Peacekeeping: The Miracle of Cell Phones


September 16, 2007: Cell 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 the road.




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