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US Military Strategy Goes European

While many US (and European) pundits criticize the European countries for a lack of military hard power or even ridicule German and other soldiers as armed social workers, the Pentagon is increasingly focusing on humanitarian missions, writes The Boston Globe:

Having learned the limits of force in Iraq and Afghanistan, US military strategists are rewriting decades-old military doctrine to place humanitarian missions on par with combat, part of a new effort to win over distrustful foreign populations and enlist new global allies, according to top commanders and Pentagon officials. The Defense Department is implementing a series of new directives to use the American arsenal for more peaceful purposes even as it prepares for war, including a little-noticed revision this year to a document called "Joint Operations," described as the "very core" of how the military branches should be organized. The effort illustrates a growing recognition that, to combat radical ideologies and avert future wars, the Pentagon must draw more heavily on its deep reserves of so-called soft power.

Dan Drezner notes that the US military does not want this responsibility, but is stepping up because no other agency possesses either the resources or the willingness to act. He also blames this development on how the foreign policy budget is authorized:

Congressmen are happy to authorize more defense spending, because that's easier to justify to their constituents, particularly those constituents whose livelihoods are tied into the military.  Authorizing civilian spending on foreign policy, however, just looks like a handout to other countries - it's much easier for Congress to say no to that authorization, and look fiscally prudent in the process.


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John in Michigan, USA on :

This isn't the US military becoming more European. This is the US military taking over some of the functions of a dysfunctional State Department that failed to anticipate the needs of the post-Cold War world, and then, failed to anticipate the needs of a post-9-11 world. The US military had some failures in these areas as well, but they have done a much better job of recognizing their failures and taking corrective action. The Boston Globe article promotes the simplistic stereotype that the US prefers soft power and ignores soft power; to a lesser extent, it also promotes the opposite stereotype about Europe. Neither stereotype is particularly useful in this case.

Pat Patterson on :

This great change is somewhat based on the Boston Globe noticing that the US military has participated and actually planned for humanitarian missions recently. Yet seem completely oblivious to the fact that the US has used the military in this manner since the founding of the country. One of the earliest examples was in the USMC seizing the Falkland Islands in the 1820's and leaving behind a school and a pier that were used for decades by the Falklanders. The main reason this piece seems wishful thinking is that the wholesale changes mentioned by Bender in the Joint Operations Handbook consists of one whole page out of 278 and which is mainly codifying the ability of the services to conduct joint operations with designated countries, treaty groups and aid groups unless those goals contradict the basic laws of the US and the USCMJ. In other words establishing a legal framework in case some of the usual suspects go to court to block these types of deployment. And as to emulating the Europeans in soft power I would ask who got to Indonesia first, the armed to the teeth Australians and the US. While one of the prides of European soft power, France's Clemenceau and her escorts got as far as the Suez and then turned around. Soft power may be more pleasing to contemplate but unless the hard power is there to actually pick up and take the workers and the equipment then it's useless. Much like those very nice water purification units that the Canadians found they couldn't get to Indonesia for weeks because they did not have long range heavy air transport and had to wait to rent space on Cold War leftover Antunovs owned by The Ukraine. And they had to pay COD which under the former Liberal government of Paul Martin had a surprisingly difficult time in budgeting.

John in Michigan, USA on :

"Authorizing civilian spending on foreign policy, however, just looks like a handout to other countries - it's much easier for Congress to say no to that authorization, and look fiscally prudent in the process" I don't think this statement by Drezner explains much. People who object to US taxes spent on foreign handouts, don't suddenly think it is OK if the military does it. It seems to me they would object either way, wouldn't they?

quo vadis on :

It's rather presumptuous to refer to soft power as essentially European. The post-WW2 western world was in large part created by US application of soft power. I can understand how Europeans might miss US soft power since they usually dismiss it as the colonist power paying off its client regimes.

SC on :

Perhaps apropos is the following item describing US Coast Guard deployments to the coasts of Africa. Those who've already commented can make of this what they will.

Pat Patterson on :

That sounds something like my first cruise as a Coastie which years earlier, as a teenager, I had assumed would be in a storm rescuing sinking ships but ended up as on of the pickets to keep "curious" North Vietnamese patrol boats and frigates from getting anywhere near the capital ships that the US had deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin. Funny the coast we watched never really looked like California or even the Aleutians for that matter. And most of us complained often and loudly that this was not what we signed up for until it was even more loudly pointed out that we had sworn an oath to defend the Constitution and to obey lawful orders. And according to the CPOs the "...F****** VC were p****** on the Constitution" and that LBJ could send us to the moon because he was the CinC.

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