Principles and Precedents

  • James Cable
Part of the Studies in International Security book series (SIS)


At twenty minutes to four in the cold darkness of the morning of 14 February 1940, a Norwegian coastguard rang up the curtain on one of the classic dramas of gunboat diplomacy — perhaps the purest instance in recent times of the definitive use of limited naval force in isolation from all other means of pressure.


Limited Character British Government Foreign Government Limited Force Greek Government 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Fowler’s Modern English Usage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd edn 1965).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Use of local force to create or remove a fait accompli. See G. Hugo, Britain in Tomorrow’s World (London: Chatto & Windus, 1969) chapter 5.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Instilling Fra Undersøkelsekommisjonen av 1945 (Oslo, 1947) Bilag I.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    R. Omang, Altmark-Saken 1940 (Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1953).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The whole of this section is based on, and the quotations taken from Omang, op. cit., and the Instilling of 1945.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Intelligence reports from Bergen, confirmed later by aircraft of Coastal Command RAF, were the first definite reports of her location since the previous December and these reached C-in-C Home Fleet at 1710 on 15 February. See S.W. Roskill, The War at Sea (London: HMSO, 1954) vol. I, pp. 151–3.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Sir P. Vian, Action This Day (London: Frederick Muller, 1960) passim.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
  9. 9.
    Norwegian time.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    He may have been stretching a point here, as he does not appear to have received specific instructions at this stage, but Admiral Forbes was doubtless rightly confident that a generous and informed interpretation would be given to his order: ‘ALTMARK your objective’.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Vian, op. cit.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    It was one of the incidental Anglo-Norwegian controversies arising from this incident as to whether or not Captain Vian had ever uttered the first clause of his instructions. See Correspondence Respecting the German Steamer ALTMARK (London: HMSO, 1950) Command 8012.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Captain Halvorsen’s report in Omang, op. cit.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Captain Halvorsen asked Captain Vian: ‘If there are no prisoners on board ALTMARK — what then?’ and received the reply, ‘That will be a mistake from my government’s side’ (Doc. 89 in Omang, op. cit.).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    In the latter case, army officers were also involved, though the commander of the Norwegian patrol vessel POL III was the first to take action and shore-based naval torpedoes dealt the coup de grâce. See J.L. Moulton, The Norwegian Campaign of 1940 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1966) passim.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Article 17 of Alminnelig Instruks for Sjøfbrsvarets Sjefer under Nøytralitetsvern. See Omang, op. cit.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Omang, op. cit., Doc. 26.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    The US imperialist aggressors have lately gone so far as to infiltrate boats carrying espionage and subversive elements’ (New York Times, 25 January 1968).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Statement by Major-General Pak Chung Kook, the North Korean delegate, at the meeting of the Military Armistice Commission at Panmunjon on 24 January 1968 (New York Times, 26 January). The document finally signed by Major-General Gilbert H. Woodward on 23 December 1968 admitted ‘the validity of the confessions of the crew of the USS PUEBLO’ and that the ship ‘had illegally intruded’ into North Korean territorial waters, apologised for espionage, and promised not to do it again. By a procedure of which Mr Rusk said, ‘I know of no precedent’, signature was preceded by Woodward’s oral statement that its contents were untrue (Washington Post, 23 December 1968).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    In testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on 24 January 1968 (Keesing’s Contemporary Archives).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    ‘At the 260th meeting of this commission held four days ago, I again registered a strong protest with your side against having infiltrated a number of armed spy boats… and repeatedly demanded that you immediately stop such criminal acts’ (General Pak on 24 January, New York Times, 26 January 1968).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Televised address on 26 January as reported by International Herald Tribune, 27 January 1968.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    By a curious coincidence, one of the most extended examples of the use of this technique had been given by the government of South Korea, which had exploited many hundreds of Japanese hostages to secure concessions from the government of Japan between 1953 and 1959 (see the Chronological Appendix). The government of South Korea did not, however, venture to extend this technique to their relations with the Soviet union and denied that their naval vessels had, as charged by the Soviet Union, made an unsuccessful attack on the Soviet survey ship UNGO off the Korean coast on 28 December 1959.