Every other year the Royal Australian Navy hosts a sea-power conference and exposition in Sydney. This year’s focus is on what the Australians call “maintaining good order at sea,” which it happens was also the focus of the most recent explicit U.S. naval strategy, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, released in late 2007. Now may be a good time to examine the problem.
“Good order” is what is needed to keep world seaborne trade moving. It means things like suppressing pirates and also protecting neutral shipping in the face of local conflicts, such as the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. It shades over into dealing with the current Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz if anyone should have the nerve to embargo their own oil trade. Inevitably, anyone focused on “good order” looks back to a golden age in which the Royal Navy guaranteed the safety of shipping on a worldwide basis, dealing with pirates and rogue warships. For example, when the Peruvian ironclad Huascar went rogue in 1877, two British frigates hunted her down and attacked (their actions included the first open-sea torpedo firing in history—which failed).