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 programs.
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 U.S. security.
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. presence.
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.