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Marines get a lesson in foreign affairs

At UC San Diego, professors brief troops. The new effort with Camp Pendleton joins theory and practice.

December 09, 2007|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- Marine Staff Sgt. John Klacza, who took part in the assault on Baghdad in 2003 and will soon deploy to Okinawa and beyond, had a question about the potential negative side of multinational alliances in Asia.

If the U.S. keeps encouraging alliances among Asian nations, he asked, couldn't that mean that if we went to war with one nation, we might have to go to war with all of that nation's allies, a scenario sort of like World War I?

That's not likely, responded Peter Gourevitch, a political science professor at UC San Diego and founder of its Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.

The modern alliances among Asian nations are loose, and the countries are leery of each other, Gourevitch said. That's not at all like the entanglements between European nations that led to World War I, he told Klacza and a group of three dozen Marine officers and enlisted senior staff.

The back and forth between military man and academic occurred during an all-day session at UC San Diego in La Jolla -- part of a new effort between Camp Pendleton and the university to bring together very different types of professionals in international relations. As professors briefed troops set to deploy, theory came face to face with practice in interesting ways.

To the professors, foreign countries are places to visit and study. To the Marines, they're places where they might have to fight.

"Are you going to Myanmar?" asked Gourevitch, a reference to the recent deadly clash between protesters and the authoritarian government in the nation also known as Burma.

"If we go there, it'll probably not be under good circumstances," said Lt. Col. Christian Wortman, the battalion commander.

The graduate school hopes to hold additional sessions with Marines and to schedule sessions for Navy officers and enlisted sailors. It is also working on starting a one-year master's program in conjunction with the Navy Postgraduate School in Monterey.

At Thursday's session, members of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, received briefings from six professors on Japan, China, North Korea, Southeast Asia, Asian security issues and the ideological and tactical roots of terrorism.

The Two-Four, as it is known, spent six months in Iraq this year and is set to deploy early next year to Okinawa and the Western Pacific.

The idea of the session was to offer the Marines the big-picture view of international relations and conflict.

"Not so long ago, there was a tendency to look at an infantry battalion as a blunt instrument," Wortman said. "Those days are over. . . . It's going to take a mature Marine, an educated Marine, a thoughtful individual in the future."

At the end of the day, the professors said the Marines' questions were as challenging as those hurled by graduate students -- although markedly more practical.

"Graduate students are deep into the theory and history of things. These guys are very much in the here and now, the world as it is today," said Susan Shirk, a political science professor and director of the University of California's Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, who lectured on China.

Capt. Mike Ogden asked Shirk for her analysis of recent joint military exercises between the Chinese and Russians.

"There is no love lost between China and Russia," said Shirk, who was deputy assistant secretary of state for China during the Clinton administration. "I don't think this is anything to get spun up about."

Ogden later said that he appreciated Shirk's candor but that he remains concerned. "Maybe it's like Germany and Italy," he said. "They were not fast buddies, but they got together."

Staff Sgt. Keith DeBates, who has made five overseas deployments, asked if the best way to avoid wars is to help developing countries raise their standards of living. The answer: Yes, but don't ever think that prosperity ensures peace.

Ellis Krauss, a professor of Japanese politics, stressed the importance of military behavior. He reminded the Marines that the 1995 incident in which two Marines and a seaman were accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in Okinawa led to political upheaval and nearly undermined the alliance that allows the U.S. to keep bases in Japan.

"You guys just have to keep control over your men," Krauss said. The Marines present did not disagree.

Gentle scolding by Krauss aside, it was a day of cordiality. Gourevitch sidestepped a question that might have led him to criticize U.S. policy in Iraq.

"I didn't think this was the time or the place to have a debate over Iraq, not with guys who have just returned from fighting in that war," he said.

At a luncheon, Peter Cowhey, dean of the graduate school, praised the Marines as "guardians of most of the security and stability in the Pacific." Wortman presented him with a plaque of appreciation from The Magnificent Bastards, the battalion's nickname.

"This is one of the finest tributes the school has ever gotten," Cowhey said.


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