Why Landlocked Countries Have Navies

Written by | Adventures, Quick Reads

Q: Which landlocked countries have a naval force, and how do they operate?

There are about 10 landlocked countries that have a full-time navy that’s separate from the other units of the armed forces.

Laos, Bolivia, the CAR, Kazakhastan, Turkmenistan, Paraguay, Azerbaijan, Rwanda, and Uganda, all have a standing naval force. About 8 more landlocked countries, five of them in Africa, also maintain naval divisions of some kind.

Although these countries do not have coastlines, and especially because they do not, they protect the water bodies they have with a degree of seriousness. Because of the colonial origins of their borders, they tend to share lakeshore and riverine boundaries with their neighbors, and those still need to be patrolled and defended.

Their navies are mainly brown-water navies, here meaning they are optimized and equipped for riverine warfare, and what maritime geographers call littoral zones (parts of water bodies closest to shore).

See the lake borders with DRC, Kenya and Tanzania.

Let’s take the example above of Uganda, which shares Lake Victoria (or as we prefer to call it around here, Nam Lolwe) with Kenya and Tanzania, and two lake borders with the DRC. The Lake Victoria borders have been the source of some friction for a decade, esp. with Kenya, about a small densely populated island (Yes guys, Migingo) and the waters around it[1].

Another country that shares a lake border with Tanzania, Malawi, also has a small naval force on Lake Malawi.

The reason Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan are on that list above is because of the Caspian Sea, where they share lake borders with each other, Russia and Iran.

For some countries, such as Bolivia and Ethiopia (whose naval unit is a single boat), it is more about national pride and lost glory. Both countries once had access to the sea and lost it in wars-for Bolivia, it was the 1879 War of the Pacific that resulted in a Chilean victory and made Bolivia a landlocked country.

Its Navy is now based on the country’s larger rivers and Lake Titicaca, while its naval training school has an annex on the Pacific Ocean coastline of Peru.

Chile has one of the longest coastlines in the world, at 6, 435kms.

The same happened to Ethiopia when Eritrea became independent in 1991, losing Africa’s second-most populous country its entire coastline. In June 2018, Ethiopia announced it was signing deals with neighboring countries to give them access to the ocean, and with them rebuild a naval force[2].

Ethiopia has 11 commercial ships, and the Red Sea is a place with many political as well as economic interests.

One of the landlocked countries with a formidable naval unit is Hungary, whose unit is based on River Danube and runs minesweepers on the river. Switzerland also has a naval unit that patrols its lakes, although no one has tried to invade the country since Napoleon.

All these brown-water navies work the same way as any Navy, they patrol water bodies and protect the territorial integrity of their countries. Even countries with a coastline, many of them in fact, have brown-water naval units as part of their navies. Lakes and other water bodies still need patrolling, especially when they are shared with other countries.

The major difference is that landlocked countries don’t need to invest in massive navies with sea-going ships, weapons, and boats as well. They tend to channel most resources to their land and air forces instead.

An honorable mention here is countries that have short coastlines and are considered technically landlocked but still maintain a standing naval force.

These include Jordan (26km coastline), DRC (37km coastline), The Gambia (80km coastline), Iraq (58km coastline), among others.


Owaahh, 2020

One Story is good,

till Another is told.


[1] Kenya, Uganda to demarcate entire border

[2] Why landlocked Ethiopia wants to launch a navy

Last modified: February 21, 2020