Annie Isabel Fukushima, Ayano Ginoza, Michiko Hase, Gwyn Kirk, Deborah Lee, Taeva Shefler, “Disaster Militarism: Rethinking US Relief in the Asia-Pacific,” 14 March 2014, The Nation and Foreign Policy In Focus
… Paralleling these disasters has been the disaster response of the US military. According to this “disaster militarism”—which is a pattern of rhetoric, beliefs and practices—the military should be the primary responder to large-scale disasters. Disaster militarism is not only reflected in the deployment of troops but also in media discourse that naturalizes and calls for military action in times of environmental catastrophes.
Assisting relief efforts, they observed, can improve the military’s image and provide training opportunities. It is also a way for the military to diversify its role when armed forces face budget cuts.
Disaster relief has also become part of the justification for increased US troop deployments in the Asia-Pacific region—even as the new military basing component of the “Pacific Pivot” has met with strong opposition in Okinawa, Japan and Jeju, South Korea. This massive permanent presence in the Asia-Pacific region has enabled the US military to be the “first and fastest” to respond to sudden calamity. The Pacific Command boasts 330,000 personnel (one-fifth of all US forces), 180 ships and 2,000 aircraft in an area that spans half the earth’s surface and is home to half the earth’s population.
Disaster relief is not the military’s primary mission, role or area of expertise. Nevertheless, disaster response missions facilitate military expansion and dominance. …
The conflation of military power and disaster relief is highly problematic. It is not cost-effective, efficient or transparent. Military operations exhaust limited budgets for humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. Confusion about the military’s role as soldiers or relief providers can lead to suspicion and fear, and some people may not access relief as a result. According to the Department of Defense, the Pacific Command offers not only aid to countries in the region dealing with disasters, but also “forms of advice and assistance, training, satellite imagery or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support.” More troops on the ground offer greater opportunities for the gathering of intelligence. Revelations that a CIA-funded fake vaccination program in Pakistan was used to find and kill Osama bin Laden provide another example of co-mingling humanitarian relief and military operations, rightly contributing to civilian confusion, public distrust and questions of transparency and accountability.
Disaster militarism does not address the underlying causes for the increasing number of intense storms and natural disasters. Nor can disaster militarism be separated from the US military’s record as a the “worst polluter on the planet” for its “uninhibited use of fossil fuels, massive creation of greenhouse gases, and extensive release of radioactive and chemical contaminants into the air, water, and soil,” as a recent Project Censored story detailed. In times of disaster, the US military positions itself as a “savior” and attempts to obscure its role as a major contributor to the rise of climate disasters. …
The alternative approach, human security, requires a physical environment that can support life; guarantees people’s material needs for livelihood, food and shelter; and protects people and the environment from avoidable harm. To minimize the impact of climate disasters—and reduce the contributing factors to the uptick in hurricanes, typhoons and big storms—the disaster militarism model must give way to the human security model as soon as possible.
Read the full article here.