Military Officers Call for More Foreign Aid

Earlier in the week, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) released a poll that surveyed active duty and retired military officers for their views on non-military, development based foreign aid. The participants said, among other things, that keeping America safe shouldn't just be a job for the military: National security is about development and humanitarianism, too. The poll reveals a shifting mentality within the typically gun-ho U.S. military that began with the 2006 "surge" in Iraq.

According to the report, 89 percent of active duty and retired officers believe it's crucial to emphasize development and diplomacy initiatives in addition to military strength. Eighty-three percent of those surveyed cited the importance of non-military programs, like food assistance and health, education and economic-based development plans, as "fairly important" or "very important" in "achieving the country's national security objectives."

Fifty-nine percent said that increasing funding for non-military programs would help national security and military objectives, and another 59 percent say a decrease in funding would hurt our long-run security goals.rajiv shah usaid flickr.jpg
The message from the survey isn't new: international diplomacy and development are top priorities of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Department of State, and USAID. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen have also argued in favor of more support for USAID and the Department of State.

"We in the Obama Administration view development as a strategic, economic, and moral imperative," said Clinton at the Council on Foreign Relations on September 8. "It is central to advancing American interests - as central as diplomacy and defense. Our approach is not, however, development for development's sake; it is an integrated strategy for solving problems."

But while the poll's message isn't novel, what is new is the group voicing that message. According to Ambassador James Dobbins at the RAND Corporation, who served as a special diplomatic envoy in the Clinton and Bush administrations, the poll reflects the changing attitudes of a military that has seen near universal overseas experience. The deployment of so many American soldiers since the 2003 invasion of Iraq has exposed almost the entire military to overseas conflict.
"Now, throughout the armed forces, there's a more widespread understanding of information that once only experts understood," explains Dobbins.
That information boils down to this: the military can't secure a society alone. While military deployment can provide opportunities for change in conflict states, "the changes that make the deployment worthwhile are those that are brought about by non-military means, by people by whose expertise lies outside the military," Dobbins says. The military can impose a certain degree of security, but can't maintain stability without development-based civilian skills.   
But troops haven't always held this deep appreciation for humanitarian aid.

The intellectual history of the support stems from General Petraeus's relatively recent command in Iraq. In 2006, Petraeus faced a rapidly worsening Iraq war, and a tough realization: the war couldn't be won simply through force. He introduced a counterinsurgency strategy: a humanitarian, nation-building mission that proved that development work can effectively achieve military objectives. Petraeus spearheaded the construction of a new university -- the University of Mosul -- and helped jumpstart the political system, among a plethora of other projects.  

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Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation. A former Slate editorial assistant, she also previously wrote for and produced the Atlantic's International Channel.

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