updated 10/17/2007 6:23:07 PM ET 2007-10-17T22:23:07

In the first major revision of U.S. naval strategy in two decades, maritime officials said Wednesday they plan to focus more on humanitarian missions and improving international cooperation as a way to prevent conflicts.

“We believe that preventing wars is as important as winning wars,” said the new strategy announced by the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

The strategy reflects a broader Defense Department effort to use aid, training and other cooperative efforts to encourage stability in fledgling democracies and create relationships around the globe that can be leveraged if a crisis does break out in a region.

“Although our forces can surge when necessary to respond to crises, trust and cooperation cannot be surged,” says the 16-page document entitled “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.”

It also says forces will be concentrated “where tensions are high or where we wish to demonstrate to our friends and allies our commitment to security” — something the U.S. did earlier this year in sending an additional aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region as a show of force toward Iran.

“Credible combat power will be continuously posted in the Western Pacific and the Arabian Gulf/Indian Ocean to protect our vital interests, assure our friends ... and deter and dissuade potential adversaries,” the strategy document said.

U.S. security linked to other nations
The strategy was unveiled before naval representatives of 100 countries who are attending an international symposium on the seas at the Naval War College in Rhode Island. It was described to them by Navy Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations; Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, and Adm. Thad W. Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard.

Roughead said the Navy completed a two-year study to create the new strategy.

“What came through was that our security and our prosperity is completely linked to the security and prosperity of other nations throughout the world,” he said.

It represents the first time the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard have collaborated on a single, common strategy for defending the U.S. homeland and protecting U.S. interests overseas.

The Sept. 11 terror attacks demonstrated how the Navy’s last major strategy, released publicly in 1986, had become irrelevant, Navy Cmdr. Bryan McGrath said. Drafted during the Cold War, the old plan focused on countering Soviet naval power across the globe.

“It was a war plan at its heart,” McGrath said. “When the Soviet Union fell, there was a lack of a big blue competitor.”

Gates: Aid critical to solidifying bonds
Defense Secretary Robert Gates hinted at the cooperative strategy during his recent five-country swing through Central and South America.

Pointing to the recent tour of the Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, which delivered medical care to people in 12 Latin American countries, Gates said such aid is critical to solidifying U.S. bonds with other nations. The USS Peleliu amphibious ship recently returned from a four-month tour in the Pacific and the USS Fort McHenry is heading this week for a seven-month mission along the west coast of Africa.

Conway said the Marine Corps supported the strategy, but was more focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Marines now most closely resemble the Army, he said.

“We are an expeditionary force by our nature. We go down to the sea in ships, but right now, we are very much taking on a profile as a second land army,” Conway said.

Adm. Mike Mullen — who just left his job as head of the Navy to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — has said he sees the Navy’s humanitarian work as key to the effort to defeat terrorism by winning hearts and minds.

When Roughead succeeded Mullen at the Navy last week, he called in a speech for more international partnerships to make the Navy a “force for good” around the globe.

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