Those of you who read this column regularly know that I strongly believe there's an imbalance in the U.S. statecraft "toolkit." We pour billions of dollars into the Defense Department, while we trickle about one-twentieth of that into diplomatic and foreign-assistance programs. Moreover, since 9/11 and the Iraq War, we're asking the military to do jobs for which civilian agencies should be better suited--reconstruction assistance, budget support for allied countries, etc. Worst yet, integration of national security planning and resource allocation across agencies is almost nonexistent.
One way to better balance the toolkit would be to better fund civilian agencies such as the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). For decades the foreign-policy agencies have pursued this path, but with minimal success--until Colin Powell's tenure as secretary of state. And while Powell succeeded in raising State's funding, the additional resources bought just enough personnel to staff the burgeoning diplomatic presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Because the bulk of the funding growth went to new initiatives such as the president's decision to invest $15 billion in combating HIV/AIDS on a global basis and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which is designed to link bilateral development assistance to the performance of aid recipients measured by social, economic, and governance indicators, the increase didn't strengthen the central architecture of civilian foreign-relations agencies. And the large supplemental funding for civilian reconstruction and governance in Iraq only exposed the weaknesses of the civilian diplomatic and foreign-assistance community in designing and implementing such a program.
Plus, resources are only part of a multifaceted problem. Amb. Robert Oakley recently lamented the weakness of the U.S. ambassador when coordinating and integrating strategy in a given country. 1 Despite the fact that the ambassador (or country team leader) should integrate all of the embassy's government activities, he or she is often overwhelmed by the many agencies and programs the embassy operates. Oakley cites diluted authority, antiquated organizational structures, and resources as some of the sources of this problem.
Decisions made decades ago play a role in this dilemma. After World War II, the U.S. diplomatic community decided to leave operational program delivery to other agencies, resulting in a diaspora of foreign-policy institutions. Program funding (whether it's bilateral assistance, multilateral assistance, cultural programs and exchanges, or foreign lending) has belonged to USAID, the Treasury Department, the U.S. Information Agency, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and others. This began after World War II with the European Recovery Program and continues today with the creation of a quasi-independent coordinator for the HIV/AIDS effort and yet another separate agency (the Millennium Challenge Corporation) for the new assistance program. The bottom line is that State's culture remains largely one of diplomacy, not one that seeks to integrate overseas programs into an overall strategy.
This value permeates the foreign service. Diplomatic training doesn't emphasize program planning or management; nor does it provide deep experience in budget planning. There's little expectation that trained diplomats will be strategic planners, leading to limited strategic planning at State. Few State foreign-service officers do rotations in economic development, civil-military billets, and trade agencies--places where they'd acquire the program knowledge to help coordinate U.S. policy either in Washington or the field. Upward mobility in the foreign service doesn't reward such a career path; the criteria for promotion may actually inhibit such interagency experience. (There are some fine ambassadors and senior career officials who emerge from this career path as good managers, planners, and implementers. But it's more accidental than intentional.)
So it's not surprising that Defense seeks its own authorities to define and implement foreign-assistance programs or that other agencies resist State-suggested integration of policy and programs. The failure of such efforts in the field (and Iraq is only the most recent example) don't inspire other agencies or the White House to look to State for leadership in shaping and implementing integrated programs and policies that reliably address the international challenges we face.
Here are a few ways Washington can strengthen its diplomatic and foreign-assistance capability:
State or a new foreign-affairs agency is likely to be significantly more empowered if it possessed a more integrated mission. It can then structure itself around that mission, using the mission as a guide on how to train and promote personnel and to develop long-term strategic and budgetary planning processes. This would go a long way to revive the diaspora of planning that prevails today and to give State the heft to weigh in on the broader interagency discussions about how we define and execute national security strategy.
Admittedly, this is a tall agenda. But it will be virtually impossible to develop an integrated, coherent national security strategy without reforming our foreign-policy agencies and changing their personnel structure and incentives--starting with State. The issues facing us are too challenging to limp forward under current arrangements. And it will be equally impossible to raise the necessary resources needed for such endeavors unless the institutions that carry out our statecraft can handle the mission.1Robert B. Oakley and Michael Casey Jr., "The Country Team: Restructuring America's First Line of Engagement," Strategic Forum No. 227, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, September 2007.