By Michael Shank

The 43rd MÜNICH Conference on Security Policy, an annual February forum discussing security and foreign policy challenges in European and American relations, brought the latest chastisement of United States security policy, this time by the Germans. The overwhelming feeling was that the U.S. focuses too heavily on the number of troops on the ground and is weak on reconstruction and economic development. Not only is Germany right, but more disturbing is that America’s security modus operandi ironically spawns more insecurity than it eradicates, both at home and abroad.

Why is U.S. security policy so misaligned? Several reasons are worth mentioning but it begins with an insufficient interpretation of President Bush’s three “Ds” of security — defense, development and diplomacy — as articulated in the 2006 National Security Strategy. In short, the Bush administration neglects the last two and favors both in funding and in fervor the first. The 2008 defense budget requests nearly $500 billion of public funding, not including the nearly $200 billion required in supplemental bills, while the international affairs budget — which covers development and diplomacy — receives a meager $35 billion.

What does this mean for security quagmires like Iraq? It means that three days of U.S. defense spending in Iraq, $800 million, surpasses U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) entire annual operating budget, while three months of U.S. defense spending in Iraq, $24 billion, dwarfs the entire reconstruction budget for a country with current electricity levels lower than pre-invasion. Given the paltry contribution, it is no wonder U.S. initiatives in development and diplomacy fail to effectively deliver a security strategy.

But it is not just a funding issue; it is also an operational issue.

The development strategy, particularly in Iraq, is hogtied by military oversight and its affiliation with U.S. business. The former is problematic because antagonism towards U.S. troops automatically spoils potential reconstruction efforts, which quickly become targets for the insurgency. The latter is problematic because, as Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen discovered, Iraq’s top-down development strategy not only resulted in substantial unaccounted contractor spending but also prevented local ownership and the emergence of a sustainable economic infrastructure in Iraq.

Iraq’s development failures are symptomatic of a general lack of State Department operational capacity and commitment. The department’s single most effective development strategy in Iraq, USAID’s Community Action Program (CAP) received a fifty-percent cut in staffing and funding this year alone. CAP is now running at $50 million annually, despite its proven successes in building local infrastructure throughout Iraq. Furthermore, the department’s Office for the Coordinator of Reconstruction and Stabilization, propped up with a mere $100 million in project funding, continues to serve as a Washington after-thought rather than a legitimate seat at the reconstruction table.

But it is not just an operational issue; it is also an expertise issue.

The diplomacy strategy at the State Department is hampered by a significant lack of religious, linguistic, and cultural expertise. Until recently, much of Washington was unable to distinguish between Sunni and Shi’a theology or identify the Islamic sect orientation of al Qaeda or the Taliban. One wonders how State can effectively use diplomacy as a security tool when the religious expertise to understand Salafism, Qutbism, or other, simply does not exist on the payroll. Moreover, when only eight State employees master a level-five language proficiency in Arabic, one wonders how diplomacy is even possible when so much is lost in translation. If the U.S. is serious about diplomacy as a security strategy, then it must invest in the expertise necessary to ensure proper usage, otherwise failure is likely a predictable outcome.

But it is not just an expertise issue; it is also a political issue.

Development and diplomacy are too frequently tied to a political agenda. Pakistan’s development aid frequently depends on President Musharraf’s willingness to engage in a defense strategy against assumed Waziri operatives. Diplomacy with Iran is dependent upon de-escalation in the defense arena, specifically in nuclear enrichment. Somalia received neither diplomacy nor development prior to a military invasion due to U.S. protocol of non-negotiation with supposed al-Qaeda or Taliban operatives.

The three Ds of a national security strategy must be equipped with the tools and mandates necessary to operate independently of each other. Development and diplomacy must be decoupled from the defense agenda so that separate tracks can be commissioned and coordinated concurrently. Had the U.S. engaged in a diplomatic surge in Somalia, for example, coupled with substantial development aid to a deeply impoverished population, while maintaining defense as a last resort, Mogadishu could be witnessing a stabilization effort that enjoyed populist support and a strong likelihood of success. Current U.S.-Ethiopian efforts in Mogadishu, however, enjoy neither.

In the case of Iraq, the U.S. government continues to rely heavily on only one of three Ds: defense. The most recent example of this prioritization is the Bush administration’s supplemental budget bill which allocates roughly one percent for reconstruction and economic development, while the remaining is funneled into defense. This tendency to under-fund, under-resource, and undermine development and diplomacy security strategies in Iraq and elsewhere neglects the real security needs of Iraqis, Iranians, and Somalis.

The Germans were right. No matter the number of troops on the ground, if the local population is unemployed, uninsured, lacking education, electricity, clean water and sanitation, chances of securing the region are unlikely if not impossible. A robust and sound security strategy understands that. So must the United States.

The author is Policy Director for the 3D Security Initiative based in Washington. He is also a PhD student at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, and continues to consult the World Bank, Winrock International, and Aceh Cultural Institute.

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