Wednesday, August 17, 2011


On this date in 1940, Nazi Germany was riding high. Fresh from a spectacular victory over France, Hitler declared a blockade of Great Britain, part of an attempt to force the British to come to peace terms and thus end the war in the west quickly. The blockade would have prevented supplies from a still-neutral United States from reaching Great Britain and kept British men and material from getting out. Only a week later, though, two German bombers -- possibly by mistake -- dropped their ordinance on London and any hopes Hitler had for peace were dashed. It was to be a fight to the death.

A naval blockade is a hostile attempt to keep freight, people, and even information from getting into or out of a port, country or region. Ending a blockade, either voluntarily or by force, is called raising a blockade. To run a blockade is to sneak around or through a blockading force; a person or ship that does this is called a blockade runner. Perhaps the most famous blockade runner is the fictional character Rhett Butler from the novel and film Gone With The Wind.

Historically, blockades are considered an act of war. Today, blockades are allowed by international law. Article 42 of the United Nations Charter gives that organization the right to blockade "to maintain or restore international peace and security." The so-called San Remo Manual sets forth modern standards for conflicts at sea, including blockades. Among the Manual's provisions are a requirement that specific goods be declared contraband for the purposes of the blockade. Some items, such as humanitarian supplies and religious objects, may never be declared contraband. The Manual also sets forth the rights of neutral countries, vessels, and mariners.

The blockade of Great Britain was hardly the first in history. The Spartans defeated the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century BC by enforcing a blockade. The Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip made news last year when six people were killed and 59 wounded when Israeli troops boarded ships of the "Gaza Freedom Flotilla" which was attempting to run the blockade. In some cases, blockades have marked turning points in history including:

• a series of blockades of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople by Muslim forces between 1394 and 1453 eventually lead to the city's downfall and the opening up of Europe to Islamic military forces.

• a Union blockade of Confederate ports in the American Civil War reduced southern cotton exports to a fraction of their previous level and was instrumental in the eventual Union victory. Most blockade runners of this era were on-leave British Navy officers, Rhett Butler's contributions notwithstanding.

• the "Cuban Missile Crisis" of 1962 was partly the result of a US blockade of Cuba. Depending on who you ask, the Cuban blockade was either a necessary act of self defense by the United States or reckless brinksmanship that nearly led to nuclear war.

Find the complete San Remo Manual on the International Committee of the Red Cross's website here.

Photo above from Times of Pakistan.

No comments:

Post a Comment