The Fourth Fleet
February 18, 2009
The reestablishment of the U.S. Fourth Fleet in Latin America is intended to address the increased role of maritime forces. It also serves to demonstrate U.S. commitment to regional partners. Unfortunately, the benign rebranding of U.S. naval forces at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) as the “Fourth Fleet” has been viewed by U.S. friends and allies in the region with great skepticism. At its core, this question raises the issue of whether or not the use of a military structure to achieve goals not necessarily military in nature undermines the Fourth Fleet’s objectives—to assure regional partners about the U.S. commitment to maritime security in the southern part of the Western Hemisphere. It also raises the question of whether more effective public diplomacy can and should be able to ameliorate any concerns about the fleet’s military mission.
The observed negative reaction in Latin America to the Fourth Fleet necessitates some serious thought over what it will take to ensure that the United States remains a welcome and constructive interlocutor in a region where security interests are evolving from concerns about bilateral conflicts to transnational threats. The new Obama administration will have to consider how to reassure U.S. friends in this hemisphere that the “smart power” approach is only enhanced by strong civilian leadership accompanied by democratic military assets that can support the development of the region.