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Militarization of US Foreign Policy: Why it Matters to DOD January 11, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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The toolkit of American engagement has begun to tilt increasingly to the military side. With more than 500,000 troops deployed overseas, widespread quasi-diplomatic responsibilities in the hands of regional Combatant Commanders, two significant conflicts underway, and a growing DOD portfolio of security and foreign assistance authorities, DOD and the military could now be said to be the “leading edge” of American statecraft.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cautioned in Spring 2009 about the looming “militarization of US foreign policy.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has also called for strengthening US capabilities at State and USAID to counteract this militarization.

But, given the complexity of US foreign engagement and the capabilities of DOD, why should such distinctions matter to the military?  Increased DOD participation in non-combat areas has been the result of the military’s ability to adapt and address specific needs on the ground.  Aren’t requirements on the ground, rather than turf wars, more important, especially given today’s complex security environment?

Restoring the civil-military balance should be as important to the military as it is to civilian institutions for the following reasons:

-Comparative advantages:  DOD is efficient at what it does best: preventing, deterring, and defeating threats to American national security.  The military does not specialize in (nor does it have a specially affinity for) planning and executing economic, social or political development programs.  The Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP), for example, provides commanders a source of funds that allow them to respond to urgent, small-scale humanitarian relief and reconstruction needs in Iraq and Afghanistan. CERP projects in Iraq and Afghanistan have been criticized for not being part of a larger development strategy and are not well synchronized with civilian assistance program plans.

The result has been the duplication of programs and/or projects that simply don’t make sense within a larger, development context.  Some projects may even undermine security goals down the road as the DOD does not invest or program for the sustainability of these development investments.

But, combatant commanders rightly care more about immediate troop safety and winning the hearts and minds of the local population rather than the enduring sustainability of a development project.  Your average commander in Iraq and Afghanistan would love to turn development projects over to USAID representatives, but there simply aren’t enough of them to go around.  So, combatant commanders make do and learn on the job.  This is not effective long-term policy.

-An overburdened military:  DOD is the largest federal department in terms of personnel and budget and is the most trusted government institution.  Furthermore, DOD is responsible for all the “kinetic” (combat-related) defense of the US.  The growing non-kinetic (outside of combat) capabilities that DOD and the military engage in overseas are not wise allocations of limited fiscal or human resources.  Critics say that DOD resources are easier to raise than civilian funds. But, anyone at the Pentagon will tell you while budgets matter, personnel matters more. Requiring the average serviceman to take on greater responsibilities and tasks, especially those that may be outside his/her skill set or training, equates to an overburdened labor force already tasked with so much.

-Addressing civilian capacity issues:  Civilian agencies have the core competencies but lack the fiscal and human capital needed to address the challenges of the 21st century.  Requiring DOD to pick up the slack and develop the technical/subject matter know-how traditionally akin to civilian agencies misses the point entirely.  Defaulting to DOD further undermines the civilian capabilities and may lead to even greater burdens on DOD in the future.

The Obama administration has pledged to strengthen the State Department and US foreign and development assistance programs and staffing.  The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review underway at State is a major review to develop options to build greater capacity.  Other civilian interagency reviews are also being conducted that focus on security assistance authorities and development programs.  These are important first steps; however, correcting the civil-military balance will be done incrementally and will take a significant amount of time.

-Parallel programs:  The DOD has taken on a larger share of resources and authorities in U.S. security assistance and foreign assistance programs.  Many of these programs, including Section 1206 authority, Counterterrorism Fellowship Program, CERP and others, considerably expand the mission of military forces and have implications for the role of State and USAID in foreign, development, and security assistance and reconstruction and stabilization operations.  Fundamentally, military action should support political and economic efforts to undermine extremism. Over time, these DOD-led initiatives could clash with broad foreign policy objectives that could negatively affect the military.

-The long-term:  Increasingly US interests are being represented by someone in uniform or a DOD civilian, as contrasted with someone in a suit or a bush jacket. If American foreign policy is doled out by the military, this may actually complicate DOD’s ability to accomplish future missions.  In many places of the world, the national military and/or intelligence agencies are viewed with great suspicion and distrust, and any affiliation or perceived collaboration with the military makes cooperation with the general public even more difficult.

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Comments»

1. Waiting for Godot: QDDR Report Preview « Budget Insight - April 28, 2010

[…] managed from both a policy and an implementation perspective?  How will the QDDR grapple with the militarization of assistance?  The diaspora of assistance funding, authorities, and capabilities has diluted State and USAID […]

2. abraham - July 27, 2010

I work for USAID leading a district support team in Afghanistan; a former Marine Corps Civil Affaris Major; served and lived in Iraq from 2003-2007 doing stability and development work; and, worked in Africa…and, I am telling you…CERP has become a problem. I am charged to lead Governance, Reconstruction, and development at the district and village levels and because of CERP the military commander literaly can sidestep my authority/decisions. Solution: I want to have tactical control over CERP, and the army civil affairs team here to completely get my military counterpart out of the business of governance and focus him in security and support operation (SASO) where I think he belongs. Times have changed since Iraq. Though State and USAID arent EXACTLY where they need to be, but people like me are here; danger close with the military so our country no longer needs the military taking the lead in local governance or our foreign policy. State/USAID has been making moves to improve the civilian cadre in conflict zones: http://www.crs.state.gov/ Non-kinetics is the realm of civilians. I thought we’d learn our lesson with Rumsfeld leading all of America’s instruments of power in Iraq (Diplomacy, Information, Military, Econ, social, etc.). It was an embarrassment considering “Democracy Equals Freedom” was our slogan; but, than using more diplomacy we were using more Rumsfeld. Wasnt the outcome from Iraq…SMART POWER / TOTAL GOVERNMENT concepts? Civilians are stepping up; time to get the military back down a bit…I love my bros and sis in the service, but we have other tools in out national power toolkit.

3. Silence isn’t Golden: State needs to weigh in on security assistance « Budget Insight - August 2, 2010

[…] the last ten years, however, DOD has taken on a much greater role in planning, budgeting, and implementation of security and foreign assistance programs, a trend […]

4. Waiting for Godot: QDDR Report Preview « The Will and the Wallet - August 21, 2010

[…] managed from both a policy and an implementation perspective?  How will the QDDR grapple with the militarization of assistance?  The diaspora of assistance funding, authorities, and capabilities has diluted State and USAID […]

5. Silence isn’t Golden: State needs to weigh in on security assistance « The Will and the Wallet - September 28, 2010

[…] the last ten years, however, DOD has taken on a much greater role in planning, budgeting, and implementation of security and foreign assistance programs, a trend […]


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