“The countries in which terrorism could gain a foothold contain vast areas that are poverty-stricken and lawless. The common denominator within these areas is the absence of human security for the local population,” argues Major John Bellflower in “The Soft Side of Airpower
” in the Small Wars Journal
. “[A]dopting a human security paradigm as a counterinsurgency strategy could generate positive effects in the war on terror, particularly within AFRICOM,” and the Air Force could play a significant role in bringing human security to vulnerable populations, he claims.
When we picture the Air Force as an instrument of soft power, we tend to think of planes airlifting humanitarian aid into impoverished or disaster-stricken areas. But Bellflower argues that the Air Force could also help fulfill the longer-term health, food, economic, environmental, and community aspects of human security. For instance, the Air Force currently provides short-term health care in Africa through MEDFLAG, a biannual medical exercise. Bellflower suggests MEDFLAG “could be expanded to include a larger, centrally located field hospital unit that could serve a number of dispersed clinics.”
Bellflower also advocates deploying the Air Force’s Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers (REDHORSE) into impoverished, unstable areas to build airstrips, drill wells, and employ local labor to construct “clinics, schools, police stations, community centers, or whatever is needed for a particular area. Additionally, these units could repair existing facilities to allow electricity, water, and other needed life support systems to become functional or construct earthen dams or the like to protect against natural disaster and meet environmental security needs.” Employing young men to build this infrastructure “results in a lower chance of these individuals succumbing to the lure of terrorist group recruiting tactics,” asserts Bellflower.
Bellflower joins a growing cadre of academics and practitioners arguing that the Department of Defense (DoD) should be more involved in peacebuilding and international development. He makes an original contribution in detailing how the Air Force—typically viewed as the most hands-off branch of the armed forces—could help stabilize poor, volatile regions. Yet his vision would likely attract objections from both sides. Many humanitarian aid groups would resist what they view as DoD’s repeated incursions into an area in which it lacks expertise and has ulterior (i.e., national security) motives. On the other side, many military personnel would view this as an example of mission creep, and would hesitate to send soldiers into risky areas simply for humanitarian reasons.
Photo: A U.S. Air Force Europe airman from the 793rd Air Mobility Squadron moves humanitarian supplies into position for loading in support of the humanitarian mission to Georgia in August 2008. Photo courtesy of Captain Bryan Woods, 21st TSC Public Affairs, and Flickr user heraldpost.