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    The Times, 1 February 1968.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    In the statement of 24 January previously quoted.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    ‘The Pentagon never admitted it publicly until the plane was lost, but all ship surveillance of the North Korean coast was discontinued after the PUEBLO was seized’ (Christian Science Monitor, 21 April 1969).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Lt Murphy’s account in Christian Science Monitor, 17 June 1969.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    See the Chronological Appendix.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    For an analysis of US problems in the PUEBLO affair, see G. Hugo, Appearance and Reality in International Relations (London: Chatto & Windus, 1970) chapter 2.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    See the Chronological Appendix.Google Scholar
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    See J. Cable, Navies in Violent Peace (London: Macmillan, 1989) pp. 49–56, and M. Adkin, Urgent Fury: The Battle for Grenada (London: Leo Cooper, 1989) passim.Google Scholar
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    Keesing’s Record of World Events.Google Scholar
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    C.A. Macartney, October Fifteenth: A History of Modern Hungary 1929–1945 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1956) part II, chapter XVIII.Google Scholar
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    C.M. Woodhouse, Something Ventured (London: Granada Publishing, 1982) passim.Google Scholar
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    Governments engaged in disputes may proclaim that their quarrel is only with the leaders, not the people, of the opposing state, but tend in practice to regard ordinary people as more legitimate victims of violence than politicians. The British government, for instance, rejected proposals for the assassination of Hitler, and Saddam Hussein, unlike thousands of his subjects, survived for years after the Gulf War.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    See the Chronological Appendix.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    See Chapter 4.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    See J. Barros, The Corfu Incident of 1923 ( Princeton University Press, 1965), where it is argued that the unknown assassins operated without the knowledge or complicity of the Greek government, who did their unavailing best to clear up the crime.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Quoted in Barros, op. cit. The last paragraph referring to the Conference of Ambassadors has been omitted.Google Scholar
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    See Barros, to whose book, which is by no means partial to Italy, this account is heavily indebted.Google Scholar
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    Barros, op. cit.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    For all these instances, see the Chronological Appendix.Google Scholar
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    Barros, op. cit.Google Scholar
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    G.V. McClanahan, Diplomatic Immunity (London: Hurst, 1989) pp. 147–53.Google Scholar
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    Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (London: J.M. Dent, 1936) (first pub. 1818) p. 211.Google Scholar
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    See Lt F.C. Miller USN, ‘Those Storm-Beaten Ships upon which the Arab Armies Never Looked’, United States Naval Institute Proceedings, March 1975.Google Scholar
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    S.S. Roberts, ‘Superpower Naval Confrontations’, in B. Dismukes and J. McConnell (eds), Soviet Naval Diplomacy (New York: Pergamon Press, 1979) p. 204.Google Scholar
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    Roberts, op. cit., and H. Kissinger, Years of Upheaval (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Michael Joseph, 1982) passim.Google Scholar
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    Roberts, op. cit., p. 210. It is in describing this crisis that Roberts takes issue with the author’s view that submarines are ill-suited to the use of limited naval force, arguing (his p. 212) that the US Navy would have taken it for granted that Soviet submarines were present. This begs the question. Could a submerged submarine have done anything but sink a carrier — or some other US warship — and would anyone have regarded this as limited force? See, however, Lt Brent A. Ditzler USN, ‘Naval Diplomacy Beneath the Waves’ (unpublished thesis) for a more generalised defence of the submarine’s role.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    See Article III (6) of theAgreement in J. Goldblat (ed.), Agreements for Arms Control (London: Taylor & Francis, 1982) p. 196. The 1893 incident, on the other hand, was swiftly and decently resolved, not by any treaty but by the principles of gentlemanly behaviour then customary among naval officers. The French Admiral, on his own initiative, sent his offending captain to apologise (Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Twenty-five Years (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1925) p. 14).Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Quoted in B. Ranft and G. Till, The Sea in Soviet Strategy (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2nd edn 1989) p. 178.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Kissinger, op. cit., pp. 602–13.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Quoted in A. Dowty, Middle East Crisis ( University of California Press, 1984) p. 260.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    See G. Bennet, Cowan’s War (London: Collins, 1963)Google Scholar
