Interagency Coordination Continues to Move Forward

August 14, 2012 By Zach Silberman

Greater collaboration between the State Department and Defense Department has been a cornerstone policy objective over the past decade.  During the early stages of the Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke out about enhancing interagency coordination on key national security challenges.  This cooperation is even more important for development projects as mission priorities shift in the “Frontline States” to a more civilian-based objective.

These issues were in focus this week as Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro gave an update on the Defense-State relationship, particularly in matters of mutual national security concern.  His talk was generally positive as he discussed the specific steps that State and Defense were taking in order to enhance the goals of Secretaries Clinton and Gates.

A criticism that surfaced recently is the disparity between the budgets of the Defense and State departments. Steve Clemons posted a blog in The Atlantic, where he argued that the collaboration between the departments has not fared well under Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.  Clemons noted that without seeing evidence of positive collaboration between Panetta and Clinton, “the trend towards Pentagon-hugging both outside and within the government does not bode well for balanced and long-term diplomatic and development practices.”

However, both departments are taking important steps to move towards institutionalizing their cooperation, specifically through programs that enhance interagency interaction.  In a response to Clemons’ piece, Veteran for Smart Power Captain Robert Wells, USN (Ret), pointed out in the Huffington Post that Panetta discussed his goals for coordination in a recent speech before the U.S. Institute of Peace, saying, “We have to coordinate even more closely with the Department of State.  My goal is for the Department of State to have a leading role in crafting and conducting U.S. foreign policy, so that we can reaffirm and strengthen our strategic approach to defense partnerships.  But it is also clear that building partnership capacity is a key military mission for the future.”

A program of mutual cooperation for the departments that Shapiro highlighted during his talk was the Foreign Policy Advisor Program (POLAD), which allows Foreign Service officers to be embedded with military units, allowing them to enhance the foreign policy objectives within the combat mission. POLAD allows for deeper integration with the Defense Department as the troop drawdowns begin.  Another significant area of cooperation that Shapiro highlighted was the continued development of the Global Security Contingency Fund, which is a way for both departments to pool their resources in order to respond to missions that overlap.  The GSCF is a prime example of a positive joint venture between the two departments and while Shapiro said the fund has not chosen its first recipient countries yet, it could be a positive development for future operations outside of the “Frontline States.”

Both the State Department and Defense Department share common goals for enhancing U.S. national security interests abroad through foreign policy and military objectives.  Greater collaboration in programs would allow both departments to increase their effectiveness in their missions while also achieving U.S. foreign policy goals.  Secretary Panetta has indicated that national security is dependent on a full range of soft powers that are not necessarily military, noting that, “It’s dependent on the State Department being able to provide foreign aid, being able to work with countries, being able to provide development money, being able to provide education money.”

This collaboration between the departments continues to be a key component of the International Affairs Budget and maintaining the abilities of the civilian officers to work with their military counterparts provides sufficient tools to integrate the dual missions into a joint venture that will successfully advance our core foreign policy goals.