*This is a joint post with Steve Radelet
Yesterday in an interview with NPR, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a strong and smart argument for supporting American troops. No surprises there, right? Except for the fact that he is defending the build-up of civilian troops -- our diplomatic and development corps -- to be America's front line of defense in fighting global poverty and insecurity. Much as he did in his brilliant speech at Kansas State University in November, Gates encourages the United States to devote more resources and create new institutions for nonmilitary means of influence abroad: diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. His message:
If we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad.
And, how specifically do we elevate global development policy in the national interest? Says Gates:
What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security -- diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development....The way to institutionalize these capabilities is probably not to recreate or repopulate institutions of the past such as AID or USIA. On the other hand, just adding more people to existing government departments such as Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce, Justice and so on is not a sufficient answer either -- even if they were to be more deployable overseas. New institutions are needed for the 21st century, new organizations with a 21st century mind-set.
Gates's clarion call is the latest and most high-profile expression of growing consensus among development, foreign policy, and security experts that new institutions are needed to address 21st Century challenges. Others who have urged structural changes in the U.S. government to strengthen development and diplomacy include: the CGD-sponsored Commission on Weak States and National Security (2003); the Center for U.S. Global Engagement's Smart Power: Building a Better, Safer World (July, 2007); a press release from some dozen members of the Council on Foreign Relations (November, 2007); the CSIS Smart Power Commission (November, 2007); and, most recently, the long-awaited HELP Commission Report on Foreign Assistance Reform (December, 2007).
What is remarkable, and long overdue, is for the Secretary of Defense to be calling for greater resources and new institutions for non-defense foreign policy tools. It is the one of the clearest signs yet that momentum is building to elevate development as a national interest priority and to give that priority the stature, resources, organizational structure, and legislative backbone that it needs to succeed.