried out such things on recalcitrant vor.
  • Star Trek Expanded Universe:
    • In Star Trek: Articles of the Federation, United Federation of Planets President Bacco resorts to this when overseeing negotiations between the Carreon and the Deltans. The Deltans require a new water reclamation system for their planet, and the Carreon have the design they need. Because of an old feud, however, the Carreon refuse to negotiate properly. Bacco ends up using the implied threat of Federation military strength to stop the Carreon from messing the Deltans around. As she tells the Carreon Ambassador, diplomacy is the means by which conflict is avoided. If Carrea won't negotiate in good faith, the only remaining option is war- and she makes it clear Carrea wouldn't stand a chance.
    • The novel The Romulan Way includes this in the second attempt at contacting the Rihannsu (Romulans), as the Federation had sent the starship Balboa with the Stone Mountain in the general area ready to help. The Rihannsu, paranoid due previous experiences with aliens that faked pacific intentions before attacking, annihilated Balboa with fifty of the seven thousand small warships they had built in the three years since the first attempt at contact, and then captured Stone Mountain and started making crude copies of its warp drive and advanced weapons to fight the Earth-Romulan War.
      • The sequel Swordhunt had the Rihannsu asking to renegotiate the Neutral Zone with the negotiations to happen on a neutral ship provided by the nomadic Lalairu, and all parties engaged in this: the Federation shows up with a squadron of warships: four refit Constitution-class heavy cruisers including Enterprise (commanded by their old nemesis Kirk) and two new Constellation-class long-range cruisers, all commanded by one of the best and most aggressive commodores in Starfleet; the Rihannsu showed up with four heavy cruisers of a new class and two heavy cruisers of a bigger new class; the Lalairu sent the Mascrar, a colony ship that outgunned either task force.
  • Retaking the Lone Islands with one ship in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
  • This is standard policy for the Earth Federation when dealing with space-faring aliens in Mikhail Akhmanov's Trevelyan's Mission series. This is justified, as humanity's first (and many subsequent) encounters with aliens haven't exactly been on friendly terms. As such, all ambassadors are ferried by top-of-the-line cruisers. Then again, given that this 'verse has instant Casual Interstellar Travel, it's not that big a deal. The only time they did not do that is when a race of Technical Pacifists (who can somehow accurately predict possible futures using an advanced form of intuition) requested that no warships be present at negotiations.
  • In Jingo Vetinari shoots down the suggestion that Ankh-Morpork sent a warship to Klatch for this purpose on the grounds that, firstly, that sort of thing is not done in modern diplomacy and, secondly, Ankh-Morpork doesn't have any warships.
  • The Irregular at Magic High School has a familial example in volume 16. Clan head Maya says that Tatsuya is her son. This is bullshit and everybody knows it's bullshit, but Maya can laser-drill people, so the family accepts it.

  • "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 
  • 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.

    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.

    Real Life 
  • At the height of its power in the 1800s, the British Empire became famous for this. It was said that the empire could quiet the whole of China by simply dispatching a single warshipnote . Boastful hyperbole, to be sure, but hyperbole with a point. It was taken to ridiculous levels with the Don Pacifico affair when Britain's reaction to a British citizen in Greece being mugged was to send the Royal Navy over to blockade the entire country until the Greeks caught the man responsible and paid Don Pacifico compensation (although it should be noted that Pacifico was Jewish, and he was only the latest in a long line of British Jews to be abused in Greece, so the British did have, if you squint, a slightly nobler motive).
    • During the Second Opium War, the British and French sent what amounted to little more than three divisions (not even 60,000 troops) to escort their ambassadors to Peking - ostensibly in the hope that they would be recognised as equals rather than being made to do the kowtow and be officially recognised as vassals/servants. The Qing court umm-ed and ah-ed and eventually met them with armed force when they kept marching on the capital. However, their decently-armed but disorganised and ill-led force of 200,000 (which had zero experience of modern warfare to boot) was quickly routed and the Imperial Court fled the city still refusing to negotiate. The Allies stuck around and pillaged the place until they did.
