Defense, Development, Diplomacy Experts Debate DoD’s Role in DevelopmentJuly 18, 2008 By Rachel Weisshaar“The U.S. military recognizes that the use of conventional military force is of limited use” in advancing U.S. national security, said Reuben Brigety II, director of the Sustainable Security Program at the Center for American Progress (CAP), at a July 18 launch of his report Humanity as a Weapon of War: Sustainable Security and the Role of the U.S. Military. The tragedy of 9/11, as well as the setbacks experienced in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, emphasized to the U.S. defense community that although combat operations remain critical to its mission, the military must also strive to “prevent conflict from emerging in the first place” through activities that stabilize societies, economies, and governments.
Brigety cited efforts by the Combined Joint Task Force for the Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), the nascent U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), and the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) as examples of the U.S. military’s growing appreciation of how development assistance can help stabilize countries, build goodwill toward the United States, and increase U.S. understanding of local socio-political and economic conditions. In recent years, CJTF-HOA has dug wells, vaccinated livestock, and provided health services, while SOUTHCOM has a long track record of providing humanitarian assistance in Central and South America, particularly in the wake of natural disasters.
Although Brigety asserted that it is nothing “new for the military to be involved in addressing basic human needs,” he and his fellow presenters—Elisabeth Kvitashvili of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), James Schear of the Institute for National Security Studies, and Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations—agreed that the Department of Defense (DoD) has been undertaking an increasing share of the U.S. government’s development activities in recent years. As Brigety’s report notes, the “share of the U.S. government’s official development assistance, or ODA, spent by the Defense Department increased to 22 percent in 2005, the last year for which complete data is available, from 3.5 percent in 1998. Over the same time period, USAID’s share of ODA fell to less than 40 percent from 65 percent.”
Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made waves when he said that “the United States military has become more involved in a range of activities that in the past were perceived to be the exclusive province of civilian agencies and organizations. This has led to concern among many organizations…about what’s seen as a creeping ‘militarization’ of some aspects of America’s foreign policy. This is not an entirely unreasonable sentiment.”
At the CAP launch, Patrick asserted that one reason why the DoD has become increasingly involved in development activities—in peaceful regions as well as violent ones—is the “massive budgetary asymmetry” between the DoD and the State Department and USAID. Gates made a similar point: “America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long—relative to what we spend on the military, and more important, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world.”
Kvitashvili agreed that USAID is underfunded and understaffed, but said the solution was not having the military take the lead in development activities. She argued that the military—which, unlike USAID, is not staffed by development professionals—tends to engage in “feel-good, short-term, one-off” projects that do not lead to sustainable gains for local populations. Instead, she welcomed a stepped-up supporting role for the military in development activities.
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