Denmark the Netherlands announced that the amphibious transport ship HNLMS Johan de Witt will participate in Africa Partnership Station. The two month deployment is the Dutch Navy’s first major soft-power cruise. The deployment of the Johan de Witt demonstrates the growing Dutch interest in soft-power. But why?
Part of it has to do will the increasing acceptance of soft-power as a useful tool in international relations. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates argued as such two years ago and I whole-heartedly agree. However, there is likely another reason: soft-power cruises give navies missions for their ships.
The last eight years of war have been, apart from combat air support, sealift, and small maritime security operations, land-based affairs. As such, the US Navy played only a limited, supporting role in both conflicts. In Europe, national security threats are even more remote and European navies have few reasons to justify maintaining expensive blue-water fleets. Enter soft-power.
The possible benefits of soft-power cruises are numerous, but during the USS Nashville’s mission to West Africa, Captain Cindy Thebaud stated “the indicators [of success] will be long-term, not near-term”. In other words, soft-power is important, but impossible to measure. Thus, soft-power provides politicians and naval leaders with both a politically acceptable mission justifying naval budgets and a mission not accountable for effectiveness.
I am a strong supporter of soft-power, particularly using naval assets. There are significant diplomatic and stability benefits to US armed forces providing services and training after disasters and in marginalized regions. But, soft-power mission effectiveness is measurable. If our goal is to develop soft-power into an meaningful tool of foreign relations, then missions must be evaluated on useful metrics.