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U.S. Aid Missions
A Better Way to Conduct Missions of Mercy

The USNS Mercy, a former oil tanker converted into a 1000-bed floating hospital, joined this week with components of U.S. 7th Fleet to participate in the Pacific Partnership. The Pacific Partnership is a multinational mission to provide medical and dental services to the people of various Southeast Asian and Indian Ocean nations, held every year since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Unfortunately, the Mercy is one of only two such hospital ships in the United States Navy capable of providing health services abroad. When the United States conducts peacetime operations around the world—and though it often goes unreported by the media, the U.S. is doing so constantly—it uses the United States Armed Forces. American military personnel build do peacetime work from building schools and bridges to providing medical care for disaster victims.

While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, it is a dangerous overstretch of U.S. resources in an increasingly chaotic world. Sure, the image of American soldiers or sailors delivering pencils to barefoot Malaysian children helps with PR; but in a theater where there is a constant threat of confrontation with the Chinese Navy and Air Forces, should U.S. assets be spared for humanitarian work?

Here at The American Interest, our editor Adam Garfinkle has advocated the establishment of a U.S. Global Health Corps, which would carry out the same basic mission as the Mercy but to do it independently of the Department of Defense. That way, key resources can be reserved for their specific tasks, granting U.S. policymakers more flexibility when health crises and military flashpoints occur simultaneously.

The U.S. has a genuine commitment to improving the lives of peoples around the world, born of our intrinsic Wilsonian temperament. We should ensure we can perform these missions of mercy with the greatest possible effectiveness and least possible cost to our other priorities. Reorganizing our foreign policy apparatuses to make room for a Global Health Corps would be a smart thing to do—and would dramatically increase the resources available to the USNS Mercy in carrying out its mission.

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  • Kevin

    This might not be very efficient. The military needs to have a variety of resources in case of conflict – but these are not fully utilized in peace time. It makes sense to have them help with humanitarian missions when not needed for other missions or training. then there is the huge PR gain from using the military this way. Finally, there is the issue if competency and logistics – most other branches if the government are far less effective and more dysfunctional than the military.

  • Pete

    “The U.S. has a genuine commitment to improving the lives of peoples around the world, born of our intrinsic Wilsonian temperament. ”

    What ‘intrinsic Wilsonian temperament?’ You just making things up out of thin air. Wilson left office totally disgraced.

  • Andrew Allison

    It appears to me that humanitarian aid is a good use for resources, Army or Navy, that are not being utilized for military purposes but need to be kept in a state of readiness in case the are.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I disagree, using the US military in this way is an efficient use of resources, when not engaged in combat or training troops get to experience foreign cultures and see how the 3rd world really lives (this is a shock to most raised in the US). This perspective gives motivation to the troops when it comes to kicking some tyrant and his military ,which is grinding his nations people down, in the teeth. We really shouldn’t get 3rd world peoples dependent on and expecting the Americans to provide for the basics which they should provide for themselves. By limiting American assistance to disasters and only when available from combat duties, America can spread its superior culture without destroying the independence of backward cultures.

  • Tate Metlen

    This was a poorly thought out and researched article. First, the lhd and lha class ships have very robust medical departments and also do these missions. Second, any major military engagement takes enough time to plan and execute that any deployed forces could be recalled in plenty of time. Third, it is great training for the military. If there was a dedicated humanitarian force, you would have to pay for that, plus training for the military that you are replacing. Fourth, it gives you access to the foreign country, and all the intelligence gathering that goes with such missions. I could go on, but you probably get the idea.

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