Perceptions of Naval Power in Crisis Management: Lebanon and the Levant During the Cold War

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Lebanon and the Levant are lands of ancient maritime history. Here, centuries of interactions with seapower have produced, through the agency of collective memories, specific perceptions of the use of navies as diplomatic and crisis management tools during the Cold War.

The literature concerning naval diplomacy during the Cold War is focused on theoretical conceptions and on the naval interactions between the Superpowers. The critical dimension of the dialectic between the naval diplomacy deployed by the Powers during Levantine crises and onshore strategic, political, and cultural conditions has generally been neglected. The mismatch between the language of naval power during the Cold War and Levantine perceptions thereof is rooted in pre-Cold War expectations and prejudices and has yet to be explored. This thesis proposes an original approach in examining how Levantine perceptions of naval power distorted the latter’s communication and impacted its capacity to influence attitudes, behaviours, and events. For the first time, it provides a comprehensive account of the naval diplomacy deployed by the Powers in response to the Levantine crises during the Cold War. Based on this, a new understanding of navies as instruments of statecraft and diplomatic coercion as well as essential tools for the prosecution of the Cold War emerges. It shows how naval diplomacy in the Levant was essentially a coercive diplomacy and demonstrates the impact of navies on the local state system and mentalities.

The thesis develops a new dimension to the history of Lebanon, a polity which was shaped by naval power. By means of two case studies, the U.S. 1958 landing in Beirut and the U.S.-led Multinational Force in Lebanon (1982-84) – two key moments in Lebanese history, the thesis shows that naval diplomacy consists in a continuum of iterative nuances and multilateral messaging, away from the Cold War era mechanistic theoretical models. It demonstrates how naval diplomatic actions unfolded inside active war zones, clashing with conflicting local expectations and perceptions and engaging into an escalatory dialectic where the mightiest battleship seems powerless and naval diplomacy is taken to the brink of undeclared war. Through the adoption of a long-term perspective and the integration of the multiple dimensions of naval interventions, the thesis re-evaluates the notions of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in naval diplomacy. It contributes to a wider understanding of how seapower shapes events ashore.
Date of Award1 Jul 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMarcus Faulkner (Supervisor)

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