Recently it was announced that the US Marine Corps was contemplating deploying US Marines on foreign-flag ships. This will not do. The second Bush administration pushed the hiring of mercenaries to the furthest extent in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were called “contractors.” Americans have had distaste for mercenaries since the Hessians. In doing so that administration essentially broke the back of proper state function in war and the Westphalian monopoly on state violence valid since 1648. An unintended consequence of these acts has been the development of an attitude that the government can contract out anything on the world market. This reinforces the attitude existent that the DoD use United States flagged ships only when it must after tortuous and complex arguments against them and then only when publicly exposed and compelled thereafter to use domestic tonnage. This is not the first time this show has come down the road. In the current political climate it will not be the last.
The announcement suggested the use of NATO-flagged ships as Marine Corps deployment platforms. Superficially to the uninformed reader this sounds like a good and benign idea. On closer examination it is nothing more than another government ploy to get around the laws for US government impelled cargo to be carried on US-flagged ships which are preferable over other flags.
Cargo emanating from the government – irrespective of department – should be shipped on US-flagged vessels. What kind of cargo? With great deference to our brave and skilled amphibious warriors, they and their gear are, from our context, government cargo. In the best tradition of the US government, where the attitude toward the US flag registry is that it is easier to gain forgiveness than it is to ask permission, the DoD cannot be allowed to claim some dubious special privilege because of knee-jerk military necessity argumentative phrasing. A bottom is a bottom if it fits certain needs. One of those needs is that it ought to be US flag. Notice that this is necessity, not nicety. Is there merit in using Allied ships for the purpose? In one naïve way, yes. In the ways of shipping reality, this is just one more affirmative attack on the US flag registry. This is not mere neglect or willful blindness; it is an attack on the flag registry.
There are many ways US operators can supply US-flagged tonnage if the procurement is handled lawfully and correctly. Chartered vessels can be flagged in. With enough lead time vessels can be built or converted and chartered back. There are others depending on need.
Consider this scenario: Here come our Marines yet again being sent into harm’s way but this time rolling their weapons off a Panamanian-flagged vessel lawfully owned and operated from an allied EU state with an allied EU state manager but, on closer scrutiny, really owned by Russian or perhaps Iranian or perhaps Chinese or perhaps other out-of-favor deponent owners who take great pains to hide themselves. This sends a good message to the world -- much like the taxis of Paris taking officers to the front in the Great War. The French have not yet lived that down.
My sense is that adults will prevail and after a fight with the politicized teenagers it will be seen that this dog will not hunt and a lawful solution will be found meeting DoD needs and US-flag needs.
Copyright © John A C Cartner, 2015. Dr. Cartner is a maritime lawyer practicing in Washington, DC and London. He holds the United States license of unrestricted master and is the author of The International Law of the Shipmaster,(2009)Taylor and Francis, (London). He may be reached at jacc@cflaw,net.
The opinions expressed by Dr. John A.C. Cartner in the ‘Conversations with Cartner’ Video Series and accompanying blogs are the opinions of Dr. Cartner and do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff and management of Maritime TV, or its parent network, TV Worldwide, Inc.