President Obama last week delivered a speech at West Point outlining his vision of US foreign policy that would be increasingly reliant on diplomacy and public institutions, and less quick to resort to the use of force. The President noted that the major challenges to US interests abroad are likely to be regional conflicts like those in Syria and Ukraine that, because of the scope of interests involved, are unlikely to be effectively resolved through the use of force alone. “”American leadership in the 21st century,” the President observed, “is going to involve our capacity to build international institutions, coalitions that can act effectively and the promotion of norms, rules, laws, ideals and values that create greater prosperity and peace, not just in our own borders, but outside as well.”
The President also noted that two of his primary policy concerns to address before leaving office are closing the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and ensuring legal checks are in place to ensure that the US drone program avoids civilian casualties and protects privacy.
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?