It Is Time to End US Navy Port Calls in Turkey

For many US Navy sailors and pilots, port calls are the highlight of their deployment. For two or three days, the Navy made good on its previous recruitment promise to “join the Navy and see the world.” Prior to their first port call, sailors receive lectures about how they are sailor-diplomats and their behavior can make or break relationships. For many, it goes in one ear and out the other like the venereal disease lectures to which the Navy subjected sailors during World War II. Shore patrols keep order as sailors, depending on their ranks, roles, and disciplinary status go out in town on organized trips, community service projects, or just in pairs to enjoy the bars, beaches, and bed-and-breakfasts.

For host countries, a port call is a major boon. Aircraft carriers can house up to 5,000 men and women, and even smaller ships can mean full hotels, restaurants, and bars for several days. For too long, however, Department of Navy officials and ships’ commanders have viewed port calls primarily through the lens of recreation. Years ago, when I would teach on deployed ships, I heard of one example when a ship turned down a potential port call in Cambodia for neighboring Thailand because Phuket had better tourist infrastructure than Sihanoukville. To show the flag in Cambodia, however, would have been tremendously important as the Cambodian government sat on the fence between the United States and China. Alas, today, it may be too late as China consolidates its influence over the country.

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