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LCDR Eray EKIN is a submariner in the Turkish Navy.
He served as branch officer, section officer and last as XO of Turkish 209 class submarines. LCDR Ekin has been appointed as a Commanding Officer of TCG SA KAR YA.


When we look at history, we can easily sec that besides their conventional missions, armed forces have taken active roles in the application of international and domestic policy. As an instrument of policy, the US Navy played an important role in international disputes and became an indispensable part of US policy because of its mobility, tactical flexibility and wide geographic reach. 1 For these reasons, US naval forces took part in 177 out of 215 recorded incidents of US military diplomacy between 1946 and 1975. Flexibility, endurance, firepower, mobility, survivability, and the ability to transit to crisis areas without any restriction -freedom of open seas- made naval forces the most important military player of diplomacy. In this context, gunboat diplomacy or naval diplomacy is used effectively in the diplomatic arena for gaining political objectives of states at peace or war. Maybe Nelson
described the role of navies the best, saying, “I hate your pen-andink men; a fleet of British ships of war are best negotiators in Europe.”


What is the meaning of naval diplomacy? The answer changes from author to author. In order to provide understanding to the meanings of these definitions, the author will refer to some examples from different authors and try to find some similarities between definitions. One of the best known authors about naval diplomacy is James Cable. He describes naval diplomacy as:

” … the use or threat of limited naval force, otherwise than as an act of war, in order to secure advantage or to avert loss, either in the furtherance of an international dispute or else against foreign nationals within the territory or jurisdiction
of their own state.”~
And Geoffrey Till also describes naval diplomacy as below:
·• ….. Is a relatively new phrase covering maritime actfrities at the less dangerous end of the spectrum of procedures which one country may use to influence the behavior of another. The full spectrum ranges from exhibited military lack at one extreme to routine diplomatic persuasion at the other, and it has 110 discontinuities; diplomatic activities merge imperceptibly into threats and acts of war . ..

These two definitions highlight the following attributes of naval
The aim of the activities is to affect the policymakers’
The spectrum of naval diplomacy is very broad.
The spectrum can range from benign port visits to coercive use of the forces.

What kind of assets do ships require to support the mission of naval diplomacy’!
Professor Ken Booth gives the answer to this question as Versatility, Controllability, Mobility, Projection Ability, Access Potential, Symbolism and Endurance.7 As will be shown, nuclear submarines have these capabilities. As a result, nuclear submarines will have a significant role in naval diplomacy in twenty-first century.


For explaining the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear submarines as an instrument of naval policy, the author will use the seven basic assets which are described by Professor Ken Booth.


Versatility refers to the ability of ships to perform different types of tasks. Today’s nuclear submarines execute the following missions: Sea Control, Conventional Deterrence, Nuclear Deter rence and Presence. With OHIO class SSGNs able to host, launch, and recover over 100 Special Operations Force troops, US nuclear submarines now have the ability to conduct effective SOF operations in terms of limited force . Also, “in diplomatically sensitive situations where avoiding a public confrontation is desirable, the covert deployment of SSN may clearly be preferable to taking the more provocative step of dispatching less stealthy units or large concentrations of forces.”


Controllability means keeping the escalation of a situation under control. Booth explains this asset. “Various combinations of ships are well suited to climb the rungs between the lowest maritime confrontation and the highest level of use of force.”9 Surface ships have limited ability to conduct missions covertly. So, whether they
arc responding to a crisis as single units or as a fleet they have greater potential to escalate the situation. As an escalation instrument, submarines arc more suitable then surface ships for controlling the situation. Because submarines can conduct covert operations, they can execute a variety of missions without escalating the crisis. Conversely, any type of surface ship- fast patrol boat or aircraft carrier- because of its visible presence can escalate the situation. Finally, SSBNs arc unique platforms for nuclear deterrence. If the USA has to escalate a crisis, controllability of SSBNs and their strategic deterrent would be a critical part of the diplomacy.


One of the most important assets for naval diplomacy is mobility. Any country which deploys its assets quickly and without restriction will also take the political advantage. Nuclear power improved the mobility of nuclear submarines and gave them a speed advantage when compared with surface ships. Nuclear submarines with more than 30 knots submerged speed have an incredible superiority over surface ships. Submerged mobility also reduces the negative impact of weather and sea conditions on transiting submarines. Nuclear submarines’ inherent mobility
advantages were demonstrated by the Royal Navy during the Falklands crisis, as described by the British Ministry of Defense:
“The SSNs were flexible and powerful instruments throughout the crisis, posing a ubiquitous threat which the Argentines could neither measure nor oppose. Their speed and independence of support meant that they were the first assets to arrive in the South Atlantic, enabling us to declare the maritime exclusion zone early.”

