Are you Rear Admiral of a landlocked navy?

I am a cartography nerd.  I like maps.  I like globes.  I like pondering questions like "what countries have land borders with just one other country?"  (There are 17 such nations, including two mutual pairs and two Italian enclaves. How many can you name without consulting a map or intertube?)

It was while pursuing just such an item of trivia that I stumbled on the turgid wikipedia entry, Navies of Landlocked Countries.  Just my kind of thing!  There are 10 countries floating such navies.  Most are small but all have the distinction of being independent branches of their nations' armed forces.

  1. Azerbaijan
  2. Bolivia
  3. Central African Republic
  4. Kazakhstan
  5. Laos
  6. Paraguay
  7. Rwanda
  8. Serbia
  9. Turkmenistan
  10. Uganda

These are not all as totally loony as you might think. Three have coastlines on the Caspian sea (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan), three have major border lakes (Bolivia/Titicaca, Rwanda/Kivu and Uganda/Victoria), and four float their navies on big rivers (Laos/Mekong, Paraguay/Paraguay, Serbia/Danube, CAR/Ubangi). Imagine if you will, an independent landlocked Illinois having a navy on Lake Michigan or on the mighty Mississippi.  But one of these landlocked navies stands out to me for its Quixotic irredentist nature: Bolivia.

Sure, Bolivia's navy patrols Lake Titicaca - which is about half the surface area of Lake Ontario, the smallest of the North American Great Lakes - and keeps its shores safe from drug smugglers and invading Pervian frogmen.  But the real reason for Bolivia's navy is the hope that one day they will float free in the Pacific, an ocean whose coast Bolivia lost to Chile over 100 years ago in the War of the Pacific.  That's right, generations of Bolivian sailors have come and gone, motoring about on Lake Titicaca (I never get tired of typing that), pining for a chance to chip off a chunk of Chilean coast and ply the Pacific.

I don't mean to make light of a nation's historical wounds or dreams, and I commend Bolivia for not taking any rash military action against Chile, but don't you think that maintaining a navy is a bit much?  Does inner tubing around Lake Titicaca really prepare you for the Pacific Ocean?  Or does focusing the nation on regaining lost coastline take people's minds off other problems?

At any rate, I'll conclude this curious cartographic lesson with a deeper head-scratcher:  what impossible dream are you devoting resources to?  Are you to be commended for holding fast, or mocked for living in the past?

2 Responses

  1. (I follow you on Twitter as @quackking) - anyway, Hungary historically belongs in this list as well. The leader of the country in the '30s, until he was deposed by Hitler in 1944, was Admiral Horthy ( Under the ancien regime, Austria-Hungary (the Dual Monarchy) had lots of coastline (in fact the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo (precipitating WWI) in what was then Bosnia-Herzegovina, and is now simply Bosnia - look at a Google map of Bosnia and you will see a tiny slice of Bosnia that fronts onto the Adriatic, hidden from ope sea by the Peljesac peninsula - sort of a modern-day Danzig Corridor, and for exactly the same reason.) Note I am actually a degreed cartographer!
  2. Thanks for the historical note, Mr. Quacken. I also enjoy your tweets. If you're going to follow the Austro-Hungarian thread to its bitterest ends, you'll also have to note that the Serbian (and Montenegrin) navy had a nice beachfront on the Adriatic until Montenegro went its own way in 2006 and left Serbia landlocked.

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