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Seapower, Piracy, and Iran

[ 2 ] January 11, 2012 |

Thoughts on the recent USN rescue of Iranian fishermen:

To be sure, this version of the rescue represents public relations spin, but soft power often amounts to framing narrative for the purposes of public relations. The Iranians’ claim that Iran frees pirate hostages all the time without the same degree of fanfarerepresents an implicit acknowledgement of the success of the hostage rescue in this regard. The Iranians surely also understand that the logic of positive-sum seapower — that the entire world benefits from freedom of the seas — contrasts sharply with their own threats to close the Straits of Hormuz in the event of an expanded oil embargo and their warning to the United States not to deploy another aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf. It can also be applied antagonistically to any Iranian attempt to follow through on those threats. Pirates are the original hostis humani generis, but states that threaten maritime freedom, especially when maritime freedom has been construed in terms of common rights and common good, can also become “enemies of humankind.”

In short, the rescue illustrates the way in which CS-21 provides an internationalist vocabulary for the pursuit of national ends. The U.S. desire to contain and confront Iran may or may not be wise, but one of the purposes of a strategic document is to provide civilian leaders with sufficiently flexible policy tools to pursue national ends. In this case, the internationalist focus of CS-21 does not constrain U.S. action, but rather reframes it in terms much more palatable to regional allies and competitors. CS-21 plays a similar role in the South China Sea, placing U.S. national ends squarely on the same side as an internationalist vision of free navigation and exploration. From the point of view of the U.S. desire to tighten the screws on Iran, the rescue could not have come at a better time.

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  1. ajay says:

    Not sure about the budget point: too much emphasis on piracy might lead people to ask why you need to spend the thick end of $2 billion to get this
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Mobile_Bay_%28CG-53%29
    and this
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Kidd_%28DDG-100%29

    to do a job that could be done just as competently at a fiftieth of the cost by, well, something like this

    http://www.rolls-royce.com/marine/products/ship_design/offshore_vessels/platform_supply_vessels/

    with a few Oerlikons welded on, a couple of RHIBs on davits, and a shed for an SH-60 on the back.

  2. CS-21 came under attack, however, from critics who believed that it sacrificed U.S. national values in its pursuit of internationalist goals.

    What critics are those? People within the Navy/Pentagon who want to focus on warfighting? Isolationists? Neocon hawks?

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