Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called Monday for the U.S. government to commit more money and effort to “soft power” tools, including diplomacy, economic assistance and communications, because the military alone cannot defend America’s interests around the world.
In a speech at Kansas State University, the Pentagon chief forcefully advocated a larger budget for the State Department. Gates noted that military spending — even without war costs for Iraq and Afghanistan — totals nearly half a trillion dollars annually, compared with a State Department budget of $36 billion.
“We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen,” he said. “We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the years to come.”
Gates, who took over the top Pentagon job last December, said “based on my experience serving seven presidents, as a former director of CIA, as secretary of defense, I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use ‘soft power’ and for better integrating it with ‘hard power.’ ”
One priority is money, Gates said. He called for “a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security — diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action and economic reconstruction and development.”
Gates joked that “having a sitting secretary of defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of ‘man bites dog’ or, for some back in the Pentagon, blasphemy,” and he acknowledged that “it is certainly not an easy sell politically.”
The defense secretary also said the U.S. government must improve its skills at public diplomacy and public affairs to better describe the nation’s strategy and values to a global audience.
“We are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals,” he said. “It is just plain embarrassing that al-Qaida is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America.”
Gates expressed regret over decisions by previous administrations to cut the U.S. Agency for International Development and to abolish the U.S. Information Agency and divide its responsibilities among other offices.
The defense secretary urged the creation of “a permanent, sizable cadre of immediately deployable experts with disparate skills.” These people, he said, would be drawn from the civilian world — with expertise in such areas as agriculture, urban infrastructure and law — to work alongside the military and help rebuild and stabilize world trouble spots.
The State Department is working to build such a civilian response corps. At the same time, the State Department has struggled this year to fill its civilian contract positions for provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq and, indeed, to persuade enough Foreign Service officers to volunteer for duty there.