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US Foreign Policy: "It's All Power, No Influence"

While many Americans criticize Germany and other European countries for not spending enough on defense, there seem to be more and more Americans, who criticize the huge US defense budget, which is not only much much bigger than the combined budgets of half a dozen US enemies and allies, but also huge compared to other foreign policy instruments.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for instance calls for more money and effort to "soft power" tools, including communications, because the military alone cannot defend America's interests around the world. (See Atlantic Review post "Al Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America").

Today, James Carroll refers to Gates speech and writes in The Boston Globe (HT: David): "For US foreign policy, it's all power, no influence":

A MAN bit a dog last week. Not just any man, and not just any dog. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates decried the vast disproportion between America's annual investment in the Pentagon - something like $700 billion - and what is spent on the State Department - about $35 billion. That's less, Gates said in a speech in Kansas, than the Defense Department spends on healthcare. The total number of foreign service officers is about 6,600 - which is less, Gates said, than the number of military personnel serving on one aircraft carrier strike group.

And a for me even more shocking comparison was quoted in FP Passport: "There are substantially more people employed as musicians in Defense bands than in the entire foreign service," says David J. Kilcullen, a senior advisor to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.

I know, why Germany spends comparatively little on defense: a) A long history of starting the wrong wars, b) domestic priorities (unemployment, ageing society etc), c) less fear of terrorism than in the US, and d) belief in soft power, especially in the stabilization effects of an ever expanding EU.

But why is the US spending comparatively little on regular foreign policy, including public diplomacy? Why is the Pentagon budget and staff sooo much bigger than the State Department budget and staff? Why is hard power considered soo important?

Which country's policy is more short-sighted and could prove to be more of a problem in the coming years? Germany's or America's?


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SC on :

Interesting observations but I think Carroll poses a false choice. Ask yourself this: Would Carroll support a defense budget as it is accompanied by whatever he considers to be an appropriate increase in the budget for the foreign service? This is doable. Or, is his bigger concern the size of the defense budget. Notice too that he understates the numbers in the US foreign service by counting only "foreign service officers" - a specific category in the US foreign service. With all due respect to foreign service officers, I believe that there is more to the US foreign service than those so classified. Defense budgets have waxed and waned over many successive administrations, Democrat and Republican. But they have been large in the same relative terms you describe throughout that time. They, like the budgets for the foreign service, are a result of a political process, as you know. If it were politically popular to have a 700 billion dollar budget for the State Department and 35 billion dollar defense budget you can bet that this would be the case. If the American public, on average, views the function of State and Defense as protection of American interests generally or just "protection" specifically, then is the gap Carroll describes any surprise at all given the arc of history, from the American perspective, of the 20th century? And yes, of course I am well familiar with Eisenhower's warnings about the "military-industrial complex". The point is that the desire to slash defense budgets has always been temporary and increases when they've come have generally been popular. With the next Administration the defense budget may well again wane - but it will still be large in a relative terms. Joerg, you've raised the issue of American expectations of others, but Europe specifically, vis a vis relative contributions to mutual defense. I think, but don't know, that this has been with the underlying assumption of Americans "expecting" more. But I've always wondered about that. The American public has generally, not always, but generally, continued to support large defense budgets despite all the treaties and all the international organizations to which the US subscribes. If the American public, on average, views of the function of Defense and State as outlined in the paragraph above, then what does that tell you about the public's expectations?

Anonymous on :

I'm sure you would like to see a weaker America. So tell us we're evil for being so strong. (It's getting old, realy old.) With a weaker America, we'd have more peace, wouldn't we? :) And then what you parasites spend on defense might almost look legitimate, instead of pathetic, in comparisson.

Zyme on :

Wow that really is an interesting comparison. I wonder what american diplomats think about this difference in priority. "I know, why Germany spends comparatively little on defense: a) A long history of starting the wrong wars, b) domestic priorities (unemployment, ageing society etc), c) less fear of terrorism than in the US, and d) belief in soft power, especially in the stabilization effects of an ever expanding EU." It seems that all those reasons are fading. Reason a) disappears with time passing. Why else has a Einsatzführungskommando been constructed in 2001, the first Generalstab since ww2? On a symbolic note, we had a lot of cities here to chose as a suitable site. If our history still played a role, the headquarters would never have been built in Potsdam. So military tradition was not a con, but a pro! Reason b) is reduced by the reduction of unemployment. An ageing society effects all parts of public life, it cannot play a bigger role here than in any part else. c) is being corrected by Schäuble and Jung. And d) sounds nice, the rather expensive modernization projects as well as the careful efforts to keep domestic arms industries in german hands don´t really support it though.

