In the last week there has been a fair bit online like Chris’s post below about what is being done with the Navy-USMC team now, and elsewhere about what is coming to help with the humanitarian effort in Pakistan. Soft power is a popular topic.

The Department of Defense announced Aug. 13 the deployment of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (KSG ARG) and 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (26th MEU).

The combined Navy and Marine Corps team will leave later this month to bring significant heavy- and medium-lift aircraft and other assets to support flood relief efforts in Pakistan. The Kearsarge ARG/26th MEU’s capabilities will allow sailors and Marines to provide food, water, transportation, and other support, in partnership with the Pakistani military, to those in need.

The group is expected to arrive in the Arabian Sea in late September.

It will be at least six weeks, at the earliest, until initial effects are seen on the ground, so let’s speak to each other as adults.

This effort has everything to do about INFO OPS and STRATCOM, and little about a meaningful contribution to saving lives. That is fine – the argument can be made that this may save lives down the road through impact on the human terrain; but that is an argument, not a fact.

Some people will be helped – but within a standard deviation of the lives that the medical facilities, food, and supplies brought with the ARG could save if it helped on any standard day in Pakistan. Those who have been to AfPac know that even on a good day there is a humanitarian problem that needs what the USN-USMC can bring over the horizon.

Also remember that Pakistan is an incredibly poor country of ~175 million souls. For the rest of the life of our republic, every ARG/MEU deployment could go to the coast of Pakistan, and every day you could read, “... civilians from the town of XXXX are gathered inside a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter which has come to deliver humanitarian assistance and pick up victims …

A nation could go broke and a military worn out attempting to fix what cannot be fixed in any sustainable way by an ARG/MEU.

That stated, the ability to conduct humanitarian assistance has a long and honorable history in the US military and has its place. Taking six-weeks to help people suffering from water-born disease and lack of medical care is a long time to “help” save lives. Most who are in danger of dying now will be dead by the time the ARG/MEU gets there. On the extreme margins, we can help a few – but is that “our” job to save every soul in danger across the world? A Pakistani whose village is much better off than the homeless refugees of Darfur who are walking among the uncounted dead. Where, and at what cost-point, do you say, “enough.” When do the actions of a Republic start to look like the duties of an Empire?

If we are to do this, then we should do it better. More pre-positioned capabilities would be nice – so would strategic lift capable LTA assets (don’t laugh at Lighter-Than-Air when it comes to moving more tonnage than a C-17, faster than a ship, deliverable almost anywhere in a permissive environment). We don’t have that asset because like Command Ships, they aren’t sexy and therefor don’t get funded – so we have what we have.

There is a more fundamental question though. Do we want to be able to do this within means and capabilities – which is what we are doing now – or as a primary mission area? If you want to make it a PMA, then you will need to fund it. Cost it out and tell me what you will trade to be able to do this …. and then make the argument of the actual good you will derive from it.

Remember, at best – this helps the INFO OPS/Strategic Messaging efforts. We are talking about Pakistan. The delta in lives saved vs. the control sample is not that great. Just know that you are not doing “good” here – you are at best trying to buy good will – but really, how much good will?

The counter argument – and one made coldly – has two parts:
– This is like watering the desert. You can pour gallons on water on the desert – but if you don’t continue to do it on a regular basis, you soon end up where you started. No green shoots; just sand and lost money.
– How much good will did our efforts in Somalia in the early ’90s or the Pakistani earthquake half a decade ago accrue? How is that working for us?

It is not a mature intellectual exercise to do things with blood and treasure just to make ourselves feel good. Theory is just that – theory – without metrics to back it up. Given the spotty track record of these things in the last couple of decades – and in a period where we must learn to be careful with our funding – besides nice photo-ops and feeling good about ourselves, what are we getting for our effort?

Posted by CDRSalamander in Marine Corps, Navy, Soft Power
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  • RickWilmes

    We are bearing witness to the modern day version of “The Bridges Over The River Kwai.”

    It’s Madness, Madness and each day we continue down this path the security of the U.S. get’s weaker and weaker, yet the rising tide of self-deceit continues to approach epic flood level proportions.

    But I digress, time for another bowl of popcorn while I sit in moderation hell 🙂

  • Byron

    Thought pretty much the same when I read the first article. It’s all touchy feely good for the folks back home, but do you really think we’re scoring any points with the Pakistani government who allows Taliban and Al-Queda leaders to live freely inside Pakistan? Or the ISI, who is violenty pro-radical extremist? To the villagers we’re gentle gods, to the upper class, we’re patsies.

  • Chaps

    It will only get worse while America’s Navy is “A Global Force for Good.”

  • RickWilmes
  • Salty Gator

    Maybe I’m being insensitive, but besides the humanitarian aid we should roll heavy with MQ-9B Reapers so that we can neutralize any targets of opportunity. And maybe take biometrics of everyone who receives aid so that we can snatch any tangos in the rice line.

    I hope that we maximize this opportunity. The only reason to go into that place where they hate us is to use this opportunity to wipe out as many bad guys as possible.

