AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a story I first posted in January of 2007, but it appears especially pertinent right now.
I start today’s discussion with the proposition that non-military responses to events around the world offer great bang-for-the-buck opportunities to cement friendships with citizens across the globe.
This is especially true in a disaster scenario. You might recall the story of the New York City paramedics providing assistance in Pakistan, and how much it impacted the locals getting the help.
In my mind, that means responding to disasters around the world is an effective way to enhance our National Security. Even more so when the country you are helping might not be your closest friend; and you want to affect public opinion/increase connectivity in spite of the local Government.
Which brings me to today’s suggestion:
If this stuff works, why not create the tools to do it better?
Specifically, I suggest we build a couple of Peace Ships.
Look at the lessons learned from the Tsunami disaster in East Asia and Katrina.
The complete absence of infrastructure-security, medical, communications, electrical, air traffic control, all of it-meant it was challenging just to get recovery started. Bases had to be created so that repairs could get underway.
We could put those capabilities into a floating response platform using resources already developed and working. Here’s what I mean:
The USS Iwo Jima is one of a class of "light" aircraft carriers used to support amphibious assaults. It has, in fact, been used as a command center following Katrina. Its Combat Information Center is not dissimilar to a Network Operations Center for a telecom company married to an Air Traffic Control facility; and it operates a small airport upstairs, a small medical center downstairs.
So imagine a ship carrying a similar CIC operation, with an expanded medical center, 500-1000 Marines for quick-response security, enough earthmoving gear and Construction Battalion team personnel to clear a runway, and a stash of generators and other electrical/cell phone/satellite gear for emergency restoration of services.
Otters, Ospreys (if considered safe...), helicopters, and quickly assembled microwave towers/satellite uplink vans can allow the ship to reach out more than 500 miles. Mobile hospital kits can offer the same capability in the medical area.
To create a more robust potential response, pre-positioned equipment could be placed outside the US (perhaps the Marine Expeditionary Units will let us borrow some depot space?).
Check out the USS Kitty Hawk for an example of the type of platform that could be used.
There is a huge amount of budget involved, which is good and bad. It will be more difficult to obtain and keep Congressional support, but the Navy will love it (who doesn’t like a mandate for a new mission to fund?).
This can even be sold as a form of "portable" foreign aid that doesn’t statutorily lock to any particular country or program initiative.
We are considering spending billions upon billions to kill thousands more Iranians, and I’ll bet at the end of the process we will not have a peaceful relationship with Iran.
On the other hand, for a lot less money we could create a public diplomacy tool which, had we sent it to Iran two or three times, could have created a much different relationship than we face today. (You might notice that Ache is not considering attacking us...)
And it would have come in real handy in New Orleans, or Florida, or wherever the next American disaster occurs. Bonus!
For full disclosure, the response time issue seems to be the fly in the ointment, but with two ships and smart basing a one week response is possible for much of the world.
So: smart way to spend money, or is the Peace Ship a waste of time?
I’ve reported, you decide.