Iranian Gunboat Diplomacy Almost Laughable
February 14, 2014

Iranian Gunboat Diplomacy Almost Laughable

As a student of military history, I’m quite familiar with the concept of “gunboat diplomacy,” a phrase coined in the latter half of the 19th century. This involves the use of intimidation by threat or use of military force.

The key is that it is a threat, but it needs to be backed up by actual military force or else you just look comical. And by that I mean comical almost to the point of Peter Sellers in the 1959 movie The Mouse That Roared.

This week, Iran announced that it was sending a fleet to the United States East Coast, for which Forbes compared it to a “Comic Relief Mission,” noting, “You have more to fear from your bathtub boats than from this ostensible armada.”

The truth is that Iran can be deadly serious, as the nation is one that has had a history of state sponsored terrorism. However, that sort of thing doesn’t offer a real show of force internationally and yet the decision to an expeditionary force that is part of Iranian Navy’s 29th Fleet – which consists of a whopping two ships; the frigate Sabalan and the helicopter carrier Kharg – half way around the world is hardly a show of force at all.

Both of these shows have Star Wars era technology – and by that I don’t mean they can destroy a planet. Rather they were built around the time that Star Wars was in the movie theaters! The Sabalan was commissioned in 1972, while the Kharg was completed in the early 1980s, but as an oiler!

Ships that are 30 to 40 years old are hardly going to intimidate the United States, which now has the largest navy in the world. About the best things the ships might have going is that the British built them! Still, Michael Eisenstadt of The Washington Institute referred to them as “rust buckets,” according to Fox News.

However, the point may not be to pose any real threat of course.

“From a tactical perspective, neither one of these ships are any good; they are an afterthought to the U.S, Navy from a warfare perspective,” Christopher Harmer, senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told Fox News. “From a strategic standpoint, they are very important.”

In addition, CNN reported that an Iranian senior naval commander, Afshin Rezayee, issued a warning and vowed to sink America’s Fifth Fleet, which is currently on station in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, Arabian Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean.

This is actually deadly serious and for the American men and women serving on the Fifth Fleet, there is a real danger. It is unlikely the Iranians will attack and highly unlikely the fleet would be sunk, but this showcases the differences between a real world power navy (USA) and one that is pretending to be one (Iran).

The bigger danger is actually that Iran could be risking the lives of some 300 of its men by sending those rust buckets across the ocean – especially given this year’s heavy activity of storms. It would be rather embarrassing to need rescue during a show of force!

Finally, this won’t end up like The Mouse That Roared, a Cold War comedy that had a small and impoverished nation declare war on the United States in hopes of getting aid after it loses. Instead, Peter Sellers (in multiple roles) manages to do the unthinkable – win! For the Iranians, losing might not be an option, but even state controlled media can’t turn this show of no force into a win.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on,,, and Peter is a regular writer for

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