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US and British Governments Concerned about Overstretching Resources August 12, 2009

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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The range of security and foreign assistance authorities and programs that focus on problems of failed, failing, fragile and post-conflict states have grown since 2000. Many of these new programs and authorities have been created under the Department of Defense (DOD) authorities. DOD now funds, maintains and manages both stabilization and reconstruction initiatives and security assistance and cooperation programs, some of which parallel already existing architecture in the Department of State. The expansion of the DOD mission into traditionally civilian-led authorities has led to a public policy debate about the appropriate civilian-military balance with respect to US engagement overseas.

This debate, however, is not just an American one. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee of the British government recently released a report on the ‘mission creep’ taking place in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The report concluded that the British Government is now committed to a wide range of objectives far beyond that of its initial goal of supporting the US in countering international terrorism and has imposed too many competing priorities on the British armed forces. The British Government currently participates in counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, protection of human rights, and state-building. The report concluded that the British Government should refocus its objectives to concentrate solely on security.

Like the House of Commons, the Obama administration, especially the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State, also worry about stretching their armed forces. Military missions have grown to include stabilization and reconstruction operations, including development projects, in addition to their core kinetic missions. Longer deployment tours and larger incentive packages are symptoms of a stressed military. The Administration has determined the importance of striking a new balance between the authorities of the Departments of State and Defense, a sentiment that has been expressed in Congress .

Yet, finding this new balance will be challenging. Fundamental questions exist about which federal agency should take the lead in addressing security assistance and cooperation; who should implement such initiatives; and what the right solutions are for the “gray areas” of ungoverned spaces, counter-insurgencies, and counter-terrorist operations. Capacity and budgetary limits at State and USAID further complicate the issue, as does the inflexibility and earmarking of civilian authorities and budgets.

As these issues work themselves out in the FY 2011 budget process, determining which portions of US national security policy the military will carry out and which portions the foreign assistance and foreign policy agencies will carry out will help ensure an appropriate balance between State and Defense, with the overriding goal of making US global engagement more comprehensive. As the House of Common’s Report states, the sheer magnitude of the tasks confronting the international community in places like Afghanistan require a more effective approach.

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