The State-Pentagon Relationship

August 18, 2011 By Jane Kaminski

With the recent departure of Robert S. Gates as Secretary of Defense, many have wondered about the future of the relationship between the Departments of Defense and State.  Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton often expressed remarkably similar views of U.S. national security, but in a time of fiscal austerity where security-related accounts will be in competition for resources, can that last?   The first public joint appearance of Secretary Clinton and new Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave an opportunity to see whether Panetta will continue his predecessor’s tradition to “never miss an opportunity to call for more funding for and emphasis on diplomacy and development”.  Sure enough, Panetta came out in strong support of the State Department and USAID, calling funding for these agencies “absolutely essential to our national security.”

Throughout their conversation at the National Defense University, the commitment to coordinating the two agencies was clear as Clinton and Panetta discussed the budget, Libya, and United States leadership. Clinton pointed to the Horn of Africa as a region where U.S. foreign policy requires significant interagency coordination and a “multi-layered” approach, saying, “you can see the complexity of what we’re dealing with and to try to sort out what is the defense role, the diplomatic role, the development role, how do we work with the UN, how do we work with NGOs, how do we work with governments.”

Clinton made clear that drastic cuts to the International Affairs Budget will impede our diplomatic efforts, and impact our national security interests.  Panetta agreed, saying, “Our national security is our Defense Department and our military power and also our State Department and our diplomatic power.”  Clinton expressed concerns at the misconceptions that many Americans hold of the International Affairs Budget, stating that when asked, people say that they think the International Affairs Budget makes up “15 to 20%” of the federal budget, and should probably be cut to “10%”.  In reality, the International Affairs Budget is just 1% of the federal budget.

The two secretaries’ joint appearance was an encouraging indicator that the Administration intends to continue its united front for a comprehensive approach to national security.  Both leaders recognize the importance of engaging all tools of national security- diplomacy and development alongside a strong defense- for a safer, healthier, more prosperous future. As the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction formulates its recommendations for allocating the mandatory cuts in discretionary spending, they should heed the advice of these Administration leaders, who clearly agree that protecting our national security requires a full tool kit—defense, diplomacy and development—especially when faced with the challenges we see today.