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."
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.
But despite the arguable success of the counterinsurgency, and the tangible effects of humanitarian and development work, when USAID and the State Department ask for aid dollars, they often get turned away -- unlike the Pentagon.
"One of the things that Bob and I have talked about is a national security budget," Clinton said towards the end of the discussion. "Because I'll just say the obvious - it is really easy for him to get his budget and it's really hard for me to get our budget. "
Later, Gates admitted, "We are able to get money easier than State and AID," and discussed working cooperatively with the State Department. "We have a couple of sections in law in the Defense Authorization Act, Sections 1206 and 1207, that are basically - the money is in our budget, but it's basically dual-key -- the Secretary of State and I both have to approve these things -- these projects .... And that has worked very well. We have a counterinsurgency fund for Pakistan. We have several of these funds that the Congress has worked with us on to meet specific needs in the short term. They are -- I would say, though, they are inadequate to the need."
Some experts are hopeful that the voices heard in this new poll will finally get through to Congress. Perhaps Congress, always happy to approve military projects such as the $323 Joint Strike Fighter, will be willing to put some fraction of that money towards humanitarian aid and development, which the majority of military officers now see as just as important for promoting U.S. national security.
"Congress has heard this before, but I don't think they've heard it as loudly from the main constituency of the defense appropriations group -- the military," Dobbins says. "This poll probably adds some additional weight."
Andrew Exum, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a veteran, doubts that the poll will have a tangible effect on congressional appropriations. Still, he says, the results underscore the need to "stop stovepiping the international defense budget," and create a unified national defense budget, which would include elements of diplomacy, development defense and intelligence.
"U.S. military officers think about national security in a whole of government way," says Exum. "In that way, they are more advanced than the representatives and senators on Capitol Hill."
Image 1: USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in Haiti in January from USAID_IMAGES on Flickr.
Image 2: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from bethany.egan on Flickr.