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Myopic Federalism: The Public Trust Doctrine and Regulation of Military Activities

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World crises that spur U.S. action are likely to occur in the littoral areas of the globe. Recent changes in Department of the Navy doctrine reflect a shift in emphasis from open-ocean combat to amphibious operations. Effective amphibious operations, of any scale, large or small, are characterized by forces well trained and well rehearsed. Training and rehearsals must culminate in actual movement of ships, aircraft, and troops from deep water to beaches and further inland. This cannot be simulated. To attempt an amphibious operation without the coordination skills and lessons learned from actual training is to doom the operation to failure. If commanders are to train to do these things well, their forces cannot be constrained to operate in an unrealistically small space. To find the requisite space, the military may not be able to look overseas. Americas military forces cannot count on training in foreign waters. Domestic budget shortfalls and international pressures are forcing the United States to close many of its overseas installations. In this paper, the author analyzes the application of the public trust doctrine to military activities in the coastal area. He begins by attempting to ascertain just what the public trust doctrine means throughout the United States. His focus is upon its evolution, its scope, and its administration. He also delves into the nature of coastal lands, the nature of federal lands, and the extent of federal power over lands. States are turning to the public trust doctrine as a means to protect their valuable coastal resources. It imposes a duty upon state governments to preserve and wisely manage these resources. When military activities conflict with that duty, public trust law affords states a means to strike a balance that may hobble realistic training.

Subject Categories:

  • Sociology and Law
  • Physical and Dynamic Oceanography
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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