Last week, at the National Guard Joint Senior Leadership Conference, Defense Secretary Gates was asked about the military’s role in development. His answer is telling. It offers an insider’s view of the military’s vision of itself in development. His response will likely be cited by policymakers and academics for years to come. Below is Secretary Gate’s answer in its entirety, emphasis is mine.
SEC. GATES: The Secretary-General of the U.N. many years ago, Dag Hammarskjold in referring to peacekeeping said, “It’s not a soldier’s job, but often only a soldier can do it.”
I think that there’s a question of sequencing here when we have — and it ties in with the capabilities we can bring — when the security situation still is not stable enough for civilians to be deployed. It seems to me what’s really important as we clear, hold and build that the build — that these are not sequential. We have to hold and clear or clear and hold, but we need the development assistance. We need money like the CERP funds [Commander's Emergency Response Program] in there not when security is completely established, but right after we’ve cleared.
We need people as General Petraeus did in Iraq, as soon as we’ve cleared an area literally the next day or the same day, we need somebody in there with some money and some capability that begins putting young men to work and putting a shovel or a broom in their hands instead of a gun. And it seems to me that’s often the situation where the Guard and the expertise in the Guard can provide the initial response in areas in Afghanistan until the security situation is stabilized enough for the civilians to come in.
Now, the truth of the matter is as I’ve said for almost two and a half years now, the civilian elements of our government that were expert in these areas have been neglected for a very long time. When I retired in 1993, the Agency for International Development had about 16,000 employees. It was an expeditionary agency. Most of those people had the kind of expertise in agricultural development, rule of law, governance, water systems, irrigation systems and so on. And they expected to be deployed to developing countries. They expected to live in primitive conditions. And they expected to have situations that were occasionally dangerous. And that was part of their career and that was part of what they wanted to do with their lives.
The Agency for International Development now has about 3,000 employees and it’s mainly a contracting agency. So we’ve lost that civilian capacity that played such an important role for us in the developing world all through the Cold War. And so I think that until, and it is beginning to change under both Secretary Rice and now under Secretary Clinton and with the support of two successive presidents and the Congress, the State Department is beginning to get the kind of funding that is necessary for — to rebuild these capabilities. But it’s still a ways in the future and, in my view, there has to be a role. There will be a role for us and particularly as one of the central themes in the QDR is the development of partnership relationships with other partner relationships with other countries so that we can help them build their capacity so we don’t have to send soldiers in there. Part of that will be helping them with some of their development and I think the partner relationships that exist between a number of our state Guards and these others countries and I will tell you ever time I meet with a minister of defense of a country where we have those kinds of relationships, they bring it up with me.
So I think that there will be an institutional role for the Guard in this arena, but I will tell you I don’t think it’s a function we should take over as a long-term significant mission of men and women in uniform. I think this is basically a civilian task and we ought to be there to help them. We ought to be there when we’re in a situation like Afghanistan where the security may not be as strong enough for civilians to go in, to have people in there working on agricultural development and so on as the first phase so that we aren’t waiting too long to begin showing people ways in which their lives can improve on a daily basis.
My own view is we need to be very cautious about some of the big projects that people think about for development. That reminds me of the way the Soviet Union did business. What we need and what works, in my view, is to do things that can be done quickly and that in a small village can show people that their lives have actually changed for the better by ISAF troops being there. And it can be a well. It can be an all-weather road for local farmers. It can be a little bridge. It can be a one room schoolhouse. You can do a lot of these small projects within the framework of the dollars that we have available. But the most important thing about them is that the Afghans see them and the local Afghans see their lives getting better because we’re there. The first stage of doing that, I think, can be done by our military forces and especially by the National Guard, but longer term, that mission has to go to the civilian side of the government.
Huge hat tip to Ink Spots.
Christopher R. Albon is a political science Ph.D. specializing in armed conflict, public health, human security, and health diplomacy.