Monthly Archives: November 2018

Navy Medical Diplomacy “a la Salamander”

I’ve written before about the role of Navy medicine as a tool in service of our nation’s larger geostrategic / geopolitical interests. Today I purloin, in its entirety (lightly edited…), a post from “Commander Salamander”, a sometimes ascerbic commentator on our Navy’s leadership and policies. On Monday, he commented on the U.S. hospital ship USNS Comfort, which is now on a medical mission to South America. As is his wont, Salamander notes the geopolitical impact in  the region – and much farther afield.

Then, check his closing line.

Commander Salamander

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Hospital Ship’s Soft Powers Sharp Elbow

As we’ve discussed here through the years, hospital ships are one of the best “soft power” assets we have. The green eye-shade types, warheads-on-forehead silo-dwellers, and the medical OCD narrow-casters will throw spitballs, but in my book look at two things:

1. Are your competitors building them too? Yes, look at the Chinese catch-up efforts.

2. Do they upset the right people? Well …lookie here:

A U.S. Navy hospital ship moored off Colombia has started giving free medical care to Venezuelan refugees, in a move likely to rile officials in Caracas who deny the existence of a humanitarian crisis in their own country. I

The USNS Comfort, which is on a three-month mission that has already taken in Ecuador and Peru and will end next month in Honduras, arrived at Colombia’s northwestern port city Turbo on Wednesday.

Patients in Turbo and Riohacha, where the ship will dock next week, will receive medical assistance from the crew of more than 900 doctors, nurses, military technicians and volunteers, with medical facilities on board the hospital ship as well as on shore.

But it has stoked tensions in the region, with China — one of Venezuela’s few allies — hastily dispatching its own hospital ship to Venezuela in September ahead of the U.S. mission.

“This is how you undertake diplomacy in the world,” Venezuelan defense minister Vladimir Padrino said at the time. “With concrete actions of co-operation and not stoking the false voices of those who beat the drum of war.”

Even here in the USA, the deployment is making all the right kind of enemies:

“It’s pretty brilliant PR, isn’t it?” Adam Isacson, a security analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank, said in response to the deployment. “We could just as easily, at similar cost, send a huge contingent of civilian doctors, working on land where the people are, to help tend to the Venezuelan population. But sending a military ship — even though it’s white with a big red cross on it — sends more of a message about projecting U.S. power.”


Judge something by the enemies they make.

Conclusion: we need 4 new, modern hospital ships. Get cracking.