here is an important new report on a subject of vital importance to America, one that has been much-discussed here.
“Ready, Aim, Foreign Policy“, a joint publication from the Center for International Policy, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America (March 2008) — “How the Pentagon’s role in foreign policy is growing, and why Congress — and the American public — should be worried.”
As public debate focuses on the war in Iraq, a disturbing transformation of U.S. foreign policy decision-making is quietly underway. The Defense Department’s leadership of foreign military aid and training programs is increasing. The State Department, which once had sole authority to direct and monitor such programs, is ceding control. Moreover, changes to the U.S. military’s geographic command structure could grant the military a greater role in shaping, and becoming the face of, U.S. foreign policy where it counts-on the ground.
These seemingly arcane changes will diminish congressional, public and even diplomatic control over a substantial lever and symbol of foreign policy. They will undercut human rights values in our relations with the rest of the world, and increase the trend toward a projection of U.S. global power based primarily on military might.
An article by Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service provides some useful background information (“Foreign Policy Increasingly Flows Through Pentagon“, 6 March 2008):
Reports by Congress’ Government Accountability Office and even the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) have echoed concerns that the influence and operations of the State Department and other civilian agencies operating in countries overseas have been overwhelmed by the much greater resources and manpower of the Pentagon and its combatant commands.
“(The) bleeding of civilian responsibilities from civilian to military agencies risks weakening the secretary of State’s primacy in setting the agenda for U.S. relations with foreign countries and the secretary of Defence’s focus on warfighting,” according to an SFRC report issued in December 2006.
… Part of the problem derives from the huge imbalance in resources between the Pentagon, whose annual budget of some 600 billion dollars exceeds that of all the world’s other militaries combined and includes some 1.68 million uniformed personnel, compared to the State Department which, with some 30 billion dollars, has, according to one estimate, fewer foreign service officers than the number of musicians employed in all of the U.S.’ military bands. That imbalance has been made stunningly clear in Iraq where the Pentagon has repeatedly complained that the State Department and other civilian agencies have been unable to come up with the manpower and expertise to oversee reconstruction. As a result, billions of dollars in economic aid has been channeled through the Army Corps of Engineers rather than the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
In other battlefields in the “war on terror”, particularly in Africa and Asia, the military is increasingly engaged in humanitarian and development work, such as digging wells and building schools — activities that have traditionally been under civilian control.
“It is not acceptable to say ‘State is broken,’ and shift responsibilities to the Defence Department,” said WOLA’s director, Joy Olson. “If State is broken, fix it.”
This is not a new trend, just the maturing of a long one. My review of Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes contains a long quote about the “militarization” of intelligence. Well-known COIN expert David Kilcullen has written about it. In “New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict” (eJournal USA, May 2007) his third recommendation is
Remedy the imbalance in government capability:
At present, the U.S. defense budget accounts for approximately half of total global defense spending, while the U.S. armed forces employ about 1.68 million uniformed members. By comparison, the State Department employs about 6,000 foreign service officers, while the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has about 2,000. In other words, the Department of Defense is about 210 times larger than USAID and State combined — there are substantially more people employed as musicians in Defense bands than in the entire foreign service
Going further back, in my article “Lessons Learned from the American Expedition to Iraq” (December 2005) I said:
Our failure to learn and improve must mean something. Perhaps there is a structural flaw in the US government.
One candidate: the State Department, which apparently has never recovered from the damage inflicted by Congress during the “who blamed China” follies and the “witch hunts” for Communists in the 1950s. Seeing today’s State Department, it’s difficult to recall that it was long considered the senior department of the Executive Branch. This is seen in the Secretary of State’s status as #4 in the succession to the Presidency.
On a more practical note, State is the natural counter-weight to the Department of Defense. In a parochial society such as ours the State Department staff should be those best able to understand the outside world in any fullness, in a multidimensional fashion. It has experts with a depth of foreign experience unmatched by other Government agencies – unlike the academics in the CIA or the military professionals in the DoD.
David Halberstam’s book The Best and the Brightest (pages 49-50) explained how the Vietnam War demonstrated our need for a strong Department of State:
By “structural flaw” I do not just mean the broken State Department. I mean that this problem has been known and ignored for decades. That is the disfunctionality, our inability to regenerate damaged organs of the State. Presidents have worked around it, expanding the office of the National Security Adviser into a mini-State Department rather than expend political capital on a long and difficult repair. After all, that would produce benefits only for future Administrations … and the American People.
For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:
- Posts about America’s national defence appartatus
- Posts about Military and strategic theory (note the section about “grand strategy)
Posts on the FM site about the State Department:
- Truly cracked advice to the State Department, receiving wide applause, 13 February 2008
- Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus, 11 August 2008
- The State Department needs help, stat!, 22 December 2008
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