USS Nimitz in Indian Coast: The Gunboat Diplomacy

Gyana Ranjan Panda

The docking of the USS Nimitz in Chennai port has challenged India’s independent foreign policy and its long-lasting tradition against imperialism, colonialism, and superpower hegemony. Supporters of Nimitz’s brief visit who praise it as a testimony to bourgeoning Indo-US strategic relationship should acknowledge the long drawn coercive history of Nimitz nuclear ship and the use of ‘gunboat diplomacy’ to restore US’ imperialistic interests.

A clinical study of Nimitz’s overseas deployment in last 32 years unravels the sustained US’ gunboat diplomacy against the forces of so-called ’Axis of Evil’- Iran, Libya, Iraq and North Korea. The peacetime mission of USS Nimitz is insignificantly non-existence, as it merely constitutes the kingpin of American naval supremacy along with USS John F. Kennedy, USS Enterprises, USS Abraham Lincoln, USS Harry S. Truman, USS George Washington and many more. Since its commission in 1975 in San Diego port, it has so far been engaged in providing a creditable, sustainable and independent forward military presence in both military and non-military operations. Besides, it has been the center stage of joint or allied maritime military expediency forces in times of crisis. Furthermore, it operates and supports aircraft attacks on enemies, protect friendly forces and engage in sustainable independent operations in wars.

Initially as part of the US’ Atlantic Fleet, Nimitz was deployed in the Mediterranean Sea as a peace time deployment. However, the peacetime deployment virtually turned into a war mission in 1979 as tension heightened between the USA and Iran in the Indian Ocean in the wake of hostage crisis. The ‘Operation Evening Light’ undertaken by US’ marine commandos from Nimitz board, during the Carter presidency, to rescue the hostages ironically ended in tragic failure.

In the next move, USS Nimitz along with USS FORRESTAL conducted a mid-Ocean missile exercises in the Gulf of Sidra. It was intended to show a limited force against President Gaddafi of Libya. During the famous "U.S. 2 - Libya 0" episode, the Nimitz pilots shot down two Libyan aircraft from the sky.

Since late 80s, due to changing realities of world politics, the USS Nimitz has shifted its anchor from Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. In 1988, the Nimitz was deployed as mainstay of “Operation Ernest Will” to protect shipping lanes and to escort the US’ registered Kuwaiti tankers in order to protect US’ energy interests in the Gulf region. Subsequently, it became a major lunch pad of ‘Desert Storm’- military operation against Saddam’s Iraq. In September 1997, it was a focal point for the “Operation Southern Watch” lunched in the Arabian Gulf and actively supported many military operations against Iraqi forces. In March 2003, the USS Nimitz in its 10th overseas deployment stood for “Operations Enduring Freedom” and “Iraqi Freedom”.

In recent years, the USS Nimitz deployment along with other nuclear-ships are very much part and parcel of the US’ new ambitious ‘1-4-2-1’ defense strategy, which is basically meant to defend the US (one country) by ‘deterring aggression and coercion’ in four ‘critical regions - Europe, North East Asia, East Asia, and Middle East Asia and South East Asia’. It also intends to maintain the abilities to defeat aggression in two of these regions simultaneously and be able to ‘win decisively’ in one of those conflicts ‘at a time and place of choosing’.

Not surprisingly, in September this year USS Nimitz along with another aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk would be coming again to Bay of Bengal to stage the biggest ever multination war game which will be hosted by Indian Navy.

When situation is less war like, the US follows other means of coercive diplomacy to secure its national interests. Gunboat diplomacy, therefore, for the US is associated with active coercion, albeit of a limited kind, rather than a passive show of force. It normally entails a ‘signaling role’ rather than one involving in actual combat. The US’ naval warships including the USS Nimitz are, therefore, used as highly visible symbols of power to reinforce policy directives or to deter possible obstacles to their success. And, it will be another cause for any possible military strike against Islamic Republic of Iran, if any time in near future, it crosses the nuclear threshold.

Author Note
The author is a research scholar in the School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi