Saturday, September 13, 2008

NVO: An Analysis of the Caribbean Exercises, Part II

The Rebirth of the Fourth Fleet

The construction of bases like this can’t be a cause for enthusiasm, especially since the American 4th Fleet has been stood up in the Caribbean area since the 1st of July, disbanded 58 years ago due to disuse. Now it is again one of the numbered fleets on duty for the United States.

Originally the 4th Fleet was formed in 1943 during the fires of World War II to defend American and British shipping lanes from German submarines. German submarines sank 25 Allied tankers during this period in this region. The Hitlerite forces also launched attacks on the Lago oil refinery on the island of Aruba, not far from Venezuela. This was the largest facility of its type in the world and an important strategic facility for the United States.

What is the mission of the new-old fleet? First of all, patrol of the oceans around the carbon rich “revolutionary shores”, from the Caribbean Sea to Cape Horn in the south. Its main port will be Mayport, Florida, and the fleet will subordinate to the United States Southern Command. Rear Admiral James Stevenson, commander of Naval Forces, Southern Command, declared that “the Navy and the DoD have recognized the importance of the region to the south of the United States, which includes the Caribbean Sea, the western Atlantic and the eastern Pacific and all of our partners there.”

The Admiral explained that the main mission for the fleet will be security of sea lanes in its zone of responsibility. Meanwhile, Stevenson hasn’t ruled out the specter of an evolving mission for the fleet. In part, it is designed to take part in delivering humanitarian aid in the event of natural disasters and development of cooperation with countries of the region in the security sphere.

DoD officials believe that the 4th Fleet will play a role in rescue operations, counter-drug operations and also foster cooperation with all interested governments in Central and South America. Nothing else except “aid, which the United States will offer its partners in the region”. The Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead added that he considers the formation of the 4th Fleet as a response to the “growth of the significance of maritime security in the southern part of the Western Hemisphere”. According to Roughead, this decision “represents an important signal to all the people and militaries of Central and Latin America”. And to make sure that this signal was heard, by 2009 the strength of the 4th Fleet should be as high as the 5th, 6th or 7th Fleets which operate in the Indian, Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific areas respectively.

It follows that ships of the Russian Pacific Fleet simply wont be able to compete with the old-new 4th Fleet; most of all because of distances to their own bases. And the American fleet is right in its own back yard. They don’t have to send ammunition and fuel to the other end of the Earth. Support from their military-industrial complex in the form of shipbuilding and ship repair is on hand, its fighters and bombers are based at nearby air bases and the Pentagon has enough old allies in that part of the world. To drag the Russian military to that area isn’t easy. And there is scarcely anybody for whom such a confrontation would be desirable. Saber rattling and showing the flag off foreign shores – that’s another thing. And it is relatively cheaper.