Diplomats and Warriors: Can This Friendship Be Saved?
Ever since former Defense Secretary Robert Gates started making public pleas in 2009 for Congress to boost resources for the State Department, the foreign policy meme inside the beltway has been the extraordinary friendship between Defense and State. Secretary Hillary R. Clinton even coined a new catchphrase, “smart power,” to capture the idea that there are non-militaristic ways to win wars.
But no amount of top-level kumbaya has changed the reality on the ground. In the United States’ most severe foreign policy crisis today, the war in Afghanistan, Defense is the 800-pound gorilla, with a $2 billion a week budget.
State, after much cajoling by senior diplomats and their Pentagon allies, managed to get congressional approval for a $250 million “global security contingency fund.”
Although the GSCF is in the State Department budget, the Pentagon controls $200 million, while State gets to allocate $50 million. State views this as a remarkable step forward. “Rather than two departments fighting over resources, this fund makes us work and contribute together,” said Assistant Secretary of State and head of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Andrew J. Shapiro.
The GSCF will be a test that State must pass in order to be trusted with money that otherwise would have gone to the Pentagon.
In anAug. 8 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, titled, “A New Era In State-Defense Cooperation,” Shapiro went through a litany of exchange programs, joint projects and other interagency efforts that, he said, are signs of a “sea change” in Defense-State cooperation. The bond between the agencies, he said, “is truly unprecedented and I think this will be remembered as one of Secretary Clinton’s lasting legacies.”
Such pronouncements make lots of eyes roll in Washington, where an agency’s power is directly proportional to its financial resources.
Shapiro found himself defending the GSCF. “We’ll see if it’s successful,” he said during a question-and-answer session after the speech. “It has the capacity to grow. Our challenge is to make it work.” Shapiro said he is hopeful that the GSCF becomes a stand-alone appropriation instead of a “reprogramming action.”
What he did not say: State is thankful for the vote of confidence this fund represents, even if it’s a fraction of what the military spends daily in combat operations.
In his address at CSIS, Shapiro recognized that, after a decade of military-dominated foreign policy, State confronts a relevance gap that might takes a long time to bridge. “The sheer difference in size and resources between our two respective departments … [is] obvious when we host a simple meeting and find ourselves vastly outnumbered by our DoD colleagues,” he said. “Unfortunately, there remains a lingering misperception out there that funding for the State Department isn’t as essential to strengthening our country’s national security.”
Although the Pentagon’s E-Ring understands that investments in development and diplomacy are important, out in the field the two sides collide. One Defense Department official who served as an adviser in Afghanistan asked Shapiro to explain why, after more than a decade of war, there is still a “dearth of collaboration” between State and Defense at a time when civilian help is needed for the military to meet its 2014 withdrawal deadline.
Shapiro’s response: Secretary Clinton will study the war lessons and make sure they are not repeated.
Only an act of Congress could begin to reverse the Pentagon’s overwhelming supremacy in U.S. foreign policy.
“In the Defense Department we do not control our money, Congress does,” said a senior defense official who spoke with reporters Aug. 8. Asked whether it would help efforts in Afghanistan to provide more resources to State and USAID, he said that decision is entirely up to Congress. “It’s not a question of turning over Defense Department dollars to State,” he said. “We spend our money as appropriated.”
The chances that Congress will do anything to shift the balance of power are slim to none, however. Even the GSCF, established by Congress in December 2011, is only a pilot program.
“Advocates of greater State Department control would prefer that Congress dispense with the GSCF pooled fund and appropriate substantially more security assistance and related DoD funding (particularly Section 1206 building partnership capacity funding) directly to the international affairs budget,” said an Aug. 1 report by the Congressional Research Service.
Section 1206 provides funds to the Defense Department for counterterrorism, security assistance and other projects that occasionally overlap with State programs.
“Some fear that the decision to pool DoD and State Department funds rather than to appropriate funds directly to the State Department budget will perpetuate the State Department’s lack of capacity to handle security assistance rather than resolve it,” wrote Nina M. Serafino, a CRS international security specialist.
One reason the Pentagon has taken the lead on most security-assistance and peacekeeping programs is that there is a widespread belief that State’s bureaucracy is too slow and cumbersome.
“Many analysts are concerned that the State Department lacks the capacity to plan and direct an increased number of security assistance and related governance and rule of laws programs without increasing the size of its staff,” said Serafino. “Some also view the State Department as lacking the institutional interest and will necessary to plan and oversee a large security assistance portfolio.”
The Defense Department, for its part, is not about to relinquish control of funds in these times of fiscal austerity. Pentagon advocates, for instance, see the GSCF as a “problematic and unwarranted diversion of DoD funds, particularly in an increasingly constrained budget environment,” said Serafino. “Because GSCF purposes overlap those of Section 1206 train-and-equip authority, where the secretary of defense is in the lead, some analysts view a successful GSCF effort as someday leading to the elimination of Section 1206 and similar authorities.”
Gordon Adams, a former Office of Management and Budget official during the Clinton administration and currently a professor at American University, said that growing military dominance in foreign affairs is a troublesome trend. The U.S. military is now in charge of many non combat-related functions such as foreign aid, global health and foreign police training,Adams wrote. The imbalance “erodes the civilian foreign policy agencies and adds missions to an overburdened military.”
In Washington, he noted, “Budget is policy.”
Photo Credit: State Department