      • Cleverly exploiting this was the way Russia peacefully and amicably acquired her Maritime Provinces in 1860. By negotiating a settlement and treaty to stop Allied troops from ransacking Beijing further, the Russian Ambassador established a certain rapport with the Emperor was able to convince him that the sparsely-inhabited (Han Chinese were prohibited to settle there by the Manchu Qing dynasty, whose semi-nomadic people were the only people living there) lands in question were not only economically useless but also impossible to protect. He actually had a point there, as just seven years later Russia sold her lands in North America (the USA's current state of 'Alaska') to the USA for the exact same reasons. From that point onward, Russian diplomats were always keen to point out that Russia's acquisitions of Qing territory had been by mutual agreement and not made under duress - criticising at great length the French and the Japanese for their own less subtle approaches.
    • The governor of Guangzhou tried this against The British East India Company, without appreciating the close ties between The Company and the British government or the extent to which two hundred years of nothing more than border-skirmishes with steppe tribes and mountain-kingdoms had left Qing Chinese forces woefully inexperienced and ill-equipped for waging a full-scale modern war of the kind Europe had been fighting for four hundred years very nearly non-stop by that point (chiefly the Hundred Years' War, Eighty Years' War, Thirty Years' War, Seven Years' War, War of American Independence, War of the Spanish Succession, War of the Austrian Succession, French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars).
  • Subverted with the "Gunboat War" between Denmark-Norway and the United Kingdom from 1807 to 1814. Because the Royal Navy had forced Denmark to hand over its battle-fleet through the 1807 bombardment of Copenhagen (i. e. a direct attack on the civilian population of the Danish capital), Denmark could only continue the unequal struggle with its smaller naval ships, i. e. gunboats.
  • The USA's Central-South American Banana Republics were, as per the page image, kept in line by constant reminders of the threat of force and the occasional USA-organised/supported coup d'etat. From a little after the US Civil War up until relatively recently, this trope has been in force to some extent.
    • The page image also refers to a policy of gunboat diplomacy by proxy. The United States didn't want European warships intruding into the American sphere of influence; instead, the Europeans would ask the US to send a gunboat to apply pressure on their behalf.
      • Specifically, the page image is referring to the Monroe Doctrine - that the USA would resist all European attempts to interfere in 'their' zone of influence, i.e. the whole of the Americas. No-one took it seriously at the time, as the US was a third-rate power and it was clear that places like British Canada and Spanish Cuba were not part of the Americas, by this definition. Nor were places like Argentina, which was Britain's model Banana Republic. Anyhow, note how Roosevelt is aiming the gun at the monarchical European figure while the poor, defenseless Latin American cowers beneath him. The image doesn't actually show gunboat diplomacy as such but instead presents a benign ideal of it, as one would expect of a (biased) US political cartoon.
      • Incidentally, they started taking it seriously during the Spanish-American War, when an American fleet in the Caribbean wiped out an entire Spanish fleet. In an afternoon. While suffering one casualty. From heatstroke. (American demands afterwards rapidly jumped from "get out of Cuba" to "give us all of your islands", especially when a second Spanish fleet in the Philippines fared little better.)
  • The SMS Panther is the Trope Namer and Trope Codifier, when it was dispatched by the German Empire to Morocco in 1911, during the Agadir Crisis. This incident popularised the phrase "gunboat diplomacy" and also contributed to the First World War.
    • The "Panther's Leap" also counts as a subversion of sorts, since the entire affair was a complete farce. She was ostensibly dispatched to Agadir to protect German citizens in the port, but this plan had one glaring flaw: there were no German citizens in Agadir. Realising this, the German government sent a telegram to the only German citizen in the area - a perfectly happy, unendangered man called Wilburg - and ordered him to travel 75 miles south to Agadir to be "rescued". The Panther arrived on July 1st, 1911, only to discover that Wilburg hadn't arrived, so the gunboat sat impotently in the bay waiting for him. When he finally did reach Agadir, he was so exhausted from his journey that his only priority was finding a hotel for the night. The next morning he awoke to discover that the Panther had been joined by a second German gunboat, the Berlin. Deciding it was time to go and get himself rescued, Wilburg made his way down to the beach and waved at the ships... who promptly ignored him. Frustrated, Wilburg began to jump up and down and throw a tantrum on the beach - only for the officers of the Berlin to assume he was a deranged native. It was only when Wilburg stood with his hands on his hips and glared at them in silent fury that it dawned on them that this might be the man they were supposed to rescue - because no native would ever stand with his hands on his hips. Wilburg was duly saved from the terrifying prospect of a nice day on the beach. In truth, the entire episode had been intended to warn the French of trying to obstruct German colonization in Africa but backfired spectacularly when it drew the ire not just of the French, but the British as well.
