SecDef Comments this weekend

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates spoke this past weekend at CSIS. Below are some highlights. Comments to follow in posts that refer back to this. Yes, I’m posting this so I can cite myself later. Isn’t the web wonderful?

On Reconfiguring our National Security for the 21st Century

Our government has always been plagued by turf wars and stovepipes and conflicts over personality and ideology. During the Cold War, there were military, intelligence, and diplomatic failures in Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Granada, and many others. Getting the military services to work together has been a recurring battle that has had to be addressed time and again. But despite the problems, we understood that the nature of conflict required us to develop and support key capabilities and institutions and, over time, devote the necessary resources, people and money, and get enough things right while maintaining the ability to recover from mistakes along the way. I suggest this is our task today.

To this end, the Department of Defense will soon award a contract to an independent, non-partisan, non-profit group to produce a study that in effect tries to answer the question I posed at Kansas State. If we were to rewrite the National Security Act of 1947 for the 21st century, what would it look like? What new institutions, arrangements, and authorities would it create? I look forward to seeing the result, which perhaps might form the basis of legislation or at least debate in the next administration.

On State versus Defense capabilities

But the problem is not will; it is capacity. In many ways, we are still coping with the consequences of the 1990s, when with the complicity of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, key instruments of American power abroad were reduced or allowed to wither on the bureaucratic vine. The State Department froze a hiring of new Foreign Service officers for a period of time. The U.S. Agency for International Develop dropped from a high of 15,000 permanent staff during the Vietnam War to about 3,000 now.

And then there was the U.S. Information Agency. At one point, its directors included the likes of Edward R. Murrow. It was split into pieces and folded into a corner of the State Department. Since September 11th, and through the efforts of first, Colin Powell, and, now, Condi Rice, the State Department has made a comeback. Foreign Service officers are being hired again and foreign affairs spending has about doubled since President Bush took office.

But shortfalls persist. A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with several dozen U.S. ambassadors who were visiting Washington for a Chiefs of Mission conference. The speaker who preceded me on the program was the Director General of the Foreign Service, the State Department’s chief personnel officer. I’m told that his briefing was sobering, bordering on grim, of unfilled billets across the word due to shortages of mid-level and senior-level officers, caused by earlier hiring freezes and the staffing requirements of Iraq.  Additionally, about 30 percent of AID’s foreign service officers are eligible for retirement, valuable experience that cannot be contracted out.

This is why I believe we need to think about America’s investment in foreign affairs on a fundamentally different scale. It is useful to remember that the amount of national treasure it would take to fund a major boost in civilian capabilities is relatively small. In a week and a half, I will go to Capitol Hill to present the fiscal year 2009 Defense budget. It’s no big secret that the total will be somewhere around a half a trillion dollars. The total foreign-affairs request last year was $36 billion, about what the Pentagon spends on health care. Another comparison – the Army is planning to add about 7,000 more soldiers in 2008 to the active Army. It’s part of a multi-year expansion. In pure numbers, that is equivalent to adding the entire U.S. Foreign Service to the Army in one year.

Beyond filling current voids in staffing and operations, a permanent sizable increase in the ranks of foreign service, if done properly, would have significant institutional benefits in terms of State’s capacity and its influence vis-à-vis other agencies.

To give you a military example, a certain percentage of officers, even in time of war and when the force is stretched, are always enrolled in some kind of advanced training and education and leadership, strategy, or planning at the staff and war colleges and at graduate school. No such float of personnel exists for the Foreign Service. The same is true of planning. Between the joint staff, the services, and various commands, the military has thousands of officers dedicated to planning in some form. That kind of capacity does not exist on the civilian side of the government.

Despite the relatively modest amounts of money involved, getting the additional resources and authorities for soft power is not an easy sell politically. It simply does not have the built-in, domestic constituency of defense programs. As an example, the F-22 aircraft is produced by companies in 44 states; that’s 88 senators. (Laughter.) However, within the senior ranks of the military, a real constituency does exist for strengthening the non-military tools of national power. Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff once said as Chief of Naval operations that he would hand over a portion of his budget to the State Department in a heartbeat, assuming it was spent in the right place.

On Reconstruction and Stabilization

Ever since General Winfield Scott led his army into Mexico in the 1840s, virtually every major deployment of American force has led to a longer military presence to maintain stability. General Eisenhower, when tasked with administering North Africa in 1942, wrote, “The sooner I can get rid of all of these questions that are outside the military in scope, the happier I will be! Sometimes, I think I live 10 years each week, of which at least nine are absorbed in political and economic matters.”

During World War II, the Army even established a school of military government whose students played a key role in post-war Germany and Japan. And after much of the military establishment said “never again” following Vietnam, U.S. Armed Services found themselves again policing and rebuilding places like Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, and, now, Afghanistan and Iraq. The requirement for the U.S. military to maintain security, provide aid and comfort, begin reconstruction, and stand up local government and public services will not go away. At least in the early phases of any conflict, military commanders will no more be able to rid themselves of these tasks than Eisenhower was.

As a former U.N. Secretary General once said about peacekeeping, “It is not a job for soldiers, but only soldiers can do it.” I told an Army gathering last year that it is hard to conceive of any country challenging the United States directly in conventional military terms for some time to come. We can expect these so-called asymmetric operations, messy, protracted struggles without clear battle lines or exit strategies to be a mainstay of the 21st century battlefield.