“100,000 Tons of Diplomacy”

“Each of the ships currently deployed in the Mediterranean represents 100,000 tons of international diplomacy”. These are the words the US Ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, used to describe the movements of the American aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, specifically the USS Abraham Lincoln, which sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar a few weeks ago. The diplomat was referring, in particular, to Russia, the real overseas strategic objective. But now it’s clear that the objectives may be twofold: Russia and Iran, with an eye on China at the same time.

The journey of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is a symbol of the current American global political agenda. First of all, it made a stop along the coast of Libya for exercises with the British Navy, sending out a very clear signal about Washington’s role in North Africa. With American ships in the Mediterranean, the White House and the Pentagon sent out a warning to all powers involved in the North African conflict: Washington was there. This was also demonstrated by Donald Trump’s phone call to Khalifa Haftar. “100,000 tons of diplomacy” in fact. Rather, 200,000 because the USS John C. Stennis supercarrier was also there with the USS Abraham Lincoln: another unmistakable sign of the “diplomacy” initiated by President Trump in the wider Mediterranean.

The USS Abraham Lincoln then steered a course for the Persian Gulf. In the words of John Bolton, National Security Adviser for the United States, it was equally crystal clear: it is a “clear and unmistakable” signal with regard to Iran. In this case too, the American aircraft carriers have become a tool of diplomacy. A way of making it understood that the United States is there and if things escalate further in that area they can strike, when they want. One should not forget the importance of aircraft carriers as weapons of war; in recent years various naval strategists have reconsidered them, having been convinced that these types of vessels were no longer as necessary as they once were.

The manoeuvres of the USS Abraham Lincoln prove otherwise. The fact that the Carrier Strike Group has stopped before the Strait of Hormuz, while the destroyers have already entered the Persian Gulf, leads us to believe that that ship, its strike group and the aircraft on board it are, to all intents and purposes, a new tool of diplomacy. Not used as an instrument of war, but also as a show of strength and, above all, as a means of propaganda and a warning. So much so that the possible use of the force present on the ship has now become a way to instil fear, and also as a deterrent.

For example, that’s what the USS Harry S. Truman and its strike force did for many months. The last time it did it in September, always in the Mediterranean, was when the tension over Idlib blew up in Syria. The Pentagon used the Truman card several times at the height of the tensions in Syria. Sending aircraft carriers into the Sixth Fleet area of operations during the chaos should signal a warning to everyone, especially because in April last year this ship was sent to the Eastern Mediterranean to launch an attack against the armed forces of Damascus. We can understand from this that aircraft carriers are a tool of “diplomacy” but also (and above all) instruments of war. Giant weapons on the move which are used to pressure adversaries and warn allies, but their main purpose should never be underestimated: war.


Translation from Italian by Ruth Lebens