    • Worse yet, the incident demonstrated Austria-Hungary's complete unwillingness to back Germany up when push came to shove. Rather than seeking a new ally - i.e. Russia, a rising power with close economic ties to Germany - they tried even harder to enlist Austro-Hungarian support. Ultimately, German support for Austria-Hungary and fear of Russia's growing economic and military power impelled Germany to escalate a war between Austria-Hungary and Russia into a pan-European conflict involving France and Germany as wellnote . Neutral but virulently Germanophobic Britain using the invasion of Belgium as a pretext to attack Germany and Germany staging a False Flag Operation to bring The Ottoman Empire into the war against Russia were just the icing on the cake.
      • At the start, only Churchill and Gray were in support of intervention, and both the political leadership and general public in Britain were unwilling to get involved in the war. It was the (vastly exaggerated) atrocitiesnote  which the German army committed in Belgium which finally propelled them to act. Those atrocities were themselves propelled by the Germans not being familiar with the nature of urban combat, where every shot echoed, causing a false belief that the troops were constantly under threat of ambush by local partisans. By the standards of the time, partisans were considered war criminals so those atrocities were considered "appropriate" by the occupying forces.
  • During the interwar era, the Danzig crisis of 1932, which pitted a Polish Navy destroyer acting under orders from Poland's government and the Free City of Danzig, whose political position remained contested during the period. Polish statesman Józef Piłsudski decided to order the ORP Wicher to host the visit of a group of British destroyers to the Free City of Danzig (which was technically recognized as an independent entity at the time by most foreign governments, including Poland). Despite the aggressive posture, the Polish goal behind sending a warship to foreign waters was primarily to prevent the French and British governments from striking any deal with Nazi Germany that would be unfavorable to Poland with a show of strength. On the date of the British visit, 14 June, the Wicher steamed into the Danzig harbor, with secret orders to shell government buildings if any disrespect was shown to the Polish flag. Danzig officials were ultimately forced to accept the Polish government's right to station warships in the city harbor whenever they pleased, which only resulted in a further deterioration of relationship between the two entities in the years leading up to World War II.
  • The two Moroccan Crises of 1905 and 1911. Both also illustrate the major problem with the gunboat approach; you have to have the biggest stick around to pull it off, or you'll be slapped down by those who do.
  • USS Texas earned the nickname "The Old Statesman" (think about it) after being used (along with several other ships) to exert diplomatic pressure on the Mexican government during what's now called the "Tampico Incident." She was actually one of the last ships literally referred to as a gunboat during her career to be used in this capacity.
    • USS Iowa has the nickname "the Big Stick" after Teddy Roosevelt's "speak softly and carry a big stick" quote. fittingly the Iowa class were the last battleships used to be used as a tacit threat in a similar idea to this trope.
  • There is the similar modern concept of "flattop diplomacy", flat top being the slang term for aircraft carrier. There is a bit more to it though. In flattop diplomacy, a carrier is docked in a foreign port where there are diplomatic tensions. The threat that the carrier poses is minor compared to the threat of starting a war with the carrier's home nation.
  • American exercises off Libya in the 1980s, especially the Gulf of Sidra incidents.
    • Older Than They Think once you find on a map where the Barbary States were located. The Marine Corps hymn doesn't mention the Shores of Tripoli because of anything they did in the 20th century.
    • The Barbary Coast states were known as pirates and slave takers until visited in turn by the Americans, the British, and the French at the beginning of the nineteenth century. These three each persuaded them to turn to more gentle ways of life by the use of exceedingly strong persuasions.
  • The Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-6 was another instance, although some argue that the US overdid it—almost fatally —when Bill Clinton ordered two Carrier Battle Groups instead of just one. The crisis also demonstrated the potential for gunboat diplomacy to backfire. The crisis was precipitated by the Chinese military conducting missile tests less than 40 miles from ROC-controlled territory as well as a mobilization of Chinese troops in Fujian province (the province closest to Taiwan) and several live-fire exercises. The actions were intended to scare the Taiwanese populace into not re-electing then-President Lee Teng-hui, who was seen by China as being pro-independence - the crisis actually boosted Lee's popularity in the 1996 election and gave him an outright majority in the polls as opposed to a mere plurality. China has since learned its lesson and hasn't tried anything so radical in subsequent Taiwanese elections.
  • Perhaps most famously, the diplomatic mission of Commodore Matthew C. Perry (not that one) to the Empire of Japan. His "diplomacy" involving the demand that Japan open its ports to trade with the United States, or else his fleet would sail all the way to Edo (now known as Tokyo) and burn it to the ground. He also claimed that the US Navy would send more ships to reinforce him than actually existed, but the Japanese didn't know that at the time.
    • Subverted by his Russian equivalent, Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin who managed to open Japan for Russia after a tsunami destroyed his fleet.
    • This was only the most famous of several rounds of this trope with Japan; Britain, after an English businessman was murdered for refusing to dismount and pay his respects to a passing noble, sent a squadron to bombard the towns of Kagoshima and Shimonoseki. Part of why Commodore Perry's tactics worked was because a growing faction in the Shogunate were going "Guys, we have got to get some of that for ourselves!"
    • The final Japanese surrender in World War II was signed on USS Missouri, a battleship. Perry's US flag was brought along for the occasion as MacArthur was a blood relative of Perry's.
  • Defied repeatedly to its own ultimate detriment by Joseon Korea, which had seen what "opening markets" had done to China and wanted little part of it. The American armed schooner General Sherman was sent to Pyongyang in 1866, ostensibly to open trade relations, only to be destroyed by fireships when the crew refused to accept "no" for an answer. Later the same year, an estimated 800 French soldiers aboard six warships attempted to seize the mouth of the Han River and coastal access to the capital, only to be forced back by winter and overwhelming opposition. Talk of a joint French-American punitive expedition went nowhere, but in 1871, the Americans tried again with over 600 marines and five warships, taking five fortifications along the Han River and managing to only strengthen the regent's opposition to modernization, including new proclamations against "appeasing foreigners." It wasn't until their rapidly-modernizing Japanese neighbours threatened to fire on the capital Hanseong (today Seoul) itself that the Hermit Kingdom was finally forced to open its markets to foreign trade, with Japan, America, and Russia at the forefront. Exactly as the Joseon rulers had feared, this resulted in their nation being annexed (albeit by Japan rather than a European power).
  • In order to construct the Panama Canal, US President Theodore Roosevelt encouraged the Panamanians to revolt against their Colombian rulers, promising assistance from the US Navy. The rebellion was successful mainly because USS Nashville just happened to be in local waters, discouraging the Colombians from sending troops to quell the rebels.
  • Used without end by both sides during the Cold War with various degrees of success. There were many versions, from troop movements around the border, military exercises that were either intentionally leaked or outright covered by the media, nuclear weapons testing... The "who blinks first" attitude shared by both sides nearly led to World War III and the End of the World as We Know It, multiple times.
  • Inverted, after a fashion, by the British government in the 1970s when the Argentine government first made threatening moves against the Falkland Islands. Two frigates were quickly dispatched to Britain's own territory, as opposed to dropping into a major Argentine port to say hello, and were backed up by a fast-attack submarine that would have come as quite a rude shock if the Argentines had decided to press on regardless. Instead, they wisely took the hint and the invasion plan was shelved. Sadly, Mrs Thatcher's Conservative government was rather less on the ball regarding Latin America than the outgoing Labour administration under Jim Callaghan, and ten years later Galtieri had another go... Ironically, if Galtieri had waited one more year, massive budget cuts would've left the Royal Navy so downsized it would no longer have been able to take back the Falklands.note  Galtieri didn't do this largely because he feared he wouldn't be able to wait another year; he'd seized power in a coup and given his unpopularity he feared being deposed soon by another coup. Seizing "Las Malvinas" would be a glorious victory to distract from his economic failures and brutality, so he gambled that Britain just wouldn't care enough about the tiny barely-populated islands to actually fight for them.note 
    • Britain is also prone to doing this by sending something to the Falklands every time Argentina starts making noises about 'Las Malvinas'. Until recently, it was usually a submarine (which after what happened to the Belgrano, Argentina is more than a little twitchy about), though in 2012 after a few particular noises too many, the Dauntless a brand new Type 45 'Daring' class Destroyer (equivalent of the US Arleigh Burke class) was sent to the islands.
