Opinion

A new approach to our national security

When world leaders arrived in New York last week for meetings on the Millennium Development Goals at the United Nations, the President said that our “national security strategy recognizes development as not only a moral imperative, but a strategic and economic imperative.”  Those of us with military backgrounds agree.

Three years ago, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates caught Washington off-guard when he talked about this very subject and called for a rethinking of national security, a shift toward a closer working relationship between our military and civilian-led foreign policy professionals.

The Secretary’s call to recast America’s power is the right way to go.  As our military enters a new phase of operations in Iraq, and a new focus on the complexity of Afghanistan, it is time to call upon all three of the main tools of statecraft — defense, diplomacy and development — to complete these missions.

The approach we are calling for is reflective of the broader military community.  Just this week, a new poll of military leaders, both active duty and retired, was released showing that almost 90 percent agree that a strong military alone is not enough to protect America and that we need to use the tools of diplomacy and development to achieve our national security objectives.

Over 70 percent of our military leaders say they know from first-hand experience on the ground the value effective diplomacy and development assistance brought to their work.  That’s why 83 percent call humanitarian tools like food assistance, and health, education, and economic development along with diplomacy important to our national security.

The United States has been at war for nine years, and we have all rightly supported the outstanding men and women of our armed forces. Our government has tasked them with providing security, and now our diplomats and development experts are there to finish the job and help provide a lasting peace.

Throughout my military career, I have fought to protect American values and interests.  From my experience in the Air Force, I know protecting America is not just defending a bridge or controlling air space.  Commander after commander in Iraq and Afghanistan have clearly stated that many of the problems which have motivated the violence in those nations are political, cultural and economic, and that military action alone will not bring peace.

What does contribute to peace and stability?  It is active diplomacy, economic development, education for young girls and boys; it is the slow, quiet work of conflict resolution.  It takes a trained professional cadre of development and diplomatic experts to work on civil society, health, transportation, communication and economic development.  Just as we have embraced our soldiers, sailors and airmen, it is time to empower the State Department, USAID, and our civilian-led engagement overseas.  These civilian patriots, brave men and women living and working in harm’s way, deserve our respect and support.

The civilian side of our policy is underfunded, understaffed, and underappreciated.  We must match our military might with a vigorous diplomatic and development effort worthy of the enormous global challenges facing our nation today.  We have to support the hard work of our troops by giving them reinforcements from their civilian counterparts with core competencies in diplomacy and development.

This is a bi-partisan concern and a bi-partisan challenge.  We must view our civilian operations as vital to our national security and provide them with the resources they need.  This comprehensive approach will better protect our nation.

As warriors, as veterans, as citizens — those of us who have served in the military are asking Members of Congress to make good on their support for the troops and change vectors for a smarter approach to world leadership.

General Wald served as the Deputy Commander of the U.S. European Command from 2002 to 2006.  He is co-chair of Veterans for Smart Power with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.