Research: Publications

Ready, Aim, Foreign Policy

March 5, 2008 | Report

By Adam Isacson, George Withers, Lisa Haugaard, Joy Olson, Joel Fyke

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A joint report focusing on a current trend in U.S. foreign policy: the Defense Department's leadership of foreign military aid and training programs is increasing. The State Department, which once had sole authority to direct and monitor such programs, is ceding control. Moreover, changes to the U.S. military’s geographic command structure could grant the military a greater role in shaping, and becoming the face of, U.S. foreign policy where it counts—on the ground.

These changes may seem arcane. Yet they have the potential to change the face of the U.S. presence in the world by diminishing congressional, public and even diplomatic control over a substantial lever and symbol of foreign policy. They will undercut human rights values in our relations with the rest of the world and increase the trend toward a projection of U.S. global power based primarily on military might. Several recent developments indicated that this trend towards a greater Defense Deaprtment role in foreign policy is accelerating:

  • The Bush Administration endeavored to expand a pilot program, known as “Section 1206,” into a permanent, large-scale, global Defense Department military aid fund with few strings attached.
  • The State Department, rather than contesting this shift away from its authority, called for a restructuring of foreign aid that would happily cede its management of military aid programs to the Defense Department and reduce congressional oversight.
  • The U.S. military offered plans to restructure geographic commands to give them a greater role in coordinating U.S. civilian agencies’ activities. The U.S. Southern Command, for example, issued a new “Command Strategy 2016” envisioning a role for itself in coordinating other U.S. agencies, including non-military ones, operating in the region.

Congress and the next administration have the power to reverse this trend. The following policy recommendations would help reassert the guiding role of the State Department, Congress and the public over this important aspect of foreign policy. Unless we wish to see our military become even more prominently the face of U.S. foreign policy abroad, now is the time to act.

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