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Three Years and Counting December 9, 2009

Posted by Stephen Abott in Analysis.

Robert Gates celebrated his third anniversary last week as Secretary of Defense.  Gates, the first Secretary of Defense to be carried over from a president of a different party, has made significant headway in charting a new course for the DOD, though there is still room for improvement.

User Friendly Management- Unlike Donald Rumsfeld’s brusque management style and abrasive, in-your-face approach, Secretary Gates’ low profile and quiet and unassuming manner has served him well.  After six tumultuous and frenzied years, Secretary Gates’ user-friendly management style, stature and credibility has calmed the corridors and offices in Arlington and allowed him to gain the trust of the enormous and varied department that he represents.  This is no small task, given that many consider the job of the Secretary of Defense one of the hardest in Washington.

Budget Discipline- Secretary Gates has pushed back against the unrestrained defense spending so prevalent in previous years by cutting a series hardware programs.  He was able to end the F-22 fighter program and a number of troubled ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems while also modifying the F-35 and presidential helicopter procurement plans. These reductions were largely justified in terms of strategy and future requirements, not random.  Gates has also met the White House requirement that the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget be considered at the same time as the  base DOD budget, making Pentagon spending more transparent.  He agreed to a lower defense budget baseline than that desired by the military services in their projections of September 2008.  And he disciplined the “unfunded requirements” letters the service chiefs send to the Armed Services committees every year. The Quadrennial Defense Review, due early next year, may indicate the degree to which this fiscal discipline continues for the long-term.

Team Player- Known for his good working relationship with Secretary Clinton, the formerly caustic State-DOD relationship has mellowed in recent years as Secretary Gates has called attention to the growing imbalance between State and DOD resources.  Secretary Gates continues to advocate for strengthening the civilian aspects of US engagement, the dearth of which has caused the “creeping militarization” of US foreign policy.

Yet, as Gates champions a stronger State and USAID, foreign and security assistance programs at DOD have grown.  In this area, there is still work to be done.

Reigning in Expansion of DOD into Non-kinetic Areas– Secretary Gates has not yet carried through on hopes that he would limit Pentagon activities not related to traditional war fighting. Despite the team-player attitude, early this year the DOD released DOD Directive 1404.10, establishing a Civilian Expeditionary Workforce (CEW) that would increase the military’s role in stabilization and reconstruction activities – a task more appropriately for the foreign policy establishment. Further, Gates has been reticent to shift security assistance authorities that have migrated to the DOD back to the State Department/USAID community. If he were to move on this front, it would be a good step towards an even more successful fourth anniversary.



1. zbigniewmazurak - January 8, 2010

This is a litany of lies. Unsurprisingly, it was posted on the blog of the Stimson Center, a pacifist organization, and written by a pacifist intern of the SC.

The truth is that:

The “new course” that Gates has charted for the DOD is the wrong course. It is a course of unilateral disarmament.
There has never been any “unrestrained defense spending” in the US. All US defense spending is, and always has been, restrained and controlled by the DOD, the WH and the Congress.
On the other hand, since their creation, SS, the Medicare program and the Medicaid program have grown on autopilot (they are, by law, obligatory, not discretionary – they’re “mandatory” in Washingtonspeak). They’re not reauthorized by anyone, they grow automatically every year at a neckbreaking pace. Now THAT’S unrestrained spending. Together, they cost $1.438 trillion this fiscal year, whereas the FY2010 DOD budget is just $534 bn (i.e. almost 3 times less).
“Unrestrained defense spending” was never prevalent. It was not prevalent during the Bush era.
Gates has not “pushed back against unrestrained defense spending”.
By cutting hardware programs, Gates has not “pushed back against unrestrained defense spending”, but he has weakened the military.
His treasonous defense cuts were not justified in ANY terms – whether strategy or future requirements or random. He did try to justify his defense cuts, but couldn’t, because defense cuts cannot be justified.
He has not disciplined anything. His decision to restrain “unfunded requirement letters” was treasonous, because it disallowed service chiefs to ask the Congress for funding for the things that are necessary.
He has imposed no fiscal discipline, and he doesn’t need to, because the DOD is, fiscally, the most disciplined department of the US government.
Nothing has caused the “creeping militarization” of US foreign policy. There is, as of 2010, no creeping militarization of US foreign policy, and there never was any such militarization policy.

2. Rebecca Williams - January 8, 2010

DOD has significantly expanded its own portfolio of security assistance, foreign assistance, and public diplomacy activities. The US government provides security assistance to foreign countries, training and equipping foreign militaries and security personnel (including police). Historically, and according to statute, these programs have been established and funded by the State Department, as part of the broader US overseas engagement strategy. Since 9/11, the toolkit of American statecraft has tilted increasingly to the military side, as DOD has been tasked to perform ever more non-combat operations. Some statistics:

•DOD’s share of overall US security assistance has grown from 6 percent in 2002 to 51 percent in 2009. This includes major training and equipment programs for Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, as well as a new global program for foreign military assistance.

•DOD is providing a growing share of US foreign assistance. The OECD Development Assistance Committee, which regularly reviews members’ development assistance programs, reported that the DOD share of all US bilateral development assistance grew significantly, from 4 percent of the US total in 1998, to nearly 22 percent of the total in 2005.

•DOD’s foreign assistance spending for just three countries is growing faster than USAID’s bilateral assistance programs for the entire globe. DOD’s foreign assistance development, governance and rule-of-law programs and projects in Iraq and Afghanistan (the CERP program) was 6 percent as large as USAID’s global, bilateral development, governance, and health assistance in FY 2004. By FY 2008, CERP funding covering three countries (adding the Philippines) came to 49 percent of all USAID bilateral funding. It has since declined a bit, to about 37 percent in FY 2009.

3. Vidal - January 8, 2010

zbigniewmazurak: from a global health perspective, I must disagree. There has been significant DoD mission creep into global health and other development initiatives from both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

PEPFAR has been the cornerstone of Bush foreign policy towards the developing world. It’s seen significant increases in foreign assistance spending for many health and development agencies in the USG as well as the DoD. Most of these activities orient around Military to Military assistance but one has to question whether the DoD has a non-substitutable comparative advantage for an HIV initiative. CSIS is currently spearheading a task force to examine the impact of DoD’s increased role in global health here:

The Stimson center has also examined the DoD’s historical and current global health role much more thoroughly here:

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