Reaction to Washington Post Article “What needs to change to defend America”

While the missions falling to today’s military lend themselves to increasingly “whole of government” solutions, the civilian elements of national power — what Gates has called the “tools of soft power” — are insufficient and have been imperfectly integrated into the process. We need greater civil operational capacity to deploy civilians alongside our military and to partner with international bodies, the private sector and nongovernmental organizations in a “comprehensive approach” to dealing with failed and failing states where our interests are threatened.

Integrating the civilian agencies of our government into these efforts (my emphasis) will require structural and cultural changes in the executive and legislative branches. We need a comprehensive strategic planning process for national security that begins at the top, integrates all elements of national power, and provides the requisite guidance to the relevant federal departments and agencies that must work together to confront this century’s challenges. Government structures fashioned in the 1940s to address the Soviet Union are disjointed and stovepiped. We need better strategic management, more holistic planning and a better crisis response for today’s world. This requires substantial change.”

From “What needs to change to defend America” by Stephen J. Hadley and William J. Perry, Washington Post, August 1, 2010.


In some ways the op-ed, “What needs to change to defend America” by Stephen J. Hadley and William J. Perry, was a deeply disappointing article.  The useful yet flawed quote above, which calls for new defense policy for the 21st century, requiring “substantial change” is only a promotion of consistently expanding money commitments to areas of defense that are representative of 20th century Cold War needs.

The authors point to the “five gravest potential threats” to our national security interests. Indeed all of them can’t be won by purely military force or weapons systems but rather by diplomatic and “soft-power.” Yet the article calls for the expansion of our navy which is already larger than that of the next dozen nations combined.  The article also argues for replacing aging inventories and equipment, yet much of this equipment has been found useless if employed in insurgency contexts.

The article does not address the unneeded build up of strategic weapons and delivery systems in which the U.S. has an unquestionable lead. It does mention the problem of overhead and procurement costs but does not name which systems should be eliminated. The article does rightly note the need for investment in our personnel.  It is these officers and enlisted men and women that need our support in their difficult tasks.

This Washington Post piece also correctly points to the “growing gap between the military’s force structure” — it’s size and inventory of equipment — and the increasingly complex and disaggregated missions assigned to it.”  Yet again, our challenges are more likely long-term.  We must further emphasize the application of soft-power.  This will be crucial, especially in addressing global issues such as poverty, failing states, bad governance, conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peace making. These issue areas are already all part of our civilian and State Department led missions.

One danger present in the article is portraying our military missions as the key focus while seeing civilian participation as an adjunct rather than the lead and more efficacious approach for over the horizon efforts to address a crisis.  Our first treatment of a potential conflict should be what many have been calling “preventive diplomacy” or “strategic diplomacy”.  In this case, added civilian resources are urgently needed. Yet Congress seems determined to cut the diplomatic budget before they cut any funding for the Department of Defense.  Yes, we need coordination through unified planning and goals in addition to some civilian ground contributions to conflict areas.  However this should not be the subordination of military mission to larger foreign policy goals which aim at creating an international environment that supports our security and prosperity.

Perhaps we need another “bipartisan panel” whose mandate is not to bless the DOD’s already developed Quadrennial Defense Review but to support another civilian diplomatic group to be, as this panel says, really  holistic and have a “comprehensive approach” beyond guns and “boots on the ground.”

By: Harry C. Blaney

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