This article was written by two Fall 2011 Fellows in PSA’s Congressional Fellowship Program. All CFP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Fellows that were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.
Guns, Butter, And Band-Aids: A Three-Tiered Approach to Foreign Policy
In the early hours of a tropical morning in January 2010, the Baltimore-based U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort docked two kilometers off the coast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti equipped with military, U.S. Public Health Service, nongovernmental organization, and international organization personnel ready to respond to the raw wounds of the island nation still trembling from a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that had struck only days earlier. Despite initial doubts from the Pentagon that the ship was needed as another member of a swiftly-deployed fleet of similarly-equipped Navy and Marine vessels to the island, the U.S.N.S. Comfort quickly became a household name for U.S. military relief efforts due to the ship’s remarkable capability to quickly provide wounded Haitians a stable, secure place to receive desperately needed medical care. Not to be understated were the colossal efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development. This agency was designated to spearhead the U.S. intergovernmental agency response to the tragedy, which deployed disaster assistance personnel within a day of the crisis’ occurrence and continues to rebuild Haiti nearly two years later. Monitoring on-the-ground developments in Haiti, the U.S. Department of State preserved its strong tradition of diplomacy with the Haitian government and the international community; thereby assuring the distressed country that it had an ally in its long fight to recover, rebuild, and thrive.
The confluence of missions on the ground in Haiti reflects the latitude of the U.S. military, diplomatic, and humanitarian aid communities that ultimately advance overall U.S. goals in a positive light. Prior to the disaster, the U.S. gave over $200 million through USAID to Haiti in FY 2009. In FY 2010, the U.S. gave Haiti over $350 million through USAID and $450 million through DOD. Additionally, the U.S.N.S. Comfort’s response to the earthquake was not its first trip to the island, having stopped there in April 2009 en route through Latin America on another humanitarian mission. During an emergency, our military has the ability to respond instantaneously and provide a secure working environment for humanitarian assistance to occur. Without trusted diplomatic relations, the Haitian government wouldn’t have known who to help lead them toward normalcy. Even in non-emergency situations, U.S. foreign aid ensures continuity of leadership so that when crises do occur, the world looks to the U.S. as the Haitian government did in its time of catastrophe.
Crises like the earthquake in Haiti emphasize the critical role foreign aid has in a robust national security agenda that is earnest and proactive through a well-rounded approach, and not a reactionary, single-approached strategy. Unfortunately, cutting foreign aid has become a catchphrase proposal in conversations about solving our country’s debt and deficit crisis. In a tight budget environment, this notion can be appealing. Why continue to send funds overseas that could be used to better the lives of Americans at home? This, however, is a short-sighted solution to a multi-pronged problem. Foreign aid is an investment in the present and the future. The solution is not to cut foreign aid simply because it holds a line on the national checkbook; rather, the key rests in finding common operational themes with the military, diplomatic, and development communities to ensure our foreign aid dollars are maximized, our values are promoted abroad, and our leadership maintains its trustworthiness.
By having our military, diplomacy, and humanitarianism complement each other, the U.S. can achieve not only the goals of both the military and foreign policy, it can come together to provide a platform for the U.S. to do more globally. This is far easier said than done. Operationally, the military, diplomatic, and foreign aid communities have experienced turf wars over competing foreign policy objectives. The military’s inherent role is to defend the country while the foreign aid community’s objective is to enhance quality of life. Diplomacy remains the chief non-coercive method to advance U.S. interests overseas; however, the field has experienced deepened ties to both defense and foreign aid since September 11, 2001 that don’t particularly please members of the defense or aid communities.
Still, foreign aid as national security is here to stay, and this point has been acknowledged and supported by our military leadership. On June 9, 2011, then CIA Director and our current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in his confirmation hearing to the Senate Armed Services Committee, testified that foreign aid through education, agriculture, health, and justice programs are assets in the national security agenda. Specifically addressing the acquisition of weapons from terrorist groups in Pakistan, Secretary Panetta stated, “I know the U.S. Department of Defense is our primary military weapon in terms of securing weapons, but if we don’t follow it up with these other important assets, we will never be able to fully secure these countries.” U.S. national security is not simply our military capacity; it is our value-projection through diplomacy and humanitarianism, without which, the globe will come to fear and distrust the U.S.
Any time an event of such magnitude to destabilize an already weak society occurs, like the humanitarian emergency in Haiti or even the sociopolitical uprisings in Libya, the U.S. must consider the interests it has at stake on the ground because intervention into every emergency is not feasible. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell outlined a rubric against which defense, diplomatic, and development officials can determine whether a situation is worth intervention in what is termed the “Powell Doctrine.” The core aspects of the Powell Doctrine include an accurate determination that vital national security interests are in jeopardy, an analysis of risk, consequence, and cost, a clearly-defined and attainable objective and a strategy to achieve that objective to ultimately avoid an endless engagement, and the strength of support at home and abroad. These decisions cannot—and should not—be made by one branch of national security and foreign policy communities.
Despite the stark differences between the three extensions of foreign policy, there is common ground to be found. Military personnel can provide security in an unstable situation for diplomats, aid workers, and American citizens caught in a crisis. At times, military personnel can even engage in distributing relief aid and supplies if the situation warrants, and they can do so indefinitely should the stability of a situation call for this commitment. The military ensures speed of access because it has the equipment needed to enter a situation quickly. Diplomacy, however, is contextual in nature. Diplomats specialize in understanding the culture, society, and general environment of a country and work tirelessly to ensure the preservation of congenial relations with foreign governments. Diplomats can facilitate on-the-ground activity not only with their U.S. counterparts but also with other governments and their counterparts in those bodies.
Development workers possess the strength of longevity, ensuring action on the U.S. core values with the citizens of a foreign country. Development workers are flexible and motivated by the results they see on the ground, ensuring that U.S. values are understood and promulgated. Ultimately, the military has the resources to create stability, diplomats have the knowledge to provide stability, and development workers possess the stamina to preserve stability.
The cases of Libya and Haiti show how the U.S. is developing a humanitarianism policy as a means to promote its values and assert its leadership abroad. While this may not entirely be the planned course of action, it is the direction in which the U.S. is heading. There are three main ways for the U.S. to ensure the success of this route and recognize the strength of each foreign policy community. First, the U.S. must maintain its foreign aid program. Foreign aid allows the U.S. to proactively seek a stable world instead of being reactive with force. Problems are increasingly becoming global in nature and do not always require the military to solve. Further, it is expensive in both terms of human lives and money. Second, the U.S. must maintain its force projection. Force projection allows the U.S. to maintain its values while keeping the ability to act on them swiftly if needed. Finally, the U.S. needs to encourage a more engaged civil society through strengthened funding for the Peace Corps, Foreign Service, and nongovernmental organizations. Without an engaged civil society, the support for U.S. foreign policy dries up and discourages the public and international support needed to intervene in a crisis.
Among our most pressing national security priorities, leadership is one of the most critical. If the U.S. is going to intervene when our values of democracy, human rights, equality, and opportunity are at stake, we need to show an example of leadership at home. Furthermore, a foreign policy that doesn’t give equal respective weight to the contributions of its three tiers is destined to chip away at the world’s perception of the U.S.’s capabilities to lead. The long-term cost of a destabilized world in which disengagement is the currency between nations is higher than the cost of current U.S. investments in foreign aid, which account for less than 1% of our federal budget.