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New Maritime Strategy to Focus on 'Soft Power'

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007 4:18 PM

The U.S. military unveiled a new maritime strategy today -- its first created jointly by the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard -- shifting from a narrow focus on sea combat toward one that also emphasizes the use of "soft power" to counter terrorism and deliver humanitarian assistance.

The strategy, shaped by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the wars that followed, stresses preventing conflict as much as winning wars, and recognizes that "no one nation" can secure the world's waters against terrorism and other threats.

Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations; Gen. James T. Conway, Marine Corps commandant; and Adm. Thad W. Allen, Coast Guard commandant, presented the strategy -- titled "A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower" -- today to maritime leaders from more than 100 countries attending the International Seapower Symposium at the Naval War College at Newport, R.I.

The new approach marks a stark departure from the last U.S. maritime strategy, conceived by the Navy in the 1980s, which focused heavily on offensive operations against the Soviet Union. "This isn't just a strategy about putting ordnance on a target or sinking someone else's fleet," said a senior Navy official, who like some others spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Soft power, the humanitarian and economic efforts, have been elevated to the same level as high-end naval warfare," said another Navy official, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity because the strategy had not been officially unveiled.

The 16-page document was developed over two years and outlines six imperatives. These include the traditional missions of concentrating major combat forces in the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and Western Pacific to deter or fight potential conflicts. Protecting vital sea lanes represents a growing priority, it said, as seaborne trade has more than quadrupled over the last four decades and now accounts for 90 percent of all international commerce and two-thirds of global petroleum trade.

In addition, the strategy calls for dispersing smaller maritime teams to carry out humanitarian missions as well as to counter terrorism, weapons proliferation, piracy and other illicit maritime activities -- partly to contain threats before they can reach the United States. These teams, which would integrate Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard forces, would deploy to areas such as Africa and the Western Hemisphere to promote closer cooperation with maritime forces in other nations.

"The global system and network and commerce could not function without the free flow on the world's oceans," Roughead said at the symposium. "But we all know . . . the disruptions that can occur, whether it's piracy, smuggling of people, of drugs, of weapons, terrorism -- all of that disrupts maritime security."

Roughead also spoke of "a movement toward . . . proactive humanitarian assistance in the deployment of our hospital ships to South America, Southeast Asia" and Africa.

To implement the strategy, sailors, Marines and Coast Guard personnel would be dispatched on a wide variety of ships as "force packages" able to conduct security missions, serve as mobile training teams or perform humanitarian, legal or reconstruction work.

Integrating the three U.S. maritime forces is also crucial to improved homeland defense, according to the strategy, which envisions Coast Guard personnel operating "thousands of miles from our shores" while the Navy, when necessary, responds to threats close to home.

Still, some critics said the strategy does not go far enough toward creating a seamless U.S. maritime force able to coordinate closely with other nations to protect the United States and international waters. "I don't see a radically altered course," said a military analyst who specializes in maritime security.

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