Major Statement

The foreign policy of the United States is increasingly carried out by the U.S. military. The militarization of U.S. foreign policy can be described as “a growing trend to view decisions on national security strategy, policies, and policy implementation from a military perspective.” Increasingly, issues pertaining to policy and security challenges are viewed primarily through a military lens, the result of which has been an increase in policy suggestions and solutions for which military capabilities appear to be the appropriate response. Our armed services are now sent abroad to fight wars, distribute foreign aid, provide humanitarian assistance, and engage in diplomatic and peace building missions. Yet, for many of the most pertinent issues facing the United States today, a militarized response is both ineffective and counter-productive.
Historically, the United States military existed to complete military missions, such as defeating Nazi Germany or driving Iraq out of Kuwait. America’s security strategy has been guided by logic and principles based upon defeating an enemy whose own security strategy is generally guided by the same logic and principles. These ideas, based upon the rules of warfare established in the Geneva Convention, created a relatively stable international system in which all the major actors have a vested interest in the system staying in tact. The players might very well jockey for position at the table, but no one stands to gain more than they would lose by flipping the table over.
The United States has no peer military competitor, a fact that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. It would be unwise to dramatically alter defense policy based upon a moment of relative stability amongst great powers, especially given our less than perfect record of predicting what the next war will look like and with whom it will be fought. It is well within the realm of possibility that military superiority will be a necessity to win the hypothetical war of tomorrow. It may even play a role in preventing the war of tomorrow from ever happening. Yet it will not alone win the real war of today. Our enemy today is one that understands the logic and principles of our defense policy knows how to use them against us. Their tactics are far from new. History is full of examples of asymmetric wars being waged, and generally speaking, the underdog tends to win. The failure of decision makers in our government to adjust for what the current global reality demands has resulted in an unparalleled military force that is exceptional at winning battles and incapable of winning wars.
The global war on terror (GWOT) will never be won by the United States military for one simple reason; you can not kill ideas with bombs. Nor can you kill ideas with drones, missiles, guns, navy warships, covert operations or special operations forces. Ideas can only be killed with better ideas. Yet across both republican and democratic administrations, foreign policy remains heavily lopsided in favor of the military, militarized responses, and militarized solutions. The military budget dwarfs all other categories of government expenditure, comprising over half the entire federal budget. The current administration has proposed yet another increase in the military budget, while cutting the already dismal by comparison State Departments budget by 37%. What enemy do we have that we need an increased defense budget to defeat? “An inequality of resources leads to an inequality in policy and as a corollary the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, which is detrimental to U.S. national interests.” The governments heavy reliance on our armed forces to deliver foreign policy comes at a great cost in both blood and treasure. Because we have finest, most well-equipped, well-funded all-volunteer force in the history of the world, we feel compelled to use it. As Abraham Maslow once famously pondered, I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.
The Great Seal of the United States portrays a bald eagle carrying both arrows and an olive branch. The eagles head is turned looking not towards the arrows, but towards the olive branch, signifying a preference for peace. If the arrows represent the Department of Defense, then the olive branch represents the State Department. Yet more often than not, and in no small part due to inadequate funding and resource distribution, tasks that traditionally fall under the realm of the State Department are being relegated to the Department of Defense. Secretary of Defense under the Bush administration, Robert Gates, touched on this during a speech in 2007, saying “Consider that this years budget for the Department of Defense — not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan —is nearly half a trillion dollars, [while] the total foreign affairs budget request for the State department is $36 billion…. there are only about 6,600 professional foreign service officers— less than the manning of one aircraft carrier strike group.” (102) Current Secretary of Defense, General Jim Mattis implored congress to invest more in the State Department, saying, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” The military has such a deep understanding of the value of foreign aid and the work of the State Department, that 120 generals and admirals recently signed a letter to congress stressing the importance of the their continued funding. The result of asymmetric funding has resulted in the gutting of America’s soft power institutions and consequently, in the DoD assuming many of the burdens traditionally preformed by civilian agencies (102), from which has emerged the idea of the soldier-diplomatic by necessity. The earliest recorded examples of military diplomacy predate Alexander the Great. “The assistance of armies to the populations they had conquered was seen as a humane gesture to the vanquished — and, not inconsequentially, a means of winning some degree of loyalty to the new regime.” Post-World War II Europe witnessed perhaps the most intensive utilization of the military in civilian affairs. The Marshall Plan significantly influenced modern military doctrines of civil involvement and development of the international relief system, expanding the role of the military as never before. It is important to remember however, the the Marshall plan was truly a joint-effort between the military and the State Department, and that European and US governments painstakingly gained domestic support for the programs before they were implemented. In the years following WWII, soldiers were reintegrated into civilian life and the whole of government became focused on the domestic economy. The idea of sending troops abroad for military operations other than war (MOOTWA) became both unrealistic and undesirable. It wasn’t until roughly three decades later that the all-volunteer force was formed and its kinks were sufficiently smoothed out that MOOTWA once again became a viable option. Freed from the constraints that a conscripted military imposes on its government, and emboldened by the decisive success of Operation Desert Storm, successive administrations became increasingly likely to deploy troops for a wider and wider range of missions. Examples can be drawn from military operations in both the Middle East and Africa.
