This Week at War: Help Haiti, But Quietly

What the four-stars are reading -- a weekly column from Small Wars Journal.

THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. military should keep a low profile in Haiti

The U.S. military is now carrying out a wide-ranging relief mission in Haiti in response to the dreadful Jan. 12 earthquake that virtually destroyed Port-au-Prince and other built-up areas in the country. Because it has the manpower, ships, airplanes, organization, and the budget to rapidly move equipment, supplies, and people to anywhere in the world, it is no surprise that the Pentagon's is the first phone that rings whenever such a natural disaster strikes. Recent large-scale relief missions after the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan brought acclaim to the U.S. military and the U.S. government. U.S. policy officials struggling for the moral high ground were happy to pocket the "soft power" benefits of these relief missions.

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The U.S. military should keep a low profile in Haiti

The U.S. military is now carrying out a wide-ranging relief mission in Haiti in response to the dreadful Jan. 12 earthquake that virtually destroyed Port-au-Prince and other built-up areas in the country. Because it has the manpower, ships, airplanes, organization, and the budget to rapidly move equipment, supplies, and people to anywhere in the world, it is no surprise that the Pentagon’s is the first phone that rings whenever such a natural disaster strikes. Recent large-scale relief missions after the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan brought acclaim to the U.S. military and the U.S. government. U.S. policy officials struggling for the moral high ground were happy to pocket the "soft power" benefits of these relief missions.

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The disaster in Haiti provides another opportunity for the Pentagon to show the world the humanitarian advantages of its logistical power. All five of the military services are contributing to the effort and the Pentagon has created a webpage to collect all of its Haiti stories, photos, and links. But be careful, counsels Gary Anderson, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and veteran of relief missions in Bangladesh and Somalia. In two essays written for Small Wars Journal, Anderson advises the U.S. military in Haiti to work only in support of the host government, to let the United Nations and non-governmental aid groups take the lead, and to generally take as low a profile as possible. Try to do too much, he warns, and the military relief effort will risk squandering any goodwill it might gain.

Based on its previous experiences with disaster relief, the U.S. military now has written doctrine on how to establish a headquarters staff for coordinating a relief effort. In his first essay, Anderson recommends tossing this plan into the bin. He argues that it is essential that the United States be seen supporting the existing Haitian government and ministries, no matter how feeble they may be. Anderson believes that standing up a large by-the-book civil-military operations center would appear to many outsiders as a de facto U.S. takeover of the country. Some foreign officials have already accused the United States of planning just that. Instead, the U.S. should adapt to the Haiti’s circumstances and improvise staffing solutions that support the Haitian government.

In his second essay, Anderson continues to recommend a supporting role for the U.S. military. The U.S. should use sea-basing in order to keep the number of U.S. military personnel ashore as low as possible. The U.S. should let the Haitian police and U.N. peacekeepers take responsibility for security. To the greatest extent possible, NGO personnel, and not U.S. soldiers, should handle aid distribution to the victims.

Is the U.S. government following Anderson’s advice? For the most part, the answer seems yes. The U.S. is sea-basing its operations on an aircraft carrier, an amphibious assault ship, and a hospital ship and is using helicopters and landing craft for movement. The U.S. Agency for International Development’s recent press briefings and fact sheets stress the lead roles of the Haitian government, the United Nations and NGOs in the relief effort.

After a fitful start, the U.S. military’s relief operations in Haiti are still far short of what the disaster requires. But they are gaining momentum and will appear more successful every day. Just don’t get carried away by that success, warns Anderson.

With China in mind, Gates deepens the U.S. defense relationship with India

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates completed a two-day visit to New Delhi with a mission of deepening the defense relationship between the United States and India. During a press conference after the meetings, Gates explained the latest accords under discussion: an agreement on communication interoperability and encryption; an agreement on geospatial data sharing (useful for navigation and targeting); and an agreement on logistics support. The highly technical nature of these deals is a good indication that the two countries are serious about developing an effective combined military capability.

Gates was not reluctant to mention the primary motivation for the increased military cooperation, as this exchange from the press conference shows:

Q:     I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your discussions with India on China, whether there is a joint cyber threat that both India and the U.S. face from elements within China, and what you see as India’s role in sort of a counterweight to China in Asia.

GATES: We didn’t talk about China at length. We did talk in more generic terms about a common interest in security of the Indian Ocean and security of the global commons, and the global commons meaning the air, sea, space, and if you’re talking about the internet, the ether, I suppose.

There was a discussion about China’s military modernization program and what it meant and what the intentions of that military buildup were. 

Gates went on to renew his plea to his Chinese counterparts for more bilateral discussions about strategic issues and China’s military modernization plans. The U.S. and Indian governments are deepening their military cooperation in response to their perception of rapidly expanding Chinese air, naval, and strategic capabilities. With his statements during the press conference, Gates is indicating that the increased U.S.-India military cooperation is both prudent preparation and a signal to China’s leadership to start talking more about security issues.

Gates must be hoping to indicate to the Chinese that they cannot win an air and naval arms race in the region; the U.S. will meet every increase in Chinese capabilities with increased sharing of U.S. military technology with India and with increased cooperation with other allies in the region such as Japan, Australian, and Singapore.

Gates must be hoping to show China that an arms race is pointless and wasteful. The way to avoid a race is through dialogue, which Gates has repeatedly called for. China has not been very forthcoming on military diplomacy. Gates must be wondering how many more military cooperation agreements with India it will take to change some minds in Beijing.

Robert Haddick is managing editor of Small Wars Journal.

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