In Press: Stoking the soft-power arms race!

by Craig Hooper on September 12, 2010

Erstwhile NextNavy amigo Christopher Albon and I pounded out another call for more U.S. hospital ships–a second Great White Fleet, as it were. After watching many calls for new–or more–hospital ships go ignored, I can only wonder if things might change now that some new hospital ships, supported by a well-funded and savvy diplomatic corps, are entering the field. Here’s a sample, from the right-leaning media outlet, The New Ledger:

On August 31st, little noticed outside naval analyst circles, China’s first purpose-built hospital ship left port on her inaugural mission. The 10,000 ton vessel, called Peace Ark, and her crew of over 400 military and medical personnel will spend the next 87 days providing health care to foreign militaries in the Gulf of Aden and humanitarian assistance to civilians in Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles, and Bangladesh. More than that, Peace Ark’s deployment marks the start of a new phase of Chinese soft power: medical assistance to win hearts and minds.

Our proposal is pretty simple–build a floating aid and diplomatic force (built to civilian specs, of course):

Imagine a squadron of half a dozen ships, staffed with medical personnel from all the branches of the military, Coast Guard, United States Public Health Service, and non-governmental organizations. Additional expertise would come from civilian agencies, most importantly U.S.A.I.D. and Department of State. During and after disasters, this squadron would deploy to the area pre-stocked with the resources and personnel most needed. Other times, the fleets would provide humanitarian and other assistance in coordination with host countries: repair schools and hospitals, provide medical care, and train local health providers, and most importantly, build relationships with foreign governments and their institutions.

Basically, this is about getting out there and making the low-level contacts America needs to thrive in the coming decade. Really, I think this sort of thing is a good investment–it is localized, clearly identified as American, and, in general, free of the incredible overhead loss and criminal lack of supervision many private sector aid providers enjoy today. Done right, it could become a training engine (never mind a debt-reduction source) for a new generation of young, enthusiastic and technically-proficient U.S. diplomats.

And with the looming retirement of the USNS Mercy and Comfort, we have a real opportunity to reinvent America’s soft-power forces.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

philbob September 16, 2010 at 12:29 am

I would also say a need for a squadron might are a tad hyperbolic, a smarter and more politically palatable option might be for including offices spaces on the new build medical ships. It might also be wise to include the ships in the dept. of states budget if they are to serve as mobile embassies


philbob September 16, 2010 at 12:16 am

I said it last time

2 LPD-17 based designs
2 T-AKE based designs
4 JHSV (under the Armys responsibility)


Blacktail September 15, 2010 at 7:57 pm

That the US Navy needs new Hospital Ships is an understatement, and it needs more than just 2.

Seriously, how can the Navy seriously claim it projects power globally, when it has more than a dozen Battlegroups, 240000 Marines, and and military bases in every corner of the world — but only TWO Hospital Ships to support all of it?


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