The U.S. Navy is finding that there's a downside to turning up for
disaster relief missions. While the navy gets much praise when there's a
disaster, and a hospital ship or strike group shows up to lend a hand, it can
be a mixed blessing. Local folks will,
in the short term, be very happy the fleet's in, and U.S. prestige will
soar. But, if we stay too long or do too
good a job, give away too much stuff, etc., the local authorities sometimes
become unhappy, because we've set too high a standard of skill, honesty,
even-handedness, dedication, and the list goes on.
affairs officers have already noted that Western aid workers are not
universally welcomed. They observe that, the Western employees of NGOs, while
not highly paid, and infused with a certain degree of idealism, do bring to
disaster areas a bunch of outsiders who have a higher standard of living and
different ideas. Several decades ago, the main thing these outsiders brought
with them was food and medical care. The people on the receiving end were
pretty desperate, and grateful for the help. But NGOs have branched out into
development and social programs. This has caused unexpected problems with the
local leadership. Development programs disrupt the existing economic, and political,
relations. The local leaders are often not happy with this, as the NGOs are not
always willing to work closely with the existing power structure. While the
local worthies may be exploitative, and even corrupt, they are local, and they
do know more about popular attitudes and ideals than the foreigners. NGOs with
social programs (education, especially educating women, new lifestyle choices
and more power for people who don't usually have much) often run into conflict
with the local leadership. Naturally, the local politicians and traditional
leaders have resisted, or even fought back.
Navy is careful to just supply aid, and not advice to local authorities. They
want to avoid what happened in places like Afghanistan. There, the Afghan government officials recently
ordered that all NGOs in the country be shut down. That included Afghan NGOs,
who are doing some of the same work as the foreign ones. The government
officials were responding to complaints from numerous old school Afghan tribal
and religious leaders who were unhappy with all these foreigners, or urban
Afghans with funny ideas, upsetting the ancient ways in the countryside.
few parts of the world that don't know about NGOs, who runs them and what these
organizations do. NGOs are no longer seen as just charitable foreigners come to
help. The local leadership often sees the NGOs as a potential threat. While the
material aid the NGOs bring is appreciated, the different ideas are not. And
there are more NGOs showing up with more agenda than physical aid. So NGOs have
become more adept at dealing with local power brokers. But that turns them more
into diplomats. NGO stands for Non-Governmental Organization. NGOs that get too
heavily into diplomacy are no longer regarded as NG. This has always been a
problem, but now it's getting worse as NGOs have become a worldwide presence.
The U.S. Navy is afraid of getting painted with the same brush.
from delivering aid, to delivering (often unwelcome) ideas, has put all NGOs at
risk. The NGOs have become players in a worldwide civil war between local
traditional ideas, and the more transnational concepts that trigger violent
reactions in many parts of the world. Thus the U.S. Navy wants to keep its
relief missions short, and get out before the local authorities start viewing
the sailors as a threat.