Thursday, May 22, 2008


The Pentagon's 'irregular warfare' against civilian foreign policy

Sam Smith

As it tries to recover from the most expensive failure in American military history, the Pentagon has its eyes on an easier target. The beauty of this adversary is that it is not from an indecipherable culture, it doesn't speak a strange language and it doesn't scatter IEDs in the path of Hummers. In fact, it's not even armed and its headquarters, far from concealed in the mountains of Pakistan, are easily found in the high rises of Washington, DC. The new foe: The State Department, USAID and other civilian diplomatic and development operations - proving once again that our military leaders' real skill set is not fighting mile by mile on some foreign battlefield but line by line in the domestic budget.

There is no doubt that the domestic surge is working. Between 2002 and 2005, the share of government development assistance flowing through the Pentagon rose from 6% to 22%.

Stewart Patrick and Kaysie Brown, in a paper last fall for the Center on Global Development, outlined the problem:

These trends have stimulated concerns that U.S. foreign and development policies may become subordinated to a narrow, short term security agenda -- at the expense of broader, longer-term diplomatic goals and institution building in the developing world -- and that U.S. soldiers may increasingly assume responsibility for activities more appropriately conducted by civilians skilled in development challenges. . .

We attribute growing U.S. reliance on the U.S. military to carry out reconstruction, development, and capacity-building activities to three factors: an overwhelming focus within the Bush administration on programs that can help in the global war on terror, particularly in unstable, conflict-prone, and post-conflict countries; the vacuum left by civilian agencies, which struggle to deploy adequate numbers of personnel and to deliver assistance in highly insecure environments; and a general failure on the part of the U.S. government to invest adequately in non-military instruments of global engagement, including by creating deployable U.S. civilian post-conflict capabilities. . .


At the end of the Cold War, a top Soviet official promised America one last horrible surprise: the loss of an enemy. It was as the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy had written early in the century:

A decade later, a Pentagon office still sported a sign that read, WANTED: A GOOD ENEMY. It was not long after the Cold War, in fact, that the military went out shopping for new enemies to buck up the welfare fathers of the defense industry. It had not yet received the budgetary blessing - heralded by a handful of young men with box cutters - of Iraq and Afghanistan. Who could have imagined that so few could cause so much fear among so many? Who would have thought that, instead of pursuing the perps, you could turn the whole affair into the most expensive war in history and the first to be waged against a perpetual abstraction - terror - rather than an actual country? Who would have dreamed that the public could be sold the notion that the way to deal with guerillas was to engage in warfare that would increase the number of their allies?

Instead, mostly unreported, America's political and military planners worked hard developing an external threat to compensate for the disappearance of the USSR. Although in the short run, the Pentagon had been remarkably successful in exempting itself from the deficit-cutting hysteria, there was always the danger that the public and politicians might start asking too many questions.

So uncertain was the trumpet, in fact, that planners were forced to resort to abstractions that were not only uninformative, they were truly absurd. Thus, we were told to spend hundreds of billions to protect ourselves against a generic composite peer competitor, myriad formless threats, and even, god forbid, an asymmetrical niche opponent. (What did you do in the last war, Daddy? Well, son, I killed 14 generic composite peer competitors and would have wasted more if a frigging asymmetrical niche opponent hadn't got me in the chest.)

As Clinton's budget director Franklin Raines told a meeting of high level Pentagon officials, "We will protect your purchasing power."



To be sure, there is far from total agreement on the nature and distance of this shift in the military, even within the Pentagon. There are, for example, plenty of Army and Marine officers who would just as soon not be running day care centers in Tanzania.

Even Defense Secretary Gates seemed to side with traditional diplomatic and development approaches in a recent speech in which he praised the role of civilian agencies. According to the Pentagon release:

Speaking at the Academy of American Diplomats in Washington, the secretary said there is bipartisan support on Capitol Hill to devote more resources to the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Since the war on terror began, President Bush, defense officials and military officers have stressed that all parts of the federal government must work together to combat extremists -- that the military can put in place conditions for security, but civilian agencies are the repositories of expertise on governance, economics, agriculture and so on. Countries like Iraq and Afghanistan need these skills to cement progress in place.