John in Michigan, USA on :

I personally am reluctant to throw more money at the State Department because I think they don't have a strong sense of mission. Example: for better or for worse, the country decided to go on the offensive in 2003 against Saddam. The Pentagon (Dept. of Defense) understood this, and responded by actually behaving as if we were at war. The State Dept. did every task that is was asked to, but it didn't put its heart in it, so to speak. It never really got on a war footing. After Vietnam, the Dept. of Defense underwent several *major* transformations: From a drafted force to a voluntary force, and at the same time, it developed and refined the joint operations concept. This included many new technologies, and a change of orientation from being (I suppose you could call it) logistics-centric (WW II) to information-centric, while still having very strong logistics. The result is, in conventional, kinetic warfare, an American fighting unit (battalion, division, etc.) facing off against a similar unit from any other country in the world, will very likely win. The State Department cannot, in my opinion, make the same claim. Because America is powerful and has powerful allies, we do achieve diplomatic victories, but agent-for-agent, our State Department is routinely out-classed by other diplomatic services. Meanwhile, the State Department never really addressed the legacy of Vietnam. It never regained its faith in itself and in American. Even to this day, too often its first instinct is to apologize for American actions. Of course, when we do make mistakes, we should apologize, but that shouldn't be the only tactic we've got; better to not make mistakes or to force the opponent to make one and capitalize on it. Europe's diplomats do much more, sometimes even with fewer resources, and are are unapologetic in advocating and advancing their own, Euro-centric or internationalist programs. Most of this is based on my opinion or impression, feel free to educate me as needed. However, I would be willing to see a massive increase in the Dept. of State budget, if it meant we could eliminate the CIA and NSA as separate intelligence agencies. The US "intelligence community" leaks like a sieve, and as far as I can tell, mostly learns about what happens in the world the same way the rest of us do, by reading the damn newspaper. Failing agencies must be disciplined, and must know that even their existence is not guaranteed, unless they perform. @SC - Good point, the Dept. of Defense seems far better at pork barrel spending than the State Dept. I wonder if that is the nature of the beast (diplomacy doesn't require large domestic bases or capital-intensive R&D projects the way the military does), or if the Dept. of Defense is just better at spending pork than the State Dept.

SC on :

John, Yes, that's partly the point of my comment about budgets being subject to a political process. State has no local or state constituency that it benefits, to be sure. But I suspect a smaller percentage of the public sees the DoD budget as a matter of pork directly affecting themselves than say the budgets of the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Transportation, etc.. It's true that the domestic spending on defense industries is deliberately spread around quite a bit of the country, but . . . I'm pretty sure that there's a state agricultural agent in every county of the country. And if you want an education, just get a contractor working on civil projects supported by public funding to speak candidly about "how things work": a rare and entertaining pleasure I once had many years ago with a contractor working in and around Chicago. No, the general public's support of large budgets for DoD seems to me based on value it sees apart from the distribution of local pork. To me, support for large DoD budgets looks like a vote of no confidence in the efficacy of soft power for the purpose of defending the US or its interests. Perhaps the advocates of soft power have a bit of public diplomacy to attend to themselves.

Elisabetta B on :

My, my the locals seem a little touchy, don't they? I thought friends were allowed to criticise?,1518,522907,00.html.

joe on :

Well one reason off the top of my head why DOD has more personal and funding than STATE, is STATE does not have more than 100,000 of its personnel deployed in Europe for the purpose of providing European security. We all seem to have come to an agreement sometime ago that there are no threats to Europe and the sole purpose of these forces is to further US only interests. I for one wished these forces would be withdrawn and replaced by an appropriate number of STATE employees who could conduct public policy. This would align US power along the lines of Europe’s soft powe,r which is power that is considered in the halls of Europe to be superior.

SC on :

"Wow that really is an interesting comparison. I wonder what american diplomats think about this difference in priority." Zyme, One of the Vice Chancellor's for my university campus is a retired US foreign service officer. Having spoken with him in the past, I feel it safe to say that he would express dismay. I would expect the same from many others like him. But . . . I remember well some of the conversations I overheard among former FSO's who worked with State and USAID at a memorial service held in Washington, D.C. about 7 years ago now held in honor of former USAID official with considerable experience in South and Southeast Asia: How and for what the money is spent matters as much, if not more, than the amount spent.

John in Michigan, USA on :

@everyone: An alternative to a State Department that seems unwilling to dare to be great, would be so-called private diplomacy. There is an interesting article on Pajamas Media by a friend of mine, Rich Miniter, that discusses a recent example of private diplomacy, both the pros and cons. There is a long history of private or dilettante diplomacy in the US. There have been embarrassments, but also some spectacular successes. I suppose a better name would be citizen diplomacy. If done right, it would have some compelling advantages vs. the decentralized, jihadi information warfare machine. I would be interested to learn more about the history of citizen diplomacy in Europe. @joe "We all seem to have come to an agreement sometime ago that there are no threats to Europe and the sole purpose of these forces is to further US only interests" I disagree. True, there is no longer any realistic possibility of England, France, Germany, Italy, etc. fighting each other...but Russia is still very much a threat, particularly to Germany, Central Europe, Finland, etc. Today, Russia's military is falling apart, but in WW II they conquered half of Germany, starting from a position much weaker than they are today. Granted they got some aid from the other allies; but they didn't have the oil weapon back then... US forces remain in Europe because Europe is not willing to fully defend itself. Also, even if that changed, there would still be a very good case for NATO (or something like it) that would be a military alliance of democracies for general-purpose, mutual protection and supporting other, emerging democracies. And finally, yes, there are also purely selfish US reasons to keep forces in Europe. But those selfish US interests are roughly balanced by the selfish US interest in bringing those troops home or deploying them elsewhere, in my opinion.

Consul-At-Arms on :

I've quoted you and linked to you here:

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