The Military Understands Smart Power

March 8, 2013 By Zach Silberman

Twenty retired 3 and 4-star admirals and generals came back into service Wednesday, as they marched to Capitol Hill to tell Members of Congress not about the importance of our military, but why we need our civilian tools of national security.  In recent years, the military has spoken out about the need for foreign policy solutions that do not require boots on the ground, and these members of our National Security Advisory Council (NSAC) know from their own experience on the ground in conflict zones the difference our development experts and diplomats make.

NSAC members met with 19 representatives and senators during their visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday.  One of the true highlights of the day was an exchange between Senator Roger Mattis GraphicWicker (R-MS) and U.S. Central Command Commander General James Mattis before the Senate Armed Services Committee.  After telling General Mattis about his meeting with our “distinguished group” of NSAC members, Senator Wicker asked, “Have you observed that the International Development budget is helpful to us in providing national defense for our country?” General Mattis pointed out that, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So I think it’s a cost benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.”

Gen. Mattis and his colleague, U.S. Africa Command Commander Gen. Carter Ham will be retiring in the next month.  At numerous times in their service, these two commanders spoke out about the importance of civilian capacity to enhance our national security. Recently, Gen. Lloyd Austin, new CentCom commander, and Gen. David Rodriguez, new Africom commander, were confirmed by the Senate to succeed Gen. Mattis and Gen. Ham.  Considering the strategic importance of these regions to U.S. national security and the importance of utilizing development and diplomacy, these new commanders will be watched in how they approach their jobs from a smart power perspective.

Already, it is encouraging to see these commanders speak out about these issues. During his confirmation hearing, Gen. Austin stated that, “as this past decade of conflict has clearly demonstrated, success in our many endeavors will require effective application of the full continuum of our nation’s instruments of power and influence, military as well as economic as and diplomatic.”  In addition, Gen. Austin highlighted the cooperation he has seen in his years of service between the military and development professionals in order to effectively carry out U.S. foreign policy, noting “the effectiveness of these kind of collaborations.”

What challenges lie ahead may be uncertain, but if our brave men and women in uniform agree our national security requires a smart power approach, then I think we should listen to them. Don’t you?