Navy’s chief defends ‘gunboat diplomacy’

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The head of the Royal Navy has issued a staunch defence of “gunboat diplomacy”.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope argued that stationing warships in hotspots around the world can prevent the need to send in ground forces.

Citing the Navy’s part in last year’s successful Nato campaign against Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan regime, he said the “supreme advantage” of maritime power was that it could achieve “effect without regret”.

But Admiral Stanhope noted that other events over the past decade – an apparent reference to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – were a reminder of the “limits of military force alone in achieving security outcomes”.

He said: “Such engagement can of course lead to embroilment, which can be costly, both in resources and in lives.

“Whatever the political rhetoric of the past, the UK has, I sense, neither the political appetite nor the capacity to respond to every conceivable threat. No country frankly has.”

Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank in London yesterday, the First Sea Lord said naval forces offered “versatility, mobility and interoperability”.

“Together these hallmarks provide a strength of maritime power that can deliver – arguably with considerable efficiency – political and military leverage of events ashore,” he said.

Admiral Stanhope said Navy ships and submarines contributed to Nato’s success in Libya with “the lightest of touches”.