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New Book Examines U.S. Foreign Policy Militarization

By J. Paul Johnson

Book examines military role in foreign policy

U.S. military increasingly taking on foreign policy roles once the domain of civilian agencies.

More money is needed to effectively carry out the U.S. diplomatic mission overseas, according to Secretary of State John Kerry. He testified, in late February, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying that a mere one percent of the total U.S. budget supports everything the Department of State does abroad and it's not enough. According to Kerry, it begs the question: Why don't the Department of State and other civilian authorities like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have the budget necessary to carry out their missions? 

American University School of International Service professors Gordon Adams and Shoon Murray, co-editors of Mission Creep: The Militarization of US Foreign Policy? (Georgetown University Press, 2015), and the experts they assembled G. William Anderson, Brian E. Carlson, Charles B. Cushman, Jr., James F. Dobbins, Jennifer Kibbe, Edward Marks, Anthony Quainton, Derek S. Reveron, Nina M. Serafino, Connie Veillette, and Sharon Weiner say as the title of the book states a preference for the Pentagon to take on the roles once reserved for civilian authorities. The contributors trace the various factors leading to the militarization of U.S. foreign policy over the last 70 years. 

The authors examine the post-World War II trend in three parts: the institutional and political context, observing the militarization trend (in the areas of development, security assistance, public diplomacy, traditional diplomacy, intelligence, and policy advice), and the implications of militarization. Throughout recommendations are made on how to stem mission creep and potentially reverse it.

The Birth of a Trend

Adams and Murray identify the Cold War as the start of the shift when the National Security Act of 1947, Truman Doctrine, and the establishment of NATO all began to shift the leadership of American foreign policy from State to Defense. As the DoD budget and capabilities grew, the trend accelerated. "The 9/11 terrorist attacks were a real game changer because the White House and Congress became consumed with counter-terrorism efforts that led to the twin wars in Afghanistan and Iraq," says Shoon Murray.  

Conventional warfare gave way to insurgency after 2001. U.S. intervention in the Balkans that had distributed responsibility between the State Department for reconstruction and governance and DoD to carry out military operations was abandoned as James F. Dobbins points out given the new insurgency paradigm. "The button downed U.S. diplomat has given way to a U.S. military uniform in the eyes of the international community," says Adams. 

2005 A Defining Year

In 2005, DoD began to incorporate nation building into its mission. Adams, Murray, and several of the contributors point to the 2005 DoD Directive 3000.05 that included stability operations as a core U.S. military mission. "It is a remarkable development that the Pentagon would give marching orders for the services and commands to consider noncombat tasks on par with war fighting," write Adams and Murray. 

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing back in 2008, where Adams testified, he pointed out that the Pentagon's share of funding for overseas security assistance –traditionally a State Department responsibility budget just for U.S. development assistance-- increased from 5.6 percent to 21.7 percent or $5.5 billion from 2002 to 2005.  

Is It A Mission the Military Wants? Maybe

Several of the chapter contributors question whether the military actually wants the additional portfolios added to its core mission. What stands out is the reluctance of U.S. military leaders to remain responsible for development and humanitarian missions better suited to civilian agencies. For example, in 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, "America's civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for too long—relative to what we traditionally spend on the military." The concern was echoed by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he said the political leadership views the military as more capable, assigning it more noncombat missions, and further weakening civilian agencies. He wanted "to break this cycle".  

However, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) seems to relish the expanded role. SOCOM's responsibility to lead and synchronize the global war on terror has sometimes conflicted with U.S. civilian authorities abroad. School of International Service diplomat in residence Anthony Quainton and Murray in one of the chapters spoke to two dozen retired U.S. ambassadors in the course of their research about whether in their postings they experienced any conflicts with DoD operations. The answer was largely no with one exception. "Many of the ambassadors we spoke with," write Murray and Quainton, "were suspicious of SOCOM, perceiving SOF (Special Operations Forces) as more free-wheeling and less deferential to ambassadorial authority." One former ambassador quoted in the book said SOCOM was secretive making it tricky for U.S. ambassadors to represent U.S. interests when secret missions even to the ambassador were being carried out.

Mission Creep by the Numbers

Adams, who served as the associate director for national security and international affairs at the White House Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration, runs through several figures demonstrating the militarization of foreign policy. For example, the Pentagon budget is more than 10 times as large as the nation's international affairs spending, and there are 215 uniformed military personnel for every Foreign Service officer.

Adams is concerned that the asymmetry could lead to "blowback". "On the one hand it's funny that there are more musicians in DoD bands than in the entire foreign service, but on the other hand the militarization has consequences," says Adams, "For decades the United States has advised well-endowed and powerful militaries in less developed countries to remove themselves from politics, social work, and the local economy, but today the expansion of the U.S. military into noncore missions sends a conflicting message to these militaries. If the U.S. military can be an investor, government adviser, developer, why not them?"

Many of the contributors concede that projects once squarely in the domain of civilian authorities like the State Department and USAID will continue to be executed by the U.S. military. But should the nation's military, the point of the spear, be digging wells, constructing schools and providing medical assistance or advising national and local governments on governance and the rule of law? The majority of authors seem to agree it's better suited for USAID and the State Department to do the humanitarian and state building work on the ground even if it means some soiled hands.