05 March 2005

How U.S. Navy Reforms Helped the Tsunami Relief Effort

In the 3 March New York Times, Robert D. Kaplan offers an interesting analysis of how the Pentagon's recent restructuring of the U.S. Navy improved the tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia.
The fact is, the Navy of the 1990's could not have responded nearly as quickly and efficiently to the tsunami as did the post-9/11 one. This is largely because of structural changes made to fight the war on terrorism.

A decade ago, our carrier battle groups mainly did planned, six-month-long "pulse" deployments. Since 9/11, the Navy has put increasing emphasis on emergency "surge" deployments, in which carriers, cruisers and destroyers have to be ready to go anywhere, anytime, to deal with a security threat. The new strategy explains why, in late December, the Abraham Lincoln strike force was able to so quickly leave Hong Kong for Indonesia at a best speed of 27 knots.

In recent years the Navy has also instituted what it calls sea-swaps, in which crews are rotated in the middle of a deployment, without the battle group having to return to port. This allows the ships to remain on call in unstable areas of the globe while giving the initial crews a rest.

For example, the Benfold, a guided missile destroyer on which I have been embedded for four weeks - and which played a substantial role in tsunami relief - is now being maintained by a crew from another destroyer, the Higgins, as part of a sea-swap. Although the Benfold had intended to go to the Korean Peninsula before the tsunami hit, its navigators had sailing charts of Indonesia on hand because, as they explained to me, the war on terrorism necessitates a flexible, expeditionary mentality.

Sept. 11 has also encouraged America's blue water (oceanic) Navy to become more of a green water, street-fighting force, adept at littoral operations, whether that means infiltrating coastal terrorist hideouts or providing onshore assistance to disaster victims. While fighting terrorism has sharpened the Navy's skill at disaster relief, the humanitarian work in the Indian Ocean, it is now clear, has provided a major victory in both the war on terrorism and the more low-key effort of managing China's re-emergence as a great power. Not only did the Abraham Lincoln strike group show Muslim Indonesians that America is their friend, it also proved how helpful our sailors can be compared to the Chinese Navy, which floundered in its relief efforts. Clearly, by doing good, we have done well.
Apparently so, according to the results of a new poll in Indonesia.
  • For the first time ever in a major Muslim nation, more people favor US-led efforts to fight terrorism than oppose them (40% to 36%). Importantly, those who oppose US efforts against terrorism have declined by half, from 72% in 2003 to just 36% today.

  • For the first time ever in a Muslim nation since 9/11, support for Osama Bin Laden has dropped significantly (58% favorable to just 23%).

  • 65% of Indonesians now are more favorable to the United States because of the American response to the tsunami, with the highest percentage among people under 30.

  • Indeed, 71% of the people who express confidence in Bin Laden are now more favorable to the United States because of American aid to tsunami victims.
The Terror Free Tomorrow poll was conducted in February by the leading Indonesian pollster, Lembaga Survei Indonesia, and surveyed 1,200 adults nationwide with a margin of error of 1 2.9 percentage points.

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