The Military-Development Complex

Melissa Brouwer at the U.S. Diplomacy blog flags last week’s Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing titled, Defining the Military’s Role Towards Foreign Policy. The fact that the military is absorbing both the budget and certain functions of foreign policy is pretty clear by now. Ascommittee Chairman Joe Biden pointed out in his opening remarks (.pdf), the share of development assistance channeled through the Pentagon quadrupled from 5.6 percent in 2002 to 21.7 percent in 2005. And Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has sounded repeated warnings about the funding imbalance between the Pentagon and State Department.

Here’s why that’s a problem, from Biden’s opening remarks:

– First, the increasing dominance of the military in our foreign policy may inadvertently limit our options — when the military is the most readily available option, it is more likely to be used, whether or not it is the best choice.

– Second, how we balance economic and military aid to a country influences perceptions about U.S. priorities and how we choose to project our power. A foreign policy that overemphasizes the military runs the risk of displacing or overshadowing broader policy and development objectives.

– Third, focusing on the immediate military dimensions of combating extremism instead of pursuing a long-term strategy in vulnerable countries could have the unintended consequence of purchasing short-term gains at the expense of long-term stability and sustained development.

– Finally, militaries are good at winning wars and training armies. But, in my view, we do not want soldiers training lawyers or setting up court systems. Or instructing health-care workers on HIV/AIDS prevention? Or running a micro-finance program? Out of necessity, our men and women in uniform have gotten very good at this. But it is not their primary mission; war-fighting is.

– The question before us today is simple: in expanding the role of our armed forces, have we diminished our civilian capabilities — our diplomatic and development assistance institutions — and have we done so in a way that undermines our national security?

Note that even in the way the final question is formulated, the logic of national security is determinant. I’d also add that despite his outspokenness, Bob Gates’ embrace of COIN and the logic of its application — most recently in the Pentagon’s just-released National Defense Strategy (.pdf) — almost guarantees the trend gets worse before it gets better.

Brouwer’s got a rundown of some of the hearing’s witness testimony, which includes John Negroponte, Eric Edelman from the Pentagon, and a handful of experts from the private sector. Links to their prepared statements are available on the hearing page.

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