Truman National Security Project

Amphibious Operations Are a Solution to 21st Century Conflicts

By Andrew Lubin | 3.25.13

The American concept of war and engagement needs to change. While China, Iran, and North Korea are considered the greatest threats to the United States, problems with them will not be settled by Iwo Jima-type beach landings, a Midway-like naval battle, or the bombing campaigns that devastated Germany and Japan. The conventional war tactics that won WWII are outdated in a world of non-state threats such as al-Qaeda, extremist mullahs, criminal enterprises, drug dealers, or Iranian-sponsored terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah.

As the “Arab Spring” in the Middle East and North Africa demonstrated, it’s citizens frustrated by generations of dysfunctional and corrupt governments and over-educated and under-employed youths who want what the West has: governments that reliably bring basic services such as schools, clinics, sanitation, and jobs — and it’s the lack of basic services that causes civil unrest. On the Marine Corps Threat Board are listed issues like Crime & Terrorism, Water Stress, Chronic Unemployment, Urban Stress, Energy, and it’s worth remembering that every one of the 9/11 hijackers were unemployed college graduates.

As the Marines learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are bad “bad guys” who hate America and need to be stopped, and bad “good guys” who are fighting because it’s the only job available that lets them support their families. But while it’s hard to ascertain the bearded good guys from the bearded bad guys, it’s those good guys America needs to reach – and it’s through the quiet strategy of amphibious operations that America reaches them.

While finite conventional forces (Army, Navy) need to be retained, it’s the expanded use of amphibious operations (a Marine-Navy mission), that’s the solution to the challenges of the 21stcentury.

Known as a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU, 2,200 Marines), its two troop-carrying vessels and an amphibious assault ship that has a flight deck for launching Harrier fighter jets, Ospreys, and helicopters. Most important, all the ships have a “well deck” capable of launching landing craft loaded with Marines ready for combat or humanitarian assistance.

There are always two MEU’s afloat; they are America’s quick response force that has no-notice ability to conduct humanitarian-disaster relief operations in Haiti, Japan, or Staten Island or flying Marines into Afghanistan after 9/11.

Since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, of the 110 amphibious operations mounted globally, only two involved combat; all the others were humanitarian-disaster relief, emergency evacuation of American citizens, or projecting a friendly presence. 2010′s Operation Continuing Promise is an example; in a four month span, the USS Iwo Jima visited eight Caribbean Basin countries and treated more than 43,000 primary care patients while providing 161,000-plus medical treatments. No other country has the ability to perform this sort of diplomacy; making the arrival of a MEU a welcome event from Latin America to the Asian littorals.

While the Navy prefers nuclear aircraft carriers ($14 billion each, excluding planes and crew); they are five ships short of their agreed-upon ship strength for amphibious assault ships. In areas of the world where a liter of potable water is more valuable than a liter of gasoline; it’s the invited arrival of a MEU in a foreign harbor that quietly but powerfully projects America’s presence to support the bearded good guys.

Andrew Lubin is a Truman Security Fellow. This article originally appeared on Yahoo News.