  55. S. W. Page, The Formation of the Baltic States ( Harvard University Press, 1959)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. R. H. Ullman, Britain and the Russian Civil War (Princeton University Press, 1968) vol. 2Google Scholar
  57. S. Roskill, Naval Policy Between the Wars (London: Collins, 1968) vol. I, p. 144.Google Scholar
  58. 55.
    Ibid., pp. 144–5.Google Scholar
  59. 56.
    D.M. Mercer, ‘The Baltic Sea Campaign’, United States Naval Institute Proceedings, September 1962.Google Scholar
  60. 57.
    Roskill, op. cit., p. 147.Google Scholar
  61. 58.
    Ullman, op. cit., pp. 259–60.Google Scholar
  62. 59.
    Page, op. cit., passim.Google Scholar
  63. 60.
    Though Finnish representatives in London explained to Lord Curzon as late as 7 May 1919 the apprehensions entertained by the Finnish government of a Russian naval attack. See S. Jägerskiüld, Riksföreståndaren Gustaf Mannerkeim 1919 (Helsingfors: Holger Schildts Förlag, 1969) p. 170.Google Scholar
  64. 61.
    ‘We must be ready, in the last resort, to use force to bring Nasser to his senses’ (Eden to Eisenhower, 27 July 1956; quoted in A. Eden, Full Circle (London: Cassell, 1960) p. 428).Google Scholar
  65. 62.
    This authorised the President ‘to employ the armed forces of the US as he deems necessary to protect the territorial integrity and political independence of any such nation or group of nations requesting such aid against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by international Communism’.Google Scholar
  66. 63.
    F. Qubain, Crisis in Lebanon (Washington: Middle East Institute, 1961).Google Scholar
  67. 64.
    These unhappy victims thus paid for their zeal in intercepting a consignment of arms on the previous day.Google Scholar
  68. 65.
    Although most Muslims tended to support one side and most Christians the other, this was not a straightforward religious conflict. President Chamoun retained the loyalty of his Muslim Prime Minister and of Kamal Jumblatt’s principal Druze rival, while a number of Christians initially co-operated with the rebels.Google Scholar
  69. 66.
    C. Chamoun, Crise au Moyen-Orient (Paris: Gallimard, 1963) p. 414.Google Scholar
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    See Marine Corps Historical Branch G3, Marines in Lebanon 1958 ( Washington, 1966).Google Scholar
  71. 68.
    Though the US Ambassador had told Chamoun on the 14th that he should appeal to the Security Council and seek diplomatic support from other Arab governments. R. McClintock, ‘The American Landing in Lebanon’, United States Naval Institute Proceedings, October 1962.Google Scholar
  72. 69.
    Robert Murphy, President Eisenhower’s special envoy to the Lebanon, says the UN observers operated only in the daytime, leaving the frontier open at night (R. Murphy, Diplomat Among Warriors (New York: Doubleday, 1964) p. 448). 70. Chamoun, op. cit., p. 423: [in total contrast with the rejoicing in Baghdad] ‘a great fear gripped every supporter of a peaceful and independent Lebanon. Their morale, long sorely tried, suddenly plumbed the depths of disaster.’Google Scholar
  73. 71.
    Formally, this request was addressed, as that of 11 May had been, to Britain and France as well, but it was understood that the effective response would be American, with British forces being earmarked for Jordan and the French committed in Algeria. Chamoun himself, however, thought the Sixth Fleet to be so far away that they would need forty-eight hours, and thus asked for interim British and French help within twenty-four hours. See McClintock, op. cit.Google Scholar
  74. 72.
    As C-in-C Specified Command, Middle East.Google Scholar
  75. 73.
    D. Heinl, Soldiers of the Sea (Annapolis: US Naval Institute, 1962). When the transport planes did arrive, they landed at an airport first secured by seaborne marines. The same was true of the British operation at Kuwait in 1961.Google Scholar
  76. 74.
    Murphy, op. cit., p. 455.Google Scholar
  77. 75.
    Murphy, op. cit., p. 433.Google Scholar
  78. 76.
    So have some Americans, notably Miles Copeland in his interesting book The Game of Nations (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1969). The US government probably could have imposed a settlement more favourable to US interests, but could they then have withdrawn and avoided further intervention?Google Scholar
  79. 77.
    Soviet statement of 17 July 1958, Tass.Google Scholar
  80. 78.
    Documents on German Foreign Policy, Series D, vol. III, Doc. 27 (London: HMSO, 1951).Google Scholar
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    On 26 July; see H. Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1961) p. 228.Google Scholar
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    It has been suggested that the presence of DEUTSCHLAND also prevented the Republican battleship JAIME I from bombarding Ceuta, but this may have been no more than a coincidence. See D.A. Puzzo, Spain and the Great Powers 1936–1941 ( Columbia University Press, 1962).Google Scholar
  83. 81.
    See Chapter 4.Google Scholar
  84. 82.
    The Observer, 30 November 1969.Google Scholar
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    Keesing’s Contemporary Archives.Google Scholar

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© James Cable 1994

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  • James Cable

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