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Blurring the Line Between Military and Civilian Operations June 23, 2009

Posted by Stephen Abott in Analysis.
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US Navy

US Navy

The incoming commander of EUCOM and NATO, Admiral James G. Stavridis, is best know for his innovative thinking in how to best orient military policy to use “smart power” in order to achieve foreign policy goals. Stavridis’ advocates for Humanitarian Service Groups (HSG), sets of naval ships designed to conduct and assist with humanitarian and development projects in order to win the “hearts and minds” of the local population. On the surface, the use of military resources such as these “do-good” battlegroups seems innocuous and ground-breaking. However, such activities cross the line between civilian and military roles with negative consequences for both sides.

As Budget Insight has examined in the past, the continued reliance on the Pentagon to organize and carry out activities traditionally conducted by civilian agencies puts a militarized face on US foreign policy, causes the military to expand into activities not central to its mission, and weakens civilian agencies abilities to cope with current and future foreign policy challenges. Admiral Stavridis’ desire for increased humanitarian disaster relief is admirable, but the Department of State and USAID should take the lead on such efforts, not the Navy. It is important that the military should not act as “a big Velcro cube”, as Stavridis has suggested, for non-DOD agencies to attach to in order to achieve humanitarian goals.

The military certainly has a role to play in providing humanitarian and civic assistance to foreign countries. The OHDACA account (Overseas Humanitarian Disaster and Civic Assistance) for example, is an invaluable tool that supports global relief efforts. However, the Department of Defense should not be leading humanitarian or relief efforts but rather maintain its supportive role. The line between civilian and military operations should remain clear, so that the civilian foreign policy toolkit remains relevant.

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