April 1, 2007  

Why the military can’t do it all

Where are the other instruments of power?

Our nation was founded on the principle of civilian control of the military, but an imbalance has developed that tends to overemphasize military capabilities as instruments of national power. The current construct — especially between the State Department and combatant commanders — needs to be corrected.

Recent testimony by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proved once again that we as a nation have not embraced the full integration of the instruments of power within the construct of the diplomatic, information, military, economic, finance, intelligence and law enforcement (DIMEFIL).

At a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in early February, Rice said that more than 40 percent of nearly 300 State Department positions to be added in Iraq as part of the president’s latest strategy could not be filled and must therefore be filled by the Defense Department.

“Frankly, the agencies of the U.S. government cannot fill that many posts of those kinds of specialties” as quickly as necessary, Rice said. “And so, our agreement with the Department of Defense was that for a period of time … we would actually use reservists to fill those positions, because the military does have a reserve corps that has many of those specialties.”

The interagency has had since Sept. 11, 2001, to grow these capabilities but instead defaulted to the Defense Department to provide forces and equipment for the mission, even though we do not train agribusiness, business development and civilian-expert specialties, nor should we. How do we provide for the resources that will be necessary to fill these positions? Should we alter the training of core infantry soldiers or military civil engineering professionals? Maybe we build more Provincial Reconstruction Teams at the expense of an Army Brigade Combat Team or allow the Air Force’s aircraft to grow older to fill this gap? The answer should be: absolutely not!

We cannot as a nation or military give way to mission creep because the interagency was shortsighted or underfunded in fulfilling its charter. This is not a question of being inflexible in the face of modern challenges; it’s about knowing your own capabilities and core competencies, as well as those of your potential enemies or perceived threats. I am not taking aim directly at State or any other department or agency within the federal government. Instead, I am looking at the individual charters of each organization and correlating their current project resources and budget levels.

For example, the current budget request for the Defense Department is more than $387 billion, while State’s is about $9.2 billion and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) requests $8.3 billion. It should be clear that the only organization poised to make an impact with this accounting is the Defense Department. I would argue that providing State and the USAID increases in personnel and resources is necessary to balance the instruments of power and to put the right face on U.S. foreign policy.

Remember, the primary mission of our forces is to provide physical security for the nation by defending national and vital interests, while defeating all enemies, foreign and domestic. This shouldn’t change in any context or medium. Relevancy at this basic level is timeless. This fits perfectly within the construct of the instruments of power and the DIMEFIL. It provides the hard power we rely on when absolutely necessary. Unlike the tools used by a mechanic or a surgeon, these so-called “instruments” do not come with owner’s manuals or certification processes, although all are embedded with rules and restrictions set forth in the pages of the U.S. Constitution.

As I watched our commander in chief give the latest State of the Union address, I was impressed to see and hear each of our nation’s instruments of power was embedded throughout his speech, but I also find it difficult to understand why our civilian and military leadership continues to overemphasize the capabilities of the armed forces as we continue well beyond our core competencies. If we are to create a generalized military force, there are serious debates to be had. This isn’t a case of our military forces being incapable or unable to protect our nation and win its wars. It is about our nation’s leadership realizing that it must demand all components of the DIMEFIL be used in concert and ensuring the interagency does its fair share to reach national-level objectives that affect our national and vital interests. It is up to the leadership of the Defense Department to realize that we are not always the best tool for every situation and to ensure our leadership is fully aware of the consequences when the military instrument of power is brought to bear against all enemies, foreign or domestic.

The nation’s military forces are a precious and finite resource, and it is assumed they are only to be used in dire circumstances when clearly defined vital and national interests are at stake and after all else has failed to change the course. Again, the basic premise of the military forces of our nation is to provide physical security for the country. The latest joint doctrine summarizes this basic mission as deter, defend and defeat.

As a professional military officer, it wouldn’t be fair of me to criticize without providing a solution that could be implemented by our nation’s leaders.

In the past year, I have heard much debate on the necessity of legislating a follow-on to the Goldwater-Nichols Act for the interagency and for increasing jointness among the services. I propose a different tack. I recommend using the stand-up of U.S. Africa Command as a platform for integrating the interagency and instruments of power.

This effort should be resourced and led by State. The current situation elevates the combatant commanders to the historical level of viceroy by virtue of structure, budget and resources. I recommend the creation of a civilian counterpart to which the combatant commander is subordinate. Create a leader for each continent of the globe and make no exceptions. Within the continents there would be the equivalent of an interagency joint task force for each country, with the military component subordinate to the civilian ambassador or equivalent. This would assume that the civilian departments of the federal government have trained experts in their professions, and that the USAID is able to fulfill its charter with organic personnel and resources. The Defense Department would provide support and physical security for mission accomplishment as directed by its civilian leaders.

I would also recommend the integration of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Instead of the JCS being an adjunct adviser and coordinator to the combatant commanders, this newly formed staff would be the top Defense Department level within the chain of command of all military forces. Some may find this a return to the World War II general staff construct.

The final structural iteration would provide for all federal departments and agencies to restructure their organizations into this newly formed integrated global entity. So, when federal departments coordinate, the lines of authority and responsibility would be clearly delineated, and each organization would be able to reach its counterparts at the same level and breadth. This is why the stand-up of Africa Command is important to the future of our foreign policy.

Maj. Timothy T. Tenne is an Air Force C-17 pilot and an intermediate developmental education student at the Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Defense Department, Air Force or government agencies.