  • Hilarious version: Every time Malaysia decides to taunt Indonesia about its territorial borders, Malaysia does indeed send a warship, only for Indonesia to send several bigger warships (sometimes with an extra Cool Plane). Gunboat diplomacy only works if you're more powerful than the nation you're trying to intimidate, after all.
  • An interesting dueling version: During the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War, the US sent in the Enterprise battle group to threaten India to stop curb-stomping the Pakistanis, only for the Soviets (who were sympathetic to Indianote ) to do the same thing. To prevent this from becoming a Pretext for War, the Americans stood down, although India offered very generous terms to Pakistan in the Shiala Agreement. India developed The Third Eye of Bharat to prevent anyone from ever using this tactic to push them around again. But in response, the Pakistanis with Panters developed their own Pak Attack, bringing further tension to the region.
  • The order of the day between North and South Korea: if you don't like how things are going in the diplomatic table, you arrange a "joint military exercise (with live rounds!)" near your neighbor's land or naval border. Sometimes the "training bullets" fly outside the exercise zone, too.
    • The US and South Korea habitually do joint training exercises near the hot area. When, in 2013, North Korea started one of the worst rounds of saber-rattling yet, the US sent a missile destroyer and a couple of B-2 heavy bombers to play, in a show designed to say "careful who you mess with".
      • Unfortunately, due to peculiarities of the North Korean society (these guys tend to believe their own propaganda), it sends exactly the wrong message. When these powerful American forces leave, the North Koreans believe they've chased them off.
      • One successful account of this would be Operation Paul Bunyan. The background of the story is that the South Koreans had a tree on their side that needed to be cut since its presence prevented them from keeping an eye on a North Korean facility across the border. When they sent a small squad of Americans and their own soldiers to trim the tree, several North Korean soldiers crossed to the South Korean side and told them that the tree had been planted by Kim Il Sung himself, and trimming it was forbidden. When the Americans refused to stop their work, the North Korean soldiers attacked them with axes, killing several of them. The United States responded with the above-mentioned Operation Paul Bunyan, involving a more...aggressive trimming of the tree consisting of American combat engineering regiments, South Korean special forces, American AA and tank battalions, Cobra attack helicopters, F-111 attack aircraft, B-52 nuclear bombers with fighter escort, and enough naval and army forces on standby to reduce everything within a 5-mile radius of the tree to ash if given the word. The North Koreans were understandably alarmed about the sudden show of force (one intelligence officer monitoring NK radio communications at the time said that the sheer amount of firepower "blew their [...] minds") and deployed some machine gun teams on their side, but they wisely stayed well clear of the American forces as they chopped the tree down.
  • Shows of force are not limited to one's adversaries. They can just as much be messages to one's allies: "I will support you in the face of this third country threatening you" is more credible if you have your own skin in the game, like your own soldiers and ships.
    • As a specific example, take the presence of American soldiers in Europe as part of NATO during the Cold War. US foreign policy up through World War II traditionally favored neutrality (at least with respect to Europe) and staying out of potentially entangling alliances and conflicts.note  Even during the Cold War and the formation of NATO, there was much worry among some in Western Europe that, if Warsaw Pact troops did invade, the US would just leave them to their fate rather than send their own soldiers to die on someone else's land; the US's commitment to using nuclear weapons in retaliation was similarly questioned (why bring The End of the World as We Know It on everyone, including Americans, when not using them would only mean Western Europe gets new management but at least not a nuclear wasteland?). Placing US troops in Europe was at least partly to assuage these fears - it would be far more difficult for Washington to politically justify not getting involved in a Warsaw Pact invasion scenario if American blood had already been shed.
      • The Berlin Brigade, a US Army contingent that was stationed in West Berlin (the UK and France also had similar contingents), can be considered an example of the previous on a smaller scale. Unification of Berlin was a prized objective of East Germany and the Soviet Union for reasons politicalnote  and praticalnote , and it wasn't like the Soviets wouldn't consider trying to strongarm the West into giving up West Berlin (c.f., the 1947-48 Berlin Blockade, the tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie in 1961) - in a hypothetical Warsaw pact invasion West Berlin would almost certainly be a target. The force wasn't all that large - about 3,000 for the US - and in an actual shooting war they would not have lasted more than a few days to any serious push by Warsaw Pact troops because they would be outnumbered by a ridiculous margin and be immediately cut-off from supplies behind the Iron Curtain. The real point was to make US citizens die in the defence of West Berlin and West Germany so that the USA's isolationists would be unable to oppose the war, and make NATO think it was less likely that the USA would abandon them if war broke out.
