12 October 2005

Kaplan on the Modern Military vs. Mother Nature

In today's New York Times, Robert D. Kaplan develops a point he made after last year's Indian Ocean tsunami disaster.
With the global population now at six billion, humans are living in urban concentrations in an unprecedented number of seismically, climatically and environmentally fragile areas. The earthquake-stricken region of Pakistan saw a doubling of its population in recent decades, certainly a factor in the death toll of more than 20,000. The tsunami in Asia last December showed the risks to the rapidly growing cities along the Indian Ocean. China's booming population occupies flood zones. Closer to home, cities like Memphis and St. Louis lie along the New Madrid fault line, responsible for a major earthquake nearly 200 years ago when those cities barely existed; and the hurricane zone along the southern Atlantic Coast and earthquake-prone areas of California continue to be developed. More human beings are going to be killed or made homeless by Mother Nature than ever in history.

When such disasters occur, security systems break down and lawlessness erupts. The first effect of the earthquake in the Pakistani town of Muzaffarabad was widespread looting - just as in New Orleans. Relief aid is undermined unless those who would help the victims can monopolize the use of force. That requires troops.

But even using our troops in our own country is controversial: the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 strictly limits the use of troops inside the United States. The Gulf Coast devastation has helped remind us that this law was enacted in a rural America at a time when natural disasters took a relatively small human toll, and such calamities were viewed more fatalistically.

In a nation and a world where mass media and the Internet spread the word of disaster so effectively, impassioned calls to do something can quickly erode constitutional concerns, political differences and worries over sovereignty. Just as Pakistan has now agreed to accept aid from its rival India, Iran accepted help from the United States Air Force after the earthquake in Bam in 2003. The very people who typically denounce the American military will surely be complaining about its absence should our troops not show up after a major natural calamity.

Indeed, because of our military's ability to move quickly into new territory and establish security perimeters, it is emerging as the world's most effective emergency relief organization. There is a saying among soldiers: amateurs discuss strategy, while professionals discuss logistics. And if disaster assistance is about anything, it's about logistics - moving people, water, food, medical supplies and heavy equipment to save lives and communities. We also have our National Guard, which is made up primarily of men in their 30's (many of whom are police officers and firefighters in civilian life) trained to deal effectively with the crowds of rowdy young men that tend to impede relief work.
via RealClearPolitics

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