Wielding ‘Soft Power’
By J. MICHAEL McGRATH, National President
America’s sea services are
demonstrating their collective commitment to the use of “soft
power” every day while building
new relationships and reaffirming
old ties across the globe.
The “Maritime Strategy: A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century
Seapower,” an unprecedented joint
document unveiled a year ago by
the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast
Guard, emphasized the importance
of soft power in providing maritime
security, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.
“Soft power elements can help
avoid war, and the benefits of engagement often emerge once war becomes necessary. Soft
power missions do not obviate the need for hard power,”
Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter said during an address
at the Expeditionary Warfare Conference last October in
Panama City, Fla., shortly after the strategy was unveiled.
“We may execute such missions with greater frequency
and with greater eagerness than in the past, but we are
under no illusions regarding their role in the joint fight.”
One great example of soft power in action is Continuing Promise 2008 in Latin America. The goal of the
U.S. Navy, partner militaries, nongovernmental organizations and support groups is to forge lasting relationships with nations that can be called upon should a
regional situation arise that requires cooperative action.
Medical and public health teams from the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, alongside local medical
professionals, treated tens of thousands of patients in
Peru in June. Seabees and construction battalions completed renovation projects at two schools.
Teams aboard the amphibious assault ship USS
Kearsarge are extending that same mission — that same
message of hope and goodwill — to six nations in Latin
America. It began with Nicaragua on Aug. 14.
Having a persistent presence in this strategically
important region proved its worth in early September
when several dangerous storms roared by Haiti.
Kearsarge had taken Continuing Promise to Colombia
when U.S. Fourth Fleet diverted it to Haiti, which took a
pounding from tropical storms Gustav and Hanna, then
Hurricane Ike. The ship arrived Sept.
8 with support that included movement of cargo, helicopters and landing craft used to deliver supplies.
The Coast Guard, too, responded
with relief after Hanna, transporting
supplies to residents in Gonaives,
Haiti. With helicopters from Coast
Guard Air Station Clearwater, Fla.,
the service transported enough supplies — including food, water, medical and hygiene kits, and shelter
items — for about 2,000 people. The
service, whose multimission mandate includes maritime safety and
humanitarian assistance, continued
to monitor the situation as Ike
moved in, ready to lend whatever assistance was necessary.
The Marine Corps also recognizes the vital role of
soft power in our national security strategy. In the
“Marine Corps Vision & Strategy 2025,” issued in June,
Commandant Gen. James T. Conway says Marines
must be able to transition “seamlessly between fighting,
training, advising and assisting.”
Training, advising and assisting is exactly what the
Corps did during its participation in Exercise Balikatan
2008 in the Philippines. During this 24th annual bilateral
exercise, held Feb. 18-March 3, Philippine and U.S. forces
focused on training to provide relief and assistance in the
event of a natural disaster or public emergency. During the
event, Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit also built classrooms, provided medical and
dental assistance and offered engineering expertise.
These operations and exercises hone the skills needed to wield soft power to great effect. But one short
visit every few years does not a relationship make. Our
sea services are sowing the seeds of relationships that
must be nurtured over time. As Adm. Gary Roughead,
chief of naval operations, has said, “You can’t be there
if you’re not there.”