Combatant Commanders to Congress: Development, Diplomacy Are Critical to National Security

February 21, 2019 By Sean Sorbie

In recent weeks, our nation’s top national security experts – the military leaders of America’s combatant commands – briefed Congress on the national security threats facing the United States. While the challenges of great power competition from China and Russia were central to their testimonies, they also highlighted threats that require investing in development and diplomacy to keep America safe by addressing the drivers of extremism and instability, building allies and partner capacity, and promoting American values and diplomatic solutions to conflict.

Addressing the Drivers of Extremism and Instability:

Across the geographic regions that make up their areas of responsibility, General Joseph Votel of Central Command, General Thomas Waldhauser of Africa Command, Admiral Craig Faller of Southern Command, and Admiral Philip Davidson of Indo-Pacific Command highlighted the value of USAID and State Department programs to prevent the spread of extremism and address the causes of instability.

  • “First, very few, if any, of Africa’s challenges can be resolved using only military force. Consequently, U.S. Africa Command emphasizes military support to diplomacy and development efforts. Our activities directly complement Department of State and USAID efforts to reduce the spread of harmful ideologies, strengthen governments who protect their citizens and foster security and economic successes.” – General Thomas Waldhauser, Commander of U.S. Africa Command, February 7th, 2019
  • “The military needs to be the small “M” in support of the big diplomacy and the big economic “E”. And I see that, where it’s working. An example would be in El Salvador. We’ve made some significant progress in the reduction of violence and this has been by targeting in really bad neighborhoods some 50 locations where USAID comes in with public and private partnerships and partnership with the government. And we’re there in small presence to connect those vetted police force with the military.” – Admiral Craig S. Faller, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, February 7th, 2019

Building Allies and Partner Capacity:

The commanders also highlighted initiatives like the Department of State’s International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which – with critical funding from the International Affairs Budget – helps train allied militaries and foster military-to-military relationships, making it easier for the U.S. to collaborate with nations on a variety of complex challenges.

  • “The Department of State’s security assistance programs—like IMET and FMF—are strategic game changers. Since 2009, IMET has provided opportunities for over 55,000 students from the region to attend schools like the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), the Inter-American Air Force Academy (IAAFA), and the Inter-American Defense College (IADC). These numbers aren’t just seats in a classroom. They represent lifelong relationships with future leaders who trust us, understand our culture and doctrine, and are prepared to work with us on a range of challenges.” – Admiral Craig S. Faller, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, February 7th, 2019
  • “International Military Education Training funding dollar for dollar is perhaps one of the best tools that the Department of Defense, Department of State can wield in building our partnerships throughout the region. Now typically the people who take advantage of these resources and come to our schools in the United States often rise to positions of leadership in their countries. They don’t forget the experience they had in our military schools and most importantly they don’t forget the American people and I think this is an extraordinarily wise investment for us to continue to make.”– General Joseph Votel, Commander of U.S. Central Command, February 5th, 2019
  • “Department of State authorities such as Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and International Military Education and Training (IMET), in addition to the 26 new Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, represent weighty tools available for building partner readiness, reducing capability gaps, and building capacity. The Department of State’s one-time reprogramming of $290.5 million of FMF to the Indo-Pacific in 2018 is a clear effort to assist our region, for which USINDOPACOM is grateful.” – Admiral Philip Davidson, Commander, United States Indo-Pacific Command, February 12th, 2019

Promoting American Values and Diplomatic Solutions to Conflict:

The commanders also agreed that there is no substitute for American values and diplomacy, whether responding to China’s increasing global influence or the complex challenges in the Middle East.

  • “One of the things that competes so strongly for the United States in the region is our values. And whether they’re allies, partners, or nations that merely aspire to have the values that we have, they compete in a more pronounced manner than any handful of dollars ever could. But it has to be proactive, and we have to move out in the diplomatic and the information space, as well as the economic space, quite briskly because China is spreading dollars around very perniciously through corruption, through the mechanisms that you talked about earlier, and we’ve got to be willing to work in these other realms.”– Admiral Philip Davidson, Commander, United States Indo-Pacific Command, February 12th, 2019
  • “We recognize this conflict will not be resolved solely by military force but our military pressure serves as an enabler through a whole of government process and more directly supports diplomatic efforts led by Ambassador Khalilzad. – General Joseph Votel, Commander of U.S. Central Command on Afghanistan, February 5th, 2019
  • “With the Department of State and USAID, U.S. Africa Command supports programs and initiatives fostering political reconciliation and elections in countries such as Libya. Our diplomatic and development partners work with African partners to provide jobs, food, clean water, and education, such as in Ethiopia and Nigeria, helping to counter incentives offered by violent extremists organizations (VEOs) or criminal networks.” – General Thomas Waldhauser, Commander of U.S. Africa Command, February 7th, 2019

Will America Invest?

Next month, the President is expected to again propose deep and disproportionate cuts to the International Affairs Budget. To truly advance our national security – from combating infectious diseases and eliminating the root causes of violent extremism to addressing the nearly 70 million displaced people worldwide – the President and Congress must heed the advice of the Combatant Commanders and ensure robust funding for the International Affairs Budget in FY20.

Indeed, the commanders’ views are reflected by a large swath of the veteran community. Last year, military veterans sent two letters to congressional leadership calling on them to support and defend the same development and diplomacy programs highlighted in this briefing.