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A new strategy but the same old resources?

April 28, 2009

Courtesy of the Department of Defense

Photo Courtesy of the Department of Defense

The Obama administration announced a new strategy last month promising a dramatic increase in the civilian effort in Afghanistan. However, just a few weeks later, the administration says it will actually have to turn to the military to fill hundreds of these new posts.

While described as a ‘stop-gap’ measure, this same refrain was heard throughout the last administration. Without an immediate concerted effort to build civilian capacity, this ‘stop-gap’ measure risks becoming a permanent feature of this administration’s policy toward Afghanistan—at great cost to the US government. These costs include the substantially higher costs of deploying military personnel versus civilian personnel, the costs to readiness incurred by using military personnel for non-military purposes, and the costs of missed opportunities as the United States seeks to ‘demilitarize’ its public face.

It is time to correct the imbalance between soft and hard power in the US government tool kit. The ability to send economists, lawyers, agricultural experts and health professionals abroad is a vital part of dealing with global affairs in the 21st century. It is unfortunate that this systemic problem is unresolved especially because civilian and military officials (including Secretary Gates) have called for increased civilian capacity.

Some modest progress has been made to rectify the situation, but it is only a start. Last year Congress provided $75 million for State’s Civilian Response Corps (S/CRS) and USAID stabilization and reconstruction activities. So far however, the Active branch of the Civilian Response Corps (ARC)—comprised of individuals from S/CRS, and seven other executive agencies—only includes eleven members. These numbers must increase exponentially if they are to reach the goal set by President Obama’s announcement last month. Whether or not there will be more Iraqs and Afghanistans in the future, a civilian capacity is necessary to accomplish the non-military aspects of our foreign policy.

Money alone, however, will be insufficient. Increased funding must happen together with organizational reform. The State Department is not designed to support the deployment of large number of civilians. Furthermore, without such organizational reform, it is also unlikely that Congress will have the confidence to give the State Department the magnitude of funding required. The President’s 2011 budget should include substantial increases in civilian capacity and it should do so together with a commitment and plan to build a ‘Next Generation’ State Department with the vision, institutional culture, and managerial talent and processes necessary to support the effective employment of those resources. In 1947, President Truman recognized the vital role the military would play in the strategic competition with the Soviet Union. He passed the National Security Act of 1947, which consolidated the Army, Navy, and newly created Air Force into a new entity that became the Department of Defense. Similarly, President Obama recognizes the central role civilian foreign policy bureaucracies must play in managing global affairs today and should move to strengthen these bureaucracies and equip them to play this role.

-Job C. Henning

PNSR, Senior Adviser

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