Projection Ability

One of the advantages of naval forces at naval diplomacy is power projection. Naval forces can efficiently transfer sea-based firepower as well as land forces to the crisis area. Aircraft carriers, amphibious ships and surface combatants such as guided missile cruisers and destroyers arc some of the main naval assets for power projection. Aircraft carriers, in particular, arc still the key element of US naval diplomacy because of their superior power projection capabilities. For example, the US Navy has used aircraft carriers as an instrument of naval policy during 78 incidents within the last 56 years. The first question of US presidents when entering a crisis has often been, “ls there any aircraft carrier close to that region?” ” Submarines also have power projection capability, employing Tomahawk cruise missiles and SOF teams. With OHIO class SSGNs able to launch up to 154 Tomahawk missiles and embark up to 66 SOF troops, the submarines’ projection ability is radically enhanced. Although Cable described submarines as “‘I adapted to most forms of gunboat diplomacy, ” 11th also emphasized the unique role of submarines conducting special operations.
“Even the submarine might come into its own for specified operations landing a small party unperceived in order
to kidnap or rescue a leader …… ”

The changing structure of the threat -from blue water to brown water- has made the littoral waters a dangerous environment for overt operations by aircraft carriers and other surface ships. As a result, a submarine’s ability to deploy and operate covertly will make it the most important instrument of naval policy in the twenty-first century.

Access Potential

Naval forces have become the key instrument of policy within the armed forces. ‘Freedom Of The Seas’ made it easier to transit naval forces to cns1s regions without any restriction. But today, potential threats posed to US naval forces by hostile submarines, mines, and land based anti-ship missiles have made the movement of sizeable armed forces across the seas dangerous. Because of these challenges, the stealth and survivability offered by submarines will be a more important consideration to US policymakers. Submarines’ relatively invulnerability will allow US policymakers to employ military force without the fear of casualties that is attendant to other force employment options.


The big, visible character of warships made them the symbols of a country’s intentions and policies. Warships arc still the symbols of national policies. But for submarines, visibility is synonymous with vulnerability. Remaining undetected and stealthy is vital for successful submarine operations. According to Cable’s point of view, limited naval forces must remain overt. He argues this approach, stating, “A submarine cannot communicate a threat without making its presence known.” 16 With a narrow perspective, maybe this is correct; but nowadays, nuclear submarines which arc participating in Maritime Interdiction Operations, such as Operation Active Endeavour, arc conducting hailing to merchant ships, making their presence known. And through port visits or by announcing a nuclear submarine deployment to a region, the submarine can provide effective presence while continuing her operation in a stealthy manner. 17 At the same time, nuclear submarines, with their high speed advantage, three dimensional operating capabilities and sophisticated counter-measures systems, will not make themselves vulnerable if their presence becomes known by the threat countries or ships.


Warships’ endurance characteristics arc a kind of trump card for policymakers during prolonged crises. Warships can deploy for long periods with the support of logistic ships. The advent of nuclear power changed the type of support radically. Now, nuclear powered ships can stay at the crisis region without fuel replenishment. But, even if this is the case, they need food and other important supplies. However, a nuclear submarine docs not need to withdraw to a naval base or a specific area for replenishment which will affect the efficiency of the operation. Nuclear submarines can stay at the crisis region without taking any logistic support for up to six months. This feature gives policymakers flexibility to conduct their policies for a long period. Conducting operations without the support of auxiliary ships also gives flexibility for planners to plan the operation without as many restrictions. When one compares nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, one realizes that nuclear submarines have a remarkable advantage over aircraft carriers in terms of endurance. And, in the twenty-first century, superior endurance will be a primary reason for policymakers to prefer deploying nuclear submarines to crisis regions.


When one looks at history, one can easily see that Soviet naval diplomacy depended mainly on submarines. This was because, according to the Soviet view, the main instrument of US naval diplomacy was the aircraft carriers; and the main Soviet instrument to counter these aircraft carriers was submarines.'” Confrontations between the US and Soviet navies since the 1960s validate the importance of submarines to Soviet policies as a means of countering American aircraft carriers. During these crises, Soviet submarines operated covertly and posed a threat against US forces without making their positions known. These applications of naval policy by the Soviets disprove Cable’s argument that the “submarine is inherently ill-suited to the exercise of limited naval force .”

Submarine Deployments to Cuba

After the Cuban missile crisis, Soviet submarines began to visit Cuban ports. These visits were mainly different than bona fide port visits and were actually serving the Soviets’ political goals. As stated by Dismukes, these political goals can be collected under three topics: (I) the Soviets wanted to undermine the 1962 USSoviet agreement forbidding the placement of ballistic missiles in Cuba; (2) they wanted to support their positions at the SALT negotiations and would use these port visits as a trump card for banning the US ballistic missile submarines from Mediterranean; and (3) they wanted to show their support for the Cuban regime 0 When looking at the Soviets’ political goals with these submarine deployments, it is obvious they targeted to achieve their political objects using submarines overtly, which is different than their conventional usage.