  • Both China and America have been sending their magnificent naval fleets to the South China Sea. The PRC, to defend the undersea resources they claim to be rightfully theirs (which is to say, the entire sea note ); the USA, to curb the PRC's claim by protecting the interests of her South-East Asian allies, who under international law have legitimate and universally recognised (except by the PRC) claims to it.
    • China's own attempts at gunboat diplomacy seem to actually be backfiring against them. By antagonizing their neighbors, China has actually pushed these to have closer ties to the US. The Philippines is already a given considering that they're already a recognized "Major Non-NATO Ally". More ironic however is Vietnam, a communist country and America's former foe in The Vietnam War are now moving towards closer ties towards their old foe. (It doesn't help China's case that they are also an old foe of Vietnam. Even if they have ideologically similar governments, China has been at war with Vietnam more recently than America has.) If China fears being encircled by enemies supported by the west, they surely aren't doing a very good job preventing it.
  • Employed by the USSR in the so-called First Socialist War (China's punitive war against Vietnam concerning the latter's incursions into China-friendly Cambodia...which Vietnam had conduced to stop the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime). In 1979, as the PRC wound up its limited offensive upon Vietnam, the Soviet Union - Vietnam's ideological and Realpolitik backers - conducted one of the largest military manoeuvres in its history. More than thirty divisions were airlifted to the Sino-Russian border in less than a week, and the Navy burned through three years of its fuel reserves in the course of a month. Two divisions were actually left in Mongolia after the exercises, as doing so was cheaper than bringing them back. As far as the Soviets were concerned, not to mention the Vietnamese, the Chinese had been scared into submission. The Peoples' Liberation Army's desire to avoid the appearance of caving in to Soviet pressure actually made them want to continue to prosecute the war beyond the (limited and from a military standpoint, stupid) objectives they had been set. The PRC ultimately ended up withdrawing and declaring victory, even though they'd plainly been driven out by Vietnam.
  • This trope is best summed up by the old maxim (source unknown) "Diplomacy works best when it's backed by credible threat of force."
  • Iran, under pressure of embargo over their nuclear development, had threatened to blockade the Strait of Hormuz. The US responded by deploying their biggest aircraft carrier to patrol the waters.
  • Northrop Grumman - the owners of the shipyards where US aircraft carriers are built - actually sell T-shirts and posters with the image of USS Enterprise from the front and the legend: "90,000 tons of diplomacy."
  • In 1825, King Charles X of France sent a gunboat to Haiti to demand, under threat of war if they did not agree, an indemnity of 150 million francs to be paid over five years to compensate the slaveowners and planters who lost their "property" in the revolution. Since Haiti's total revenue for the year 1825 was only 5.1 million francs, they were forced to empty the treasury and take out a loan from France. Even after the French reduced their demand to 90 million francs, Haiti ended up paying a total of 112 million francs from 1825 to 1938 because of the loans. The New York Times estimates that Haiti lost at least $21 billion or as much as $115 billion of potential economic growth over a period of 200 years.
  • The three "Cod Wars" between the United Kingdom and Iceland can be seen as another modern example. Here the British were unsuccessful in their attempts to impose their policies on Iceland. Iceland knew that their strategically vital location in the Cold War meant they were too important to NATO for the British to actually open fire, illustrating that gunboat diplomacy doesn't work if the stronger nation is bluffing and the weaker nation knows it.
  • A Cracked article about the daily life of bouncers in bars or clubs is an example of small-scale application of this trope. Big scary muscular guys are preferable to tiny pint-sized powerhouses or martial artists, precisely because big muscular men will intimidate the patrons so much just by their looks and reminding the patrons that they are not the biggest guy in the room that they will think twice before causing trouble.
  • Averted by the Charter of the United Nations, which bans States from threatening the use of force against the territorial integrity or the independence of another State.


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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Main / GunboatDiplomacy

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