Flying the Flag, Beneath the Waves: Submarines in Naval Diplomacy
Naval diplomacy is often described as the study of what navies actually do rather than what they train for. Accordingly, during extended periods of peacetime when submarines across the world are not sinking each other, surface ships, or attacking land targets, they are conducting routine affairs which correspond to our notions of naval diplomacy. Yet since James Cable’s seminal book Gunboat Diplomacy in the early 1970s, scholars have frequently dismissed the role of the “silent service” in naval diplomacy. This belief among scholars has a superficial appeal, given that a submarine’s greatest asset is stealth. Yet, the literature seems to be at odds with the empirical record where submarines are used by nations to pursue their diplomatic goals. This thesis examines this friction and discusses the possible contributions and limitations of submarines in naval diplomacy. With Australia set to invest more than AUD$225bn to build and maintain its new fleet of 12 Attack Class submarines, it is imperative that all their roles are fully understood if the taxpayer is to remain supportive of its investment. Further, the failure to acknowledge that submarines can – and are – diplomatically signalling across the Indo-Pacific could lead to misunderstandings with significant strategic consequences.