  • Jeff Gauch

    The biggest question is when was the KSG ARG going to deploy anyway? If this is a regularly-scheduled deployment then we’re dealing with sunk costs. Any benefit we garner in terms of goodwill and intel contacts is greater than what we would get with the ARG making donuts in the South China Sea.

    It’s a bit premature to say they’ll have no effect. By all accounts this is near-biblical flooding, there’s fear that dams downriver will fail. Many areas have already lost this year’s crop, and poor societies don’t have much in the way of food reserves.

    Finally in third-world imaginations there’s very little we can’t do. The Russian people are eating up the claims of a nutter who claims we’re causing the heatwave over there with HAARP. If we stand aside and do nothing we hand our opponents a huge propaganda victory.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    It is not madness.

    One of the few ways we are able to describe a chaotic world, with random events spurring on even more chaos is through describing events as being nonlinear. Back in the 80s/90s the term seems to have been ‘force multiplier’.

    The vocabulary I have for describing events like this comes from a concept called Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS). While I do not completely put my faith into it giving clear insight into social groups, it does come closer than anything else I am aware of.

    The main thing about CASes is that they are not linear. Results come out of them that can only be modeled by nonlinear equations. Indeed 1 + 1 can equal 10 in some instances.

    Stability Operations, the Maritime Strategy et al. can be described as a fight against nonlinearality (if I can invent a word).

    In the Taliban coming to power in AFG, the first big city they went after was Kandahar. In their fight for Kandahar, they won over the population when they supposedly rescued a small boy from being ‘taken advantage of’ by two commanders of the opposing force. Earlier in their campaign they rescued to teenage girls from a similar fate.

    What worries me in this. Is that our efforts there are the ultimate test of the Maritime Strategy against insurgencies and the like. If there isn’t a sea change in public opinion of the US in Pakistan because of all we are doing there. Then I will be completely of the opinion that nothing can change their opinions, and the whole effort was for not.

    Gahlran made the point to me the other day that natural disasters have been the turning point in conflicts quite consistently. Both in setting the conditions for a conflict and helping conclude them. Since Ramazan began I had been expecting quite the show from the insurgents here in AFG. But, (knock on wood) there hasn’t been much from them at all in my little corner of this war. While I don’t have all the data, I still can’t help but find a correlation between the two.

    What is the most important aspect of the operations due to these floods will be the aftermath, how we deal with this for the mid term. Much of how we deal with this is up to the Pakistani’s themselves. But, I am not going to speculate beyond that.

    Lastly, I’ve been asking myself what is the greater strategic threat we face in the coming decades. Is it a near-peer competition between us and China? Iranian antagonism/nuclear capability? AQ and its analogs? Or, natural distastes in increasingly populated and hardly developed nations that TPM Barnett would call “seam-states”?

    Over all, I would choose natural disasters. How I would hedge against them is, as you say Sir, increasing our ability to deal with them, because using equipment not ideal for it only results in a half victory, and it is of little worth. But, I would also push to get other Nations involved. We talk about influence squadrons. Perhaps an influence version of an ARG modeled on the C2/combined nature of CTF 151 would work well and not make us have to completely foot the bill (and allow us to also maintain our leviathan force) for every whim of mother nature.

  • Byron

    YN, as cash-strapped as the Navy-Marine Corps team is, why the hell do they get to do the heavy lifting on these humanitarian tasks? Do their budgets get the money back for things “other than war”? Can the US afford to carry the world on it’s back time after time after time? Why aren’t the Europeans jumping on this aid and assistance bandwagon?

  • Ward

    As is obliquely mentioned in the original post, regarding “water in the desert”, we are creating unrealistic expectations that will come back to bite us in the end. The day the water runs out, it will be us who is the bad guy, and we will be that much more of a bad guy because we ever poured that water. It’s not right, but that is the logic that will be applied by the man on the street in Karachi or wherever. The Europeans sit on the sidelines fat, dumb, and happy and laughing at us and wondering why we do what we do. They can’t even get organized to build a cargo plane between all of their countries, and they are being constantly rewarded for their laziness and lack of organization. The next time something like this happens we should tell Europe, “You buy, we fly”, instead of buying, flying, and risking hitting Grandma in the crosswalk.

  • leesea

    When put in the terms of being PMA, using our amphibs to perform HA/DR can be questioned. I have said before that warships can be good first responders having the manpower and helos and other connectors neeed up front, BUT when it comes to delivering the tons of relief supplies needed AND remaining on-scene, there are others ways to perform soft power.

    Specifically, I suggest using existing sealift ships instead of warships to store and prepositiong the relift materials in-theater. We have the sealift ships, they can be moored alongside a friendly warehouse in a port only a few days sailing time from many of the recent disaster areas.

    So what does that gain the Navy you might ask? First, the Navy gets much credit for medical diplomacy etc. Then we have ships needed in theater for any support mission. The cargo capacity of sealift ships vastly exceeds what is on warships, so more supplies get delivered where needed. And here is the big kicker, the diversion of warships i.e. amphibs to OTW missions is decreased and there operational availability to PMA is increased. I have a real concern about unfriendly countries taking advantage WHILE the amphibs are diverted.

