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U.S. Navy Humanitarian Assistance in an Era of Austerity

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By J. Stephen Morrison, Gary Roughead, Thomas Cullison, Seth Gannon
Mar 11, 2013

Over the last decade, the U.S. Navy has gone beyond disaster response to substantially enlarge its scheduled, preplanned humanitarian engagement in the Pacific, the Americas, and Africa. After an expansionary period that began with the 2005 response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, intensifying budget pressures are now triggering spirited debate within the Department of Defense (DoD) about the true value of these “soft power” missions, which utilize scarce personnel, funding, and assets that otherwise would be dedicated to more traditional and more easily measured and justified “hard power” missions.

To help frame and inform this complex debate, CSIS launched in June 2012 an independent study of U.S. Navy humanitarian assistance, chaired by Admiral Gary Roughead, U.S. Navy (retired). While in different ways each military service has made remarkable humanitarian contributions, the Obama administration’s strategic rebalance to Asia and the accompanying emphasis on the Pacific makes a study of U.S. Navy strategic engagement particularly timely. Ideally, the issues presented by naval humanitarian assistance will have implications and lessons for other DoD engagement activities.

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