phones are turning out to be a key tool for peacekeeping operations, or
preventing the need for peacekeepers in the first place. It may seem odd, that
cell phones, not too long ago regarded as a luxury, would have any rational
place in the world's poorest countries. But most of these areas never had
land-line phones. It was too expensive to build and maintain the copper wires.
Government inefficiency and corruption prevented commercial firms from moving
in. But cellular systems are actually a lot cheaper to build and maintain. This
is yet another side effect of cheaper electronics. Cheap labor keeps all cell
phone system operating costs down. Thus even for the poorest people can afford
cell phone service. For example, there developed a system whereby some users
would rent time on a cell phone. This was an excellent job for enterprising
housewives. They carried their cell phone around, ready for any customers who came
by. The cell phones gave farmers, fishermen and merchants access to information
on prices and weather conditions that made them money. When economists went in
an examined this, they found that once there were ten cell phones for every
hundred people in an area, economic growth increased nearly one percent.
For peacekeepers, the cell
phones give people an easy way to call for help, or report trouble in their
area. Of course, the bad guys could use the cell phones as well, but bandits
and rebels quickly found that, if the local population did not like them, the
cell phone was a major threat to them. A smaller force of peacekeepers could
protect a larger area if the locals had access to cell phones.
Some American officers have
suggested that U.S. troops help poor countries set up cell phone networks, as a
"civic action" program. This work would also help train military commo
personnel in setting up tactical local area phone networks. This type of work
also involves the use of aerostat blimps, or even UAVs, rather than towers.
Training the locals in the use of this equipment makes it easier for commercial
cell phone operators to come in and set up shop. Long term, it leads many of
the locals to have good feelings towards the U.S., which pays dividends down