In My View

Article excerpt



It was both informative and a pleasure to read Martin Murphy's "Suppression of Piracy and Maritime Terrorism" in the Summer 2007 issue of the Naval War College Review. I do want to comment on his use of the mining of Nicaraguan harbors in the mid-1980s to illustrate a successful strategy of economic dislocation focusing on maritime targets. In addition to being a former Foreign Service Officer who served in Central America during the period, I have recently had the opportunity to revisit the harbor mining while writing Crossroads of Intervention, my just-completed book about U.S. involvement in the wars there as a bridge between Vietnam and Iraq.

There is an important twist to the harbor mining that bears directly on his assessment of irregular maritime strategy. Not only did the Nicaraguan mining, as he states, "depend on covert American assistance for its success," but a clandestine team of CIA sea raiders that included U.S. Navy SEALs operating from go-fast boats and a converted oil rig tender conducted the entire campaign. The Contras themselves knew nothing about it until their CIA handlers gave them a statement to read in which they claimed credit. In addition to causing direct damage, the intent of mining Corinto Harbor, along with sea-borne attacks on tankers and shore-based oil facilities at Puerto Sandino, was to raise the risks to international shipping, thereby increasing insurance rates and provoking hesitation in Nicaragua's suppliers. In this the campaign was a partial success. However, by far the greater impact of the mining was the blowback that erupted in Congress when the CIA role became public and the Nicaraguan government won a judgment in the International Court of Justice that the United States had engaged in unlawful use offeree (although the U.S. refused ICJ jurisdiction).

There is another naval-operations angle. At the same time Washington was supporting the Nicaraguan insurgency against the Sandinista government, it was providing counterinsurgency support to the Salvadoran government next door. Maritime assistance to El Salvador was aimed at interdicting clandestine arms trafficking by sea from Nicaragua to the Salvadoran FMLN guerrillas, under circumstances similar to those Murphy cites of the Israelis and Palestinians. U.S. measures included the nearly full-time stationing of a Navy frigate offshore, along with operating an intelligence facility on Isla de los Tigres in the Gulf of Fonseca and providing security assistance to develop the brown-water capability of the Salvadoran navy. What is most notable is that this effort had had almost no impact on the flow of arms, which became apparent after the war ended in 1992.

Because they took place in America's backyard, there was also a regional maritime dimension to the wars in Central America. …