Tuesday, March 11, 2008

U.S. Diplomacy has an interesting piece on foreign-policy decision making being handled more and more by the Department of Defense instead of the State Department.

State Department: Living in the Shadow of the Pentagon

A new report from the Washington, DC-based think tanks the Center for International Policy, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) examines the gradual shift of foreign policy decision-making away from the State Department toward the Defense Department. Cleverly titled “Ready, Aim, Foreign Policy,” it can be downloaded here.

Here’s a snippet:

“…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.”

While the authors explain that the Defense Department has been gradually seeping into activities usually reserved for the State Department for the last two decades, three recent examples demonstrate that this trend has been accelarting in recent years:

“First, the Bush Administration endeavored to expand a pilot program, known as “Section 1206,” into a permanent, large-scale, global Defense Department military aid fund with few strings attached.

Second, the State Department, rather than contesting this challenge to its authority, called for a restructuring of foreign aid that would happily cede its management of military aid programs to the Defense Department and reduce congressional oversight.

Third, the U.S. military offered plans to restructure geographic commands to give them a greater role in coordinating U.S. civilian agencies’ activities.” [An example of this restructuring, the Defense Department’s new central command for all of Africa, or AFRICOM, was discussed in an earlier post on this blog].

The report’s authors underscore why it matters that the Defense Department increasingly controls military aid programs: “[These changes] 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.” The authors go on to cite several examples from their region of expertise, Latin America, but maintain that the changes effect U.S. foreign policy in all regions of the world.

Veteran IPS correspondent Jim Lobe reported summarized the findings of the report and added some inside-the-beltway perspective:

“While the Pentagon, like Gates, clearly understands that Washington faces regional challenges that are not susceptible to military solutions, according to the report, its sheer size compared to the civilian agencies give it an increasingly dominant role in relations with other countries, greater even than that of the resident ambassador who traditionally has been the main coordinator of U.S. policy and representative of the U.S. government in foreign states.

The risk is that the security dimensions of the bilateral relationship are given greater weight, often at the expense of other key considerations, such as human rights, equitable development, and the rule of law, according to the report. In addition, a greater emphasis on sustaining and building up local militaries, which may be repressive and corrupt, may actually prove counter-productive.”

He added that this report is just the latest in a series of studies warning of the increasing militarisation of U.S. foreign policy. This is an extremly important, timely, report. It is essential reading for the next administration for sure, if not all of you interested in foreign policy issues.
Public Radio International’s The World show also broadcast a segment about the report, and interviewed Washington PostSenior Diplomatic Correspondent Karen DeYoung about the significance of this shift.

The report was released the same day that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had breakfast with the members of the House Foreign Relations Committee (HFAC) hearing to discuss what was called “the persistent imbalance between U.S. funding for defense and diplomacy.”
While no transcript of Gates’ remarks is available, Gates has made several public statements about the need for better funding for more “soft power,” civilian activities. In January, at an event at the Center for International Security Studies, Gates said that the challenges posed by the global war on terrorism “cannot be overcome by military means alone and they extend well beyond the traditional domain of any single government agency or department. They require our government to operate with unity, agility, and creativity, and will require devoting considerably more resources to non-military instruments of national power.”

At the hearing, HFAC Acting Chairman Howard Berman observed “Berman observed that “in his 2002 National Security Strategy, President Bush affirmed that diplomacy and development are just as important as defense. They will not be funded equally, but we should strive to strike a better balance than we have now. The budget for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development together is anemic next to that of the Defense Department.”

Berman also expressed his concern for the problem: “This committee is examining the issue closely to guard against Defense Department over-reaching into areas traditionally under the authority of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. We’re concerned that an overly expansive military role in support of short-term security interests could work to the detriment of long-term foreign policy goals, which would be dangerous and destabilizing. The face of America abroad needs to be, first and foremost, its diplomats. Secretary Gates’ breakfast with us is a welcome first step in making sure this happens.”

This is a good first step. But the following statement Berman made at the breakfast might reveal that in this tug of war of resources between the two Departments, he might be biased toward Defense: ”The gap in civilian capacity has over-burdened the military, which has assumed tasks best performed by civilian experts.”

This is true, but ut seems a little backwards to look at an underfunded State Department and focus on how its deficiencies burden the Defense Department, rather than the practice of diplomacy itself.

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