In Afghanistan, the American Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) were developed to help build peace and security in the region and foster development. ‘Development’, is in the context of a PRT is described as; “not simply a set of projects; it involves capacity-building, sustainability strategies, and above all an understanding of how societies operate. The most successful PRTs have been those that are best attuned to recognizing Afghans’ conceptions of Afghans’ needs. A good PRT leadership strategy is to spend as much time as possible listening, rather than talking.” Not too much to ask from a a group on American boys from the mid-west, right? These PRTs were constructed of 80 soldiers led by an Army lieutenant colonel with one civilian representative from the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Agriculture. The overarching strategy of counterinsurgency (COIN), which was employed by our military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, required our soldiers to engage in a vast array of non traditional military missions. “Military engineers dug wells and fixed sewer lines; civil affairs teams refurbished schools, attended meetings of local tribal elders, and started micro-finance programs for rural women; psychological operations distributed radio station in a box kits and scoured the country side for “credible voice” to put on call-in shows. Military agriculture experts encouraged Afghans to diversity their crops, and military medical teams staffed women’s health clinics.” You name it, our soldiers were doing it — to varying levels of success. “Stories abounded of schools built with no thought for whether they would have teachers, books, or students; bridges built three times in a row in the same place, only to be repeatedly demolished by local contractors who knew the next military unit that rotated in would repay them to build it again.(95)” Was it fair, or even reasonable of our government to ask 20-something year olds from Kansas to broker peace between tribal chieftains in the rural countryside of Afghanistan?
The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) was created in 2007 as “a new kind of military command, designed to reflect the Pentagon’s emerging understanding of a more complex security environment in which prevention would be as important as cure” (84). The move was intended to centralize and coordinate American security interests on the continent. AFRICOM activities grew to consist of a wide range of projects traditionally undertaken by civilians working for USAID or the State Department. The activities include, for instance the construction of school classrooms in Chad; cattle vaccination in Uganda; activities to combat drug trafficking through the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative; and the construction of closed wells with solar pumps in Senegal, a task force to combat mosquitos, the creation of a news and information website aimed towards local audiences in Maghreb, and the construction of a maternal and pediatric care ward in Uganda. (84) From a Western perspective, many find it difficult to imagine how these magnanimous efforts could be construed as anything but a genuine display of US altruism. However, the reality is that many of these activities produced “at best suspicious reactions, and, at worst, elaborate conspiracy theories … that can have a profound impact on the way African militaries and individuals perceive and interact with American military personnel and policy makers.” Those who understand the checkered past the American government has on the continent, with its Cold War propping up of dictators while overlooking egregious human rights violations, find it less difficult to see how AFRICOM “couldn’t be viewed as anything other than simply the latest iteration of neo-imperialist engagement by yet another bunch of shady, secretive white men sporting khakis, polo shirts, and crew cuts.”
The question at hand is not should the United States be engaged in these kinds of operations. As the wealthiest nation in the world, foreign assistance is not only a critical instrument of American’s soft power, but also a moral responsibility. Rather, the question is what are the effects of a message of peace and cooperation being delivered by our armed forces? The medium through which a message is delivered has a significant impact on how that message is received. John F. Kennedy, it is widely believed, would probably not have won the presidential election in 1960 had it not been televised. Seeing the man is what convinced people to agree with him. That same line of thought can be transferred to the idea of the militarization of foreign policy. If soldier comes to you door to deliver a message, the message will sound very different than if a civilian came to your door and delivered the same message. The medium through which the message is deliver matters. What good does building a school do, if your child was accidentally killed in a raid by the same person building that school? Is it possible to receive a message of peace and cooperation from the same person who may have recently bombed your village?
As a nation, we harbor deep respect and admiration of our men and women in the armed services. From an American perspective, it is hard to imagine how one could see an American soldier in uniform and feel anything but secure and protected. In addition to that, our military often appears to be one of the only effectively functioning institutions within our government. It is no wonder we are so addicted to investing in it. If we have the finest, most well equipped military in the world, how can we not be safe? Immense investment in the military has given us the finest, most well equipped all-volunteer force in the history of the world. It is the best and most expensive tool our government has, but it is the wrong tool to counter many of todays most intractable problems. The militarization of our foreign policy is costing trillions of dollars, and garnering diminishing returns.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s