Force Projection, Soft Power, and the Fungibility of Military Power

The USS George Washington

The USS George Washington

In the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the United States announced that the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and two escort destroyers have arrived in the Philippines to assist in the relief effort. According to a statement by the White House, the George Washington will provide support for search-and-rescue operations and will assist in the transportation of relief supplies. The British government similarly announced that the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious will be sent to aid in the relief effort.

The use of the military in such relief effort raises some interesting questions about the fungibility of power in foreign policy. Traditionally, a strong military—particularly a powerful blue water navy like that of the United States—was primarily a vehicle for force projection. That is, a strong navy allows the United States to respond to crises and assert itself around the world. The changing nature of international conflict, however, has caused some policy makers to debate the need for restructuring the US military. A greater reliance on force projection through the use of drone aircraft and missile strikes, for example, have allowed the United States to pursue an aggressive stance against suspected terrorists around the world with relatively little risk to American soldiers. But the crisis in the Philippines suggests that some military assets have greater fungability; that is, they can be used to address a wider variety of issues than just national defense and security.

Does the crisis in the Philippines suggest that the extensive reliance on drones as the central component of US military policy should be rethought? What does it suggest about the nature of power and the dynamics of US foreign policy?

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