The proposed U.S. budget may allow the military to pursue foreign policy initiatives, but it’s a job best left to the State Department.
President George W. Bush’s proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2008, which starts in
October, arrives on Capitol Hill today. With respect to national security, the budget proposal
highlights a trend with grave implications for U.S. national security: the continuing expansion of
the Defense Department as a foreign policy institution, beyond its purely military role and
responsibilities. At an accelerating rate, Defense is becoming deeply involved in program areas
traditionally subject to State Department policy guidance and State/U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) program leadership.
Defense’s new emergency funding request for Iraq and Afghanistan includes significant
funds–more than $8.6 billion in the case of Afghanistan–for training and equipping programs for
the Iraqi and Afghan militaries. This continues a program that began in 2004, which is administered
solely by Defense and has already cost more than $10 billion.
Defense wants to go global with this program. In addition, it wants to make the program
permanent and raise the global spending ceiling to $750 million. The entire program operates
outside the existing foreign military financing program, whose policies and recipients are defined
by the State Department. (Defense implements it.)
Defense is also seeking permanent authority for a global version of its Iraq and Afghanistan
foreign assistance program–the “Commander’s Emergency Response Program” (CERP). CERP has already
provided substantially more than $1 billion in short-term, rapid-response economic reconstruction
services such as house repairs, emergency health supplies, and the like. It has done so separately
from the more than $20 billion in other U.S. economic reconstruction programs.
In addition, Defense wants to expand its own education programs, independent of the
International Military Education and Training program and other education programs that State
oversees. Defense seeks $25 million to expand its Counterterrorism Fellowship Program, which
“educates foreign military and civilians directly involved in the war on terror,” and wants $10
million for a “Stability Operations Fellowship Program” to provide “education and training in the
areas of disaster response and preparedness, peacekeeping and peace enforcement, and stabilization
and reconstruction missions.”
Defense is also in the business of providing budget subsidies for key foreign governments.
Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, Defense has made billions of dollars in direct payments
to countries that have provided goods, services, and temporary basing rights for U.S. forces
engaged in counterterrorism efforts or operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. These “budget subsidies”
are separate from the traditional Economic Support Funding programs State has used for years to
provide support to strategically important partners. This expansion has been a trend for some
years, but it has accelerated since 2001. Today, Defense seeks to conduct such programs independent
of State’s policy guidance and programs.
It seems to make sense–Defense has the budget, skills, logistics, equipment, need, and
direct contacts to provide these things. The regional military commanders argue that only Defense
can move quickly in the high intensity threat environment of the so-called “long war” against
terrorism. The State Department, they say, lacks the budget and personnel trained to manage such
programs, while USAID focuses on long-term development, not security and reconstruction. Moreover,
State can’t raise the funds for this because Congress mistrusts State’s ability to move quickly and
spend wisely and has bogged down foreign assistance with “directives” and “earmarks” that limit the
flexibility and agility needed to meet the requirements of such a long war.
While there is merit to these arguments, empowering Defense in these areas also contains
risk. Militaries do not traditionally conduct foreign policy. They can have a tin ear to broader
strategic considerations, and the military’s goal is efficiency and effectiveness in performing a
military mission, uninfluenced by a concern for democracy, human rights, economic relationships,
and other issues that affect U.S. relations with another country.
There is a reason, historically, why the U.S. government has crafted security assistance
programs as a dual responsibility. Defense has the tools, but State has the perspective needed to
embed these programs in broader strategic relationships. As a result, State has policy leadership;
the budgets for these programs are requested as part of the international affairs budgets–not as
part of the defense budget–and Defense has had significant input into defining needs and shaping
The current trend significantly alters the balance, and the trend is accelerating, becoming
a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more Defense does, the more policy independence it will want and
the more it will want to do, as it replaces civilian competences. In turn, as Defense competence
expands, State and USAID face even greater obstacles to building their own competence for policy
leadership and program administration.
This is a dangerous trend for U.S. national security. The military departments should not
have lead authority for national security policy; the White House and the civilian institutions
need to exercise that leadership. Moreover, the past four years in Iraq and Afghanistan suggest
that, competent as they are at their core tasks, militaries are ill-suited to democratization,
nation-building, and economic reconstruction. Taking on these tasks, however, puts the military’s
core combat competence at risk, as units are overwhelmed with noncombat tasks. The more the
military does these functions–and the weaker the civilian institutions–the greater the risk for
Even more importantly, by expanding its role beyond its core competencies, the U.S. military
becomes the front edge of U.S. global engagement. However benign and well-intended, making the
uniformed face the nation’s face to the world can look to others like forcible intrusion or
occupation. As we have seen in Iraq, it creates a backlash against U.S. policies and the U.S.
The United States needs to define where the policy authority should reside, rather than
simply conceding both policy and implementation to Defense. This means defining what missions are
right for the military and what missions belong to statesmen and foreign assistance professionals.
It also means empowering, funding, and staffing the other national security institutions to
exercise policy leadership and program implementation in synergy with defense capabilities.
It is time to think about rebalancing the tools of statecraft and integrating that balanced
capability in a way that advances both national and international security.
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