Retired Military "Brasstops" Call for Elevation of Development and Diplomacy in U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security

March 06, 2008

This morning, the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened its members to discuss with Defense Secretary Robert Gates the "persistent imbalance between U.S. funding for defense and diplomacy." According to a House Foreign Affairs Committee press release Chairman Berman referred to President Bush's 2002 National Security which affirmed that diplomacy and development are as important as defense. Berman said:

We cannot win the fight against extremists by proverbially tying one arm behind our back. We need to deploy America's finest engineers, development experts and diplomats in the campaign for reconstruction and stabilization in vulnerable countries. I welcome Secretary Gates' advocacy to help bolster the civilian agencies best suited for that fight.

Admiral Leighton SmithAs my colleagues reported in a January blog, Secretary Gates has called for more resources and a new approach to development in which the United States would 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.Secretary Gates is no longer the only member of the military community calling for the elevation of development and diplomacy as cornerstones of U.S. global engagement. Yesterday, retired U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni and retired U.S. Navy Admiral Leighton W. Smith, Jr. spent the morning testifying for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on "Strengthening National Security through Smart Power -- A Military Perspective," and later that afternoon launched the Center for U.S. Global Engagement’s National Security Advisory Council comprising more than 50 retired three and four-star generals and admirals representing all branches of the armed forces who call for the use of "smart power" which would strengthen America's national security strategy with increased use of non-military tools.In their joint testimony, Zinni and Smith ask:

Why would a Marine and a former Navy attack pilot come to this committee to support the budget for the State Department, for USAID, and the civilian activities of our government that impact the lives of people around the world?We are here because from our time on the front line of America's presence in the world, we know that the U.S. cannot rely on military power alone to keep us safe from terrorism, infectious disease and other global threats that recognize no borders.

General Anthony C. ZinniThey cite the military's strengths, such as logistics and organization to respond to humanitarian crises and maintain security, but argue it "cannot reform government, improve as struggling nation's economic problems, or redress political grievances," and that the U.S. urgently needs a new and vibrant strategic direction for its national security and foreign policy which is "not only the right thing to do, but is squarely in our national interest."Zinni and Smith urge the U.S. Congress and presidential candidates to start considering now the many options for modernizing the U.S. foreign assistance and national security apparatus that have been posited in the bipartisan reports from RAND, the 9-11 Commission, the HELP Commission, the CSIS Smart Power Commission study, and the Center for U.S. Global Engagement’s Smart Power Policy Framework. In their closing statement at the Senate hearing, Zinni and Smith say:

It is time to rethink and rebalance our investments to create a better, safer world. It is time to deploy smart power, and increase our support for global health, development and diplomacy. We and our military colleagues stand ready to support you in this effort. We look forward to the day when both the Senate and the House come together with the president and his/her administration to see the Defense Authorization, the State Department Authorization and the Foreign Assistance Act as three equally vital components of a new strategic triad for our country's leadership in the world.

Liz Schrayer, executive director of the Center for U.S. Global Engagement, coined a new term for these military voices: brasstops. Distinct from the "grassroots" and "grasstops" many development groups are used to working with, these "brasstops" are now being referred to by some congressional staff as "the development community's strongest advocates for modernizing U.S. foreign assistance." With statements like those above, it's hard to imagine more powerful endorsements. The question is: will Congress and the next administration heed the call?UPDATE[Update Friday, March 7, 2008: My CGD colleague Stewart Patrick and Susan E. Rice (a senior fellow on leave from the Brookings Institution) wrote an op-ed in today's Washington Post called "The ‘Weak States' Gap" which discusses their recent "Index of State Weakness in the Developing World" and further iterates the call for strengthening U.S. civilian agencies.Unfortunately, the Senate Budget Committee on Thursday approved only $35.7 billion in funding for the FY09 international affairs budget. This is a $4.1 billion decrease from the administration's $39.8 billion request, a $2.6 billion decreases from the FY09 House Budget Resolution level of $38.3 billion and a $1 billion decrease from the FY08 enacted level of $36.7 billion. The U.S. Global Leadership Campaign explains this is "the largest total dollar and percentage decrease from the administration's request in over a decade." While the House and Senate will debate the budget resolutions next week, these initial numbers indicate that the Senate has yet to heed the calls from the brasstops and other "smart power" advocates, and even the administration, in terms of increasing resources as one means to elevate development and diplomacy in U.S. foreign affairs. ]


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