House committee presses State and Defense officials on lack of coordination on nation building

Lawmakers told State and Defense department leaders at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday that their lack of farsighted interagency coordination is blurring jurisdictions in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joints Chiefs Staff Chairman Adm. Michael G. Mullen defended their approach of letting Defense take the lead on foreign military training programs that have traditionally been funded by State.

In 2005, the Army made stability operations a core military objective to keep weak nations from collapsing. The unprecedented shift in military policy has since eclipsed State's traditional budgetary control of some key nation-building programs. In 2006, the Armed Services Committee asked the White House to reconsider whether Defense should be in budgetary control of training and equipping foreign forces and providing stabilization aid instead of State's Foreign Military Financing program.

"That you're both back here today in support of greater authority for the Defense Department would indicate that the administration has not taken the hint," said committee chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo. He said that State should lead foreign assistance projects and that changing missions on the battlefield should not drive long-term solutions.

"The long-term answer must reflect an integrated approach to foreign assistance," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., "and not simply a shift on those types of missions to U.S. military forces and therefore an additional draw on funding from [Defense Department] coffers."

The 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, sections 1206 and 1207, temporarily blended State and Defense foreign military assistance activities to fund Global Train and Assist programs for foreign police and military officers in Iraq and Afghanistan and later in Algeria, Indonesia, Thailand, Yemen and others. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency controls that budget. In his testimony, Gates called on Congress to make the programs permanent and increase Global Train and Assist budgets from $300 million to $750 million, as requested in the 2007 Building Global Partnership Act. The legislation will expire at the end of this fiscal year.

"It allows Defense and State to act in months, rather than years," said Gates, who added that the two programs are necessary to shore up foreign armies quickly and prevent the collapse of weak nations.

But because Defense controls the purse, State has to rely on DoD's budget to fund its own foreign military assistance projects. Since 2006, the Pentagon has transferred $100 million per year to State "to bring civilian expertise alongside the military" in stability operations, said Gates. He said that funding should be increased to $200 million. State's programs have helped train and equip Lebanese police, support stability in Haiti and work with Defense to train 75,000 new non-U.S. peacekeepers worldwide.

Congress members said they were concerned that the State Department, hobbled by staffing and budgetary cutbacks in the 1990s, lacked the expertise to lead foreign assistance programs.

State and Defense need "holistic strategies" to fight terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Skelton. Despite the heightened need for agency integration since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he said, national security mechanisms have been virtually unchanged since the Cold War.

"Where [new mechanisms] do exist, they are usually ad hoc efforts of those directly engaged in the challenge of the moment," said Skelton, "and not the result of a deliberative process designed to achieve a unity of effort that emerges as a natural product of government function."

While defending their ad hoc approach, Rice, Gates and Mullen acknowledged that thoughtful agency integration was crucial to national defense and the complex military realities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We simply didn't have a civilian institution that could take on the task for providing the stabilization," said Rice.

State's staffing and budget problems forced military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan to take the lead on stability operations that would be performed better by civilian experts, noted Gates. Mid-level officers lacked the expertise to address deteriorating conditions in both countries, Rice added. Both State and the Agency for International Development were crippled by reduced staffing after a post-Cold War drawdown, she said, and struggled after Sept. 11. She called for 1,100 new Foreign Service officers and 300 new AID officers in State's fiscal 2009 budget.

Gates, Rice, and Mullen insisted that Defense's expanded lead role in stability operations was necessary.

"The Department of Defense would no more outsource this substantial and costly security requirement to a civilian agency then it would any other key military mission," said Gates, who added that the military's authority and funding should reflect that reality. "On the other hand, it must be implemented in close coordination and partnership with the Department of State."

Asked how State and Defense were changing the historic lack of interagency cooperation, Gates noted that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had forced mid-level officers to seek help outside traditional channels.

"Instead of DoD building walls to keep the other agencies off our turf," he said, "the military has been begging practically for greater involvement by not just the State Department, but the Justice Department, Agriculture, Treasury and various other departments of government."

The State Department's new Civilian Stabilization Initiative intends to bring that support to nation-building projects, said Rice, which could be deployed alongside the military or alone. To adjust to sudden international crises, three kinds of civilian support would be available: an active federal corps made up of diplomats and other civil servants to be deployed to a conflict zone within 48 to 72 hours; a standby corps of federal employees that could mobilize within two months; and a reserve corps of private sector and local government specialists that could educate foreign nations in the basics of democratic government.

"It is never going to be possible to keep within the environment of the State Department … the full range of expertise that one needs," said Rice, underscoring the necessity of a civilian reserve corps made up of city planners, justice experts and police trainers that could go to Haiti or Liberia.

"We are now ready to put that capacity in place," said Rice. "We have requested $248.6 million for the construction of that corps."

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