    Sure the first responders are distinct assets to start with BUT they will leave sooner rather than later and by helping disaster areas for longer periods, in the end the USA may gain more friendly support.

  • W800i

    The following quote is from ABC Australia and a program called Saturday extra. The link to the podcast is below. This quote was I believe before the floods but I think even though the flood is a extraordinary event, one should question why have Pakistans neighbors been so effective in responding while Pakistan has not.

    “New reports reveal that only two per cent of the population in Pakistan pays any tax. The question therefore arises, would Pakistan need any aid if it got its own taxation affairs in order? Indeed, could its endemic problems with terrorist groups in part be resolved if taxation monies were spent on basics like schools, health centres, and clean water”

  • Charles

    This is probably going to sound racist to some, but how is it a region that has so much potential to be industeralized and employ everyone, yet in there are only four countries in Asia that hvae the economy to recover from a major act of god.
    If you look at nearly every country that surrounds the WestPac and Indian Ocean area, only Singapore, China, S. Korea, Japan. Are the only countries that hvae successfully industralized themselves or built thier economies to be a power house in the economic region.

    Is it the government? Is it the history of the people and thier unwillingness to rise above tribalism? Cronyism? What is it that let those four countries succeed while the others can’t seem to rise about selling geunine knock-off textiles (FooBoo, Kalvin Klin, 24 carrot Rolexx) or selling thier people?

    How can we fight the anti-modernists groups like Al Qeda or the Talibian when the countries we are approaching can’t build an economy to even equal a country like Spain, Portugual, Greece?

    These same questions in this comment and the questions in the OP can be asked about everyone south of our border in the US.

  • Cap’n Bill

    This is not a military mission. It should not automatically fall to DOD or to the USA to help out in the world’s faraway areas. Clearly nothing the US might do would fit onto the sick-dying-dead timeframe. People near to the scene should be pressed by the UN to belley up to the bar. NGOs and private charities might be more responsive than a group of gray ships. “Uncle” must learn to take a deep breath. Then do nothing. Face the logistical facts of the situation.
    “Water the desert” is a beautiful summation.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    From Lex’s place:

    Many Pakistanis say they have not been swayed by the U.S. rescue missions and millions of dollars of flood relief. In Islamabad, the capital, people talk of an America they say will expect something in return for its helping hand, an America that has neglected Pakistan too many times to make amends.

    “If the U.S. gives us aid, only our rulers receive it,” said Muhammad Jamshed, a 28-year-old salesman at an Islamabad clothing shop. “The U.S. wants to win the hearts of people with this aid, but it won’t happen. We do not need this aid. God is here and he will provide aid to us.”

  • RickWilmes

    “We do not need this aid. God is here and he will provide aid to us.”

    Somebody needs to let the Pakistanis know what comes after ignoring the help from the helicopters.

  • eastriver

    The vessels of the Navy and Marine Corps are, simply, assets of the United States. Should the United States determine that it is in our interest to provide humanitarian assistance, whether it be early or late, it is the obligation of those departments directed to do so, to respond.

    “What’s in it for the Navy/Marines” is an outrageous notion. “It is not a mature intellectual exercise to do things with blood and treasure just to make ourselves feel good.”? What blood do we shed here, apart from simple accidents? Treasure, yes, but we choose to spend it here. It is not an intellectual exercise. This is not a drill.

    It is facile to castigate the Europeans for failing to respond as strongly as we are… but sure, go ahead. And while you’re at it, let’s not forget China, holder of all our T-bills, who seem to be a direct neighbor of Pakistan and a good enough buddy that they gave Pakistan plans for a missile-capable nuke. No, of course they’re not helping, pledged I think $9 million for relief.

    But what we think of as “American exceptionalism” has it’s root in events like this. This is what we choose to do. It’s the right thing to do. Do it forever? No, of course not. But in the initial weeks and months, it’s a good and beneficial exercise. Save some lives, help some recovery operations.

    Not many people know that when the WTC came down in New York, a convoy of the most crucial first responders consisted of literally all the mobile heavy equipment that the — wait for it– Metropolitan Transportation Authority — had available. Many of the people dragged out of the rubble owe their lives mainly to the T.A.– for without T.A. heavy equipment FDNY couldn’t have done much. I don’t recall anyone from the TA ever complaining about their mission not including that job, or their budget being misdirected.

    And that’s what makes us Americans.

  • eastriver

    And, Cdr. S — you’re right, we should do it better. Not to the exclusion or impediment of the principal mission — but much, much better. And I’d submit that we can do so — and without much expenditure.

  • “What blood do we shed here..”

    You really need to review the Somalia operation in the ’90s. In a broader context, you may want to review what happened to the Belgians in Rwanda. You may want to review, if you have access, the data on MEDEVAC helicopter support, Medium lift helicopter support, etc in AFG. Then review the definition of opportunity cost. That should give you a start.

    As for what makes us Americans – what we do to help each other in our city has nothing to do with what we do internationally. Last time I looked – your defintion is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. Just another point to ponder.