"There is a need for a much greater integration of our efforts," Gates said. "There is clearly a need for a better way to organize interagency collaboration."

The problem with the civilian agencies providing the personnel has not been a lack of will, but a lack of capabilities, Gates said. The State Department has about 6,600 Foreign Service officers. To put it in perspective, that's barely enough to crew one carrier battle group in the Navy, the secretary said.

The upshot is that when civilian agencies cannot deploy personnel, service members step in to take up the slack. The provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan and Iraq are primary examples of this, Gates said. The teams, which have slots for officials from the departments of agriculture, commerce, treasury, justice and so on, were staffed by military personnel so they effort could get up and running quickly.

"There aren't deployable people in agriculture and commerce and treasury and so on that are prepared to go overseas," Gates said. And these skills are desperately needed, he emphasized.


Then there is the controversial Defense Department draft directive going around on the topic of irregular warfare that some believe lays down the basis for much further intrusion on civilian roles. The directive would replace one that had already staked out sizable new turf, of which Patrick and Brown wrote:

Chastened by its failure to plan for postwar Iraq and the chaos that resulted, the Pentagon has cast off its former aversion to nation-building. This shift was cemented in November 2005 with the signing of DoD Directive 3000.05, which declared that the U.S. military would henceforth treat “Stability, Security, Transition and Reconstruction Operations” as a core mission, on a par with combat operations. Decidedly broad in scope, this directive extends DoD's mandates and programs to a wide range of activities that are typically the province of civilian agencies, including reforming the security sector, establishing institutions of governance, reviving market activity and rebuilding infrastructure. While the directive openly recognizes that many of these tasks are more appropriately carried out by civilian actors and agencies, it also states that this may not always be possible in highly insecure environments or where such civilian capabilities do not yet exist."

At present, the U.S. defense budget accounts for approximately half of total global defense spending, while the U.S. armed forces employ about 1.68 million uniformed members. By comparison, the State Department employs about 6,000 Foreign Service officers, while the U.S. Agency for International Development has about 2,000. In other words, the Department of Defense is about 210 times larger than USAID and State combined - there are substantially more people employed as musicians in Defense bands than in the entire foreign service.

There are plenty who won't be all that happy having to deal with a military surge into diplomacy, including international non-profits, some of our allies and UN organizations. It is also hard to imagine rock stars throwing themselves into global fundraising fests when they know the money will go to pad the budget of a General Petraeus.

Here is how one civilian professional - who represents others who do a lot work for the Pentagon - reacted to the proposed new directive:

As I understand things, if this change were to be implemented, we would have the following:

The connection between State and Defense to harmonize stability and reconstruction operations would become moot because the funding and control of the stability operations would be subsumed under "irregular warfare." It would be up to DoD to decide if they needed to bring in civilians to help them out.

It would become even more difficult for civilian organizations and agencies to be involved in any comfortable way, given that all humanitarian aid, providing essential services, building local governance, etc., would become part of "irregular warfare." In fact, I can't think of a single humanitarian aid organization that would agree to become involved in "irregular warfare."

This would continue and extend the idea that "irregular warfare" is an appropriate approach to dealing with fragile or failed states, with post-conflict situations, or preventing future conflicts. Such policies will be completely rejected by the civilian agencies of the US Government, NGOs, the international community, without even attending to what the fragile states would think.

We would have even more power and control in the military, creating an even greater imbalance between the civilian agencies and the military that are supposed to be working to "harmonize" their activities now. They are so underfunded and undermanned at this point that it is very difficult to manage the civilian side of the "harmonization" process effectively.

The military would then be left with a mission to provide for stability operations across the board for which they do not have training, are not equipped to do, have not been able to successfully accomplish (witness Iraq and Afghanistan), which would mean that the U.S. capacity to contribute to serious peace building efforts would be seriously undermined even further than it is now.

The military takeover of traditionally civilian foreign policy roles is part of a mission creep that has been going on a long time. My first article on the topic was 12 years ago when the concerns were the military's expansion of the futile and terribly damaging drug war and its growing interference with domestic civil liberties.

Things have only gotten worse since. Now diplomacy and international development are joining the target list for the mission creep, by a military that has finally found a battleground it truly likes. And we, the citizens funding it all, will once again lose the war.


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