National security rests on civilian shoulders

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Few have had the opportunity to lead our country’s uniformed services. We are proud to have done so, and humbled by the countless sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. Their efforts have placed our security on a solid foundation.

In today’s increasingly complex security environment though, the civilian tools of development and diplomacy are equally vital to our national security. The tough transnational challenges that burden many countries of the world—and, in turn, the United States—will not be met by force alone.

Collaboration between development, diplomacy, and defense is essential for rooting out terrorism, extending legitimate governments in failing states, and reinforcing the values that America shares with the world. Recent successes include rescue and relief efforts to restore stability in Haiti following the devastating earthquake, cooperative responses to the H1N1 flu, and diplomatic initiatives to better control nuclear materials. Now, more than ever, our military depends on having strong civilian components of national power.

A robust budget for development, diplomatic, and humanitarian activities makes this collaboration possible. A bipartisan group of 247 members of Congress underscored this fact in a letter to the President last December in which they urged him “to request a robust FY 2011 International Affairs Budget that will reflect the importance of diplomacy and development—alongside defense—as key pillars of our national security.” They recognize why this mere 1.4 percent of the entire federal budget is so important to our national security.

Congress drew this insight in part from the Pentagon’s top leaders. Our government needs to “act with unity, agility, and creativity,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted in a November 2007 speech at Kansas State University. Doing so “will require considerably more resources devoted to America’s non-military instruments of power.” Admiral Mike Mullen, America’s top military officer, echoed this point at the same venue last month, noting that “U.S. foreign policy is still too dominated by the military, too dependent upon the generals and admirals who lead our major overseas commands.” As recent leaders of uniformed services, we agree wholeheartedly.

Last week, we joined nearly 50 retired three- and four-star generals in signing a letter to Congress urging full support for the part of the budget that funds these vital development and diplomatic activities. Our letter emphatically labeled the International Affairs Budget “a fundamental pillar of US national security and foreign policy.” Fully funding it will extend our diplomatic and development efforts to overcome terrorism, solidify weak states, and maintain international stability by responding to urgent humanitarian needs, advancing human rights and freedoms, and promoting sustainable economic growth.

This understanding of the importance of development and diplomacy alongside a strong defense is shared throughout the entire officer corps. Eighty-eight percent of officers in a July 2009 survey agreed that “a strong military alone is not enough to protect America; we also need to improve diplomatic relations and do more to promote stability in the world.” Another 63 percent said that they have personally experienced the benefit of non-military tools in making their military assignments more effective or more efficient—including 72 percent of those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Supporting our troops hinges, in part, on complementing their work with that of civilian diplomats and aid workers.

To accomplish this, we need a better, stronger more coordinated strategy between our civilian and military tools. Right now there are efforts under way at the National Security Council, the State Department and between Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Clinton looking at these issues. In order to truly accomplish this goal, though, more resources are needed.

Our country faces imposing financial challenges, and we know that this budget cycle will force many tough choices. Yet echoing the 247 members of Congress, as well as Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, we call on Congress as a whole to prioritize international affairs and defense spending equally. Our national security and prosperity truly requires it.

General Michael W. Hagee, USMC (Ret.), was the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps from 2003 to 2006, and Admiral James M. Loy, USCG (Ret.), was the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard from 1998 to 2002. They are co-chairs of the National Security Advisory Council of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.