USS SAM HOUSTON’s port visit to Izmir (1963)

In 1961, the US deployed 15 Jupiter ballistic missiles to Turkey, aimed at cities in the western USSR. To counter this deployment, the USSR deployed ballistic missiles to Cuba. After their deployment, the Soviet ballistic missiles were discovered by the U-2 spy flights. With the discovery of the missiles, a crisis between the US and USSR started. To end the crisis, the USSR proposed removing the missiles on Cuba in exchange for the removal of the Jupiters from Turkey. But the Turkish government had stated its opposition to the removal of the Jupiter missiles. At the end of the crisis, the Jupiter ballistic missiles were removed from Turkey. After the crisis, the submarine USS SAM HOUSTON visited Izmir, Turkey. With this port visit, the United States showed that her strategic deterrence remained committed to the defense of Turkey.

Soviet Submarines’ Patrols in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans Yankee class SSBNs equipped with the 3,000 kilometer range SS-N-6 normally had been operating in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. But, in 1984, the Soviets also deployed Delta class SSBNs equipped with the 9, l 00 kilometer range SS-N-8. The change in target ranges had no effect on the military plans because those targets were also covered by Yankee class SSBNs. The meaning of this change was mainly political. Delta Class SSBNs patrol change was a reprisal to US deployment of medium-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe. Ditzler makes this argument stating: “This effort could be considered a successful case of “signaling” in that Soviet political objection to the NA TO INF deployment was conveyed in an “expressive” use of limited
naval forces . .. n

When the INF treaty missiles were removed from Europe, the Delta class SSBN deployments to Atlantic and Pacific Ocean stopped. The Delta Class SSBN deployment to Atlantic and Pacific Ocean had been a clear and understandable reply to US missile deployment to Europe.


The unique status of naval forces within the armed forces as an instrument of diplomacy created a new concept called “naval diplomacy”. Naval diplomacy can be defined as other than the act of war, use of naval forces for changing and affecting the foreign decision makers’ thoughts and acts according to our national interests. An investigation of the historical background of naval diplomacy indicates that surface ships have been the main instru-ment of this policy. Submarines’ entry into the military arena at the beginning of the twentieth century, with their stealthy character, made them mainly an instrument of war rather than diplomacy. Capabilities of
conventional submarines were limited in terms of endurance and survivability. But, after the 1950s, the advent of nuclear propulsion radically changed the face of submarines, giving them advantages in speed, fire power (ability to launch ballistic or Tomahawk missiles) and multi-purpose usage (mine laying, SOF-submarine
operation) during conflicts. The threat faced by naval forces also changed radically after thecollapse of the Iron Curtain. In other words, threats shifted from blue waters to brown waters, and the littoral became the new arena
for conflict. At the same time, asymmetric threats and the threat posed by non-democratic countries altered the roles and missions of naval forces. When looking into the military capabilities of Iran, North Korea or Hezbollah, it becomes apparent that submarines, land based anti-ship missiles, mines, and guided missile fast patrol boats are the main threats originating from these countries or


Such threats made littoral waters unsafe places for aircraft carriers and surface ships as an instrument of naval diplomacy. For example, the terrorist attack against USS COLE illustrates why surface ships (including aircraft carriers) will be more vulnerable and will not be the primary instrument of naval policy in the twenty-first century. The deployment of USS COLE off the coast of Lebanon in February 2008 as a show of US support for regional
stability because of concern about the situation in lebanon is another example. Instead of positioning just outside Lebanese territorial waters, USS COLE anchored 60 miles offshore, invisible to the people of Lebanon and reducing the symbolic impact of her presence. The reasons for stationing far off the coast may include a desire not to escalate tension in the region as well as concerns about the threats posed by Hezbollah anti-ship missiles.

But with the altering of threats, the capabilities of nuclear submarines also changed. The Ohio Class SSBN modernization program is a unique example of these changes. After the modernization, these submarines had the ability to launch 154 TLAM and to deploy more than 66 SOF soldiers on board. This means that with their stealthy characteristics and speed advantage, submarines can deploy to crisis regions rapidly and can be positioned close to
threat countries’ shores for launching Special Forces or TLAMs to targets according to objectives of the policy. Or, their presence can be used as a trump card by policy makers to achieve diplomatic goals. This new century with new threats, highly sophisticated and capable submarines will be the nuclear submarines’ century. In future crises, the first question of the US President may likely be “ls there a nuclear submarine in that region?”

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