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Friday, April 15, 2011

Rebalancing civilian-military operations: A two-way street

Rashad Badr, MPA

There is a great deal of discussion about the need to adjust the balance between civilian agencies and the military in executing U.S. foreign policy and programs. The easiest argument to make is that the vast American defense complex overshadows US diplomatic and developmental efforts in almost every way. The Department of Defense (DoD) budget in 2010 was $691 billion, whereas the State Department’s budget for that year was just $16.4 billion. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the development arm of State, similarly faced a shorter stack in pursuing its goals abroad. However one wants to add it up, defense spending surpasses civilians projects by about 40 to 1.

Other State advocates point to the sprawling manpower that the military possesses when compared to its civilian counterparts. Just one example of this mismatch: the personal staff of the Central Command Combatant Commander (CCDR) – known for previously serving a famous Woodrow Wilson School graduate, General David Petraeus *85 *87 – is larger than many of the embassies that fall into Central Command’s theatre. When CCDRs travel, they normally arrive with a small army of assistants and personnel. When I saw Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman travel to the Middle East last summer, he traveled with a single assistant.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has argued before Congress that the State Department needs more funding. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with the help of our very own former dean, Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, has pioneered the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QQDR). In it, Clinton and Slaughter aim to remap American diplomatic and developmental efforts, putting them on par with defensive operations, in accordance with President Obama’s “3D” approach to foreign policy: defense, diplomacy, and development. This document has many creative ideas and useful insights. But what have we seen of it so far?

More importantly, we’ve heard all of this before. So what should we do about it?

Unfortunately, the situation is bit more complex than a simple issue of funding parity or even mission creep. But first off, let’s get one thing straight: I’m a big fan of State and a staunch advocate for the need to elevate diplomacy as a tool of national security. That being said, the department needs to critically alter its mission and operations in three ways.

First, State has to get serious about assuming greater risks while conducting diplomacy. Current security measures, left largely in the hands of Regional Security Officers abroad, effectively keep diplomats trapped behind embassy walls. If a country is deemed “dangerous,” then diplomats have to jump through numerous hoops before they are allowed to leave compound – and when they do get permission, they have to be escorted by armed guards and in armored vehicles. There is something counter-intuitive about effectively marginalizing our Foreign Service Officers in the places that need the greatest diplomatic efforts. Of course relaxing these standards will come with attendant risks and dangers, but diplomacy is a dangerous endeavor. Unfortunately, the State Department’s allergy to potentially hostile situations – to which the military is largely immune – has ultimately led to its marginalization.

Second, the department needs to reassert control over peacekeeping, nation building, and wartime operations. The US’s two biggest engagements currently are in Iraq and Afghanistan. A study of peacekeeping operations and nation building efforts in both of these countries reveal DoD dominance in both developmental and diplomatic activities. Diplomats and aid workers argue that they simply don’t have the funding or the operational capacity to work in these environments. Fine, but let’s also not forget that the State Department’s mission has been steadily cut down since the Clinton presidency (without much of a fight might I add) and traditional State and USAID operations have been farmed out to DoD. In fact, one of the biggest complaints I hear from people in uniform (at all levels) is that State and USAID are just not stepping up to the plate. State and USAID will have to not only reassert themselves in these areas on a macro level, but take substantive steps to fund and train civilians in taking over from DoD.

Which brings me to my third point: the State Department needs to implement its goal of “engaging beyond the state,” as referenced in the QDDR. In Iraq and Afghanistan, that means picking up some of the work done by Special Operations in navigating and channeling tribal and ethnic currents. Elsewhere in the world, it means engaging outside of our “comfort zone,” to include more engagement with Islamist groups and opposition movements. American diplomatic efforts will always be limited if we (read: American policymakers) are content engaging with official, traditional government counterparts and Western, liberal thinkers. American diplomacy cannot be considered robust if it is not widened to take into account the full spectrum and picture of political actors operating in today’s complex international environment.

These criticisms may come off as a bit harsh on the State Department and USAID, but these are necessary issues to keep in mind if civilian efforts will ever near parity with military power. Because at the end of the day, American policymakers can’t just ask DoD to give up turf; they need to have a strong and aggressive civilian sector willing to pick up and take over.

1 comment:

  1. And things won’t be easier in FY2011, as Congress’s 11th hour budget cut nearly $8 billion more from State and USAID.

    While I definitely agree with you that a) we must do a better job rebalancing and b) State bears some of the responsibility for its diminished status, I have a reservation on your second point. Isn’t it a bit of a chicken and the egg problem? How can State take on these missions if it doesn’t have the financial resources to do so?