The Return of the Fourth Fleet

After 58 years, the United States Navy will reactivate the Fourth Fleet, which will be in charge of patrolling Latin American waters.
The U.S.S. George Washington is currently in Brazilian waters carrying out military exercises.

After 58 years, the United States Navy will reactivate the Fourth
Fleet, which will be in charge of patrolling Latin American waters.

The fleet had been deactivated following the end of the Second World War, but starting July 1st of this year, U.S. naval forces will have a high level command specifically dedicated to supervising the projects of its units in Latin America and the Caribbean.

A U.S. military spokesperson pointed out to the BBC that this does not imply in itself an increase in U.S. military presence in the region.

Despite this, analysts assure that the measure has a symbolic significance that seeks to respond to the appearance of anti-U.S. regimes in the region.

From Florida

The fleet will be based in the city of Mayport, in the state of Florida, and will be under the command of the United States Southern Command, which is located in the city of Miami and directs all the country’s military forces in Latin America.

Some see in this decision a response to the election of several governments in the region which have expressed policies contrary to those of the government in Washington.

Alejandro Sánchez, an analyst with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a U.S. investigative organism, interprets the reactivation of the Fourth Fleet as a political decision, more than a military one.

“For the last few years, the United States was concentrated on Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently now it is trying to return to Latin America,” he told the BBC.

With regard to the supposed U.S. military challenges in the region, Sánchez added: “Let’s be honest. Even if Venezuela acquires a Russian submarine, or Brazil wants to develop a nuclear submarine, neither of these countries can present a military threat to the United States.”

From the analyst’s perspective, the U.S. navy’s recent decisions demonstrate, among other things, that “no matter which Latin American country is in an arms race, they cannot compare to U.S. military power.”

“This Does Not Increase Military Presence”

The official in charge of external relations for Southern Command Naval Forces is Lieutenant Myers Vásquez.

The BBC asked him why the Fourth Fleet was re-deployed in this moment.

“In reality, the U.S. naval forces of the Southern Command have been acting as a fleet, so from the operational point of view in the region, nothing has changed. Basically this is about changing the name of reality,” assured the official.

He added that the measure is meant to better align the units with the maritime strategy of the United States.

“We will have a base working in conjunction with other components of the Southern Command,” the military spokesperson indicated.

He denied that this necessarily increases the United States military presence in the region and presented the reactivation of the Fourth Fleet as an administrative type measure.

“We will continue the operations that we have been carrying out in the last two years, principally in the struggle against drug trafficking and in theatre of war security cooperation missions,” he specified.

He stressed that the re-establishment of the Fourth Fleet also indicates the importance of Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States.

According to Vásquez, at this moment in Latin America 4 U.S. warships are committed to anti-drug trafficking missions, the George Washington aircraft carrier operates in the region, and the U.S.S. Boxer is currently involved in a humanitarian mission in Guatemala, which amount to a total of eight or nine ships.

Friendly Bases?

Analysts point out that one of the operational challenges confronting the U.S. military forces in the region is the difficulty of obtaining permission to operate bases in Latin America.

Sánchez recounts that the U.S. Air Force has been using the Ecuadorian Manta Base, but it is expected that after 2009, the Ecuadorian government will not renew Washington`s permit to operate there.

However, according to official information from the U.S. military, in the coming months several humanitarian missions and military exercises that involve U.S. naval units will be carried out.

For example, the Southern Command has organized a six-month operation called Partnership of the Americas.

“The ships will participate in a series of Security Cooperation Missions in operational theaters in such a manner as to circumnavigate South America, including military to military cooperation, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, joint training, exercises, and security operations, and maritime security,” a Southern Command report states.

Special Operations

The Fourth Fleet will be united with other U.S. Navy divisions that are also assigned to specific geographic areas.

For example, the Seventh Fleet patrols East Asian waters, while the Sixth Fleet is located in the Mediterranean.

Until this year, the Second Fleet had been responsible for Latin America.

In command of the Fourth Fleet will be Rear Admiral Joseph Kernan, who until now had been the Navy’s Chief of Special Operations.

Translated by James Suggett