In a speech given last Monday at the Brookings Institute, Secretary of Defense Gates showed he is still committed to strengthing the State Department and the nation's "soft power."
But even a reformed and transformed military establishment is not sufficient to protect our national security and advance our interests. America’s civilian instruments of national power, in particular the State Department, have suffered from chronic underfunding for decades, and were virtually gutted in the 1990s.
The U.S. Agency for International Development twenty years ago was an independent agency with some 15,000 employees and deployed experts all over the world. It now has about 3,000 people and is basically a contracting agency. USIA was an independent agency that conducted strategic communication on a global scale before it was folded into the State Department. Today, the entire Foreign Service –6,600 men and women – would not be enough to crew one air carrier strike group. The total foreign affairs budget is less than the DoD spends on health care.
In recent years, we have made progress towards rebuilding and modernizing tools of diplomacy and American influence abroad. The foreign affairs budget has about doubled since 2001, though it remains a tiny fraction of what we spend on defense. Secretary Rice has initiated a program of transformational diplomacy, moving people from where they made sense during the Cold War to where they make sense now. Increasing numbers of Foreign Service officers now serve with the armed forces, both on the front lines in provincial reconstruction teams and in military headquarters where their expertise and insight has been invaluable. This year’s budget request includes funding for more than 1,000 additional Foreign Service officers, as well as a reserve corps of civilians that can deploy on short notice. But the State Department must be strengthened even further – in money, people, and bureaucratic clout – to truly fulfill its responsibilities as the lead agency in American foreign policy.
There is strong support in the ranks of the military for building up this civilian capacity. In fact, it was at a Brookings event last year that Admiral Mike Mullen, as Chief of Naval Operations, told Carlos Pascual [Pass Kwall] that he’d be willing to give part of the Navy’s budget to the State Department – a small part, mind you – provided it was spent properly.
What is encouraging is that a consensus appears to be forming at long last among people of varying ideologies and of both political parties that we need to strengthen America’s nonmilitary instruments of national power. There is also a sense that we should take a hard look at the underlying bureaucratic structure of the U.S. national security apparatus inherited from the Cold War era.
Three weeks ago, I testified with Secretary Rice before the House Armed Services Committee. The subject of the hearing was interagency cooperation between State and Defense, with a particular focus on helping other countries build capable security forces. I was advised before the hearing to expect, at most, a couple of questions on these subjects, before the questions all turned to Iraq, or base closures, or the fate of a particular weapons system.
But in fact, for the better part of three hours, the questions and discussion focused on the topic of how our U.S. government civilians and military perform and cooperate together. Members of the committee, both Republicans and Democrats, were interested, they believed change was needed, and they wanted to know what they could do to help.