U.S. Armed Forces Commanders Speak Out: State Department, USAID Essential to Success of Military

May 4, 2017 By Abhik K. Pramanik

Every year, our nation’s top military leaders— the heads of each Combatant Command, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Defense Secretary— give testimony to Congress. Each addresses their current command mission, potential threats the U.S. may face, and how the Department of Defense will respond.

These annual posture statements have already begun on Capitol Hill, with the current Combatant Commanders appearing in front of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. This year, all of them commented on the recent proposed cuts to the International Affairs Budget.

As former Secretary of Defense Gates has said, “You would find…extraordinary support across the entire Defense Department” for the State Department “and for their budget,” a fact that been made readily apparent over the last month. In written and oral testimony in Congress, our military’s most senior officers have made it clear that the Administration’s proposed cuts would not only make their jobs harder, but that a strong, fully resourced International Affairs Budget is vital to an effective national security strategy.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, March 222017:

  • “It’s absolutely a team effort as we tie diplomacy and military means together, so when you walk into the national security staff meetings, State and Defense are aligned. So it’s a critical team effort, and we intend to keep it that way.”
  • “America has two fundamental powers, the power of intimidation and the power of inspiration. Soft power is largely found in the power of inspiration and is part and parcel of how we defeat this enemy.”

General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, March 222017:

  • “With regard to ISIS, we have nine areas that we have identified as critical to our strategy …the Department of Defense leads on two of those nine. In the others, other elements in the government lead…for us to be successful against ISIS, or any of the threats we face right now, it will be important for us to leverage all the capabilities that our nation has – diplomatically, economically, and militarily.”

General Joseph Votel, Commander of U.S. Central Command, March 292017:

  • “There is a lot that the military can do, but it is extraordinarily important that our diplomats, our Department of State, our other development agencies, and others are involved in this process as well.”
  • “We must link our military objectives and campaigns as closely as possible to policy objectives into our other instruments of national power. In other words, we must align our military objectives and soft power capabilities with desired national and regional strategic end states, recognizing that if we don’t do this, we risk creating space for our adversaries to achieve their strategic aims.”

Admiral Kurt Tidd, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, April 6, 2017:

  • “I would also like to go on record to express my unqualified support for resourcing our U.S. law enforcement, diplomatic, and development partners. Effectively securing our southern approaches requires a true team effort…Degrading threat networks requires effective partner nation law enforcement, judicial, and prison systems. A balanced package that includes assistance to strengthen governance, economic development, intelligence, and security is needed, as well as comprehensive efforts to stem our country’s insatiable demand for illicit goods.”

Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, April 27, 2017:

  • “Sustainable security requires effective and enduring institutions, both civilian and military, that are guided by these principles. Defense, diplomatic, and development efforts are intertwined and continue to reinforce each other to promote stability in both conflict-affected and steady state environments to build and sustain stable democratic states.”

General Thomas Waldhauser, Commander of U.S. Africa Command, March 9, 2017:

  • “To protect and promote U.S. national security interests in Africa, diplomacy and development are key efforts, and our partnership with the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is key to achieve enduring success. Together, we work to address the root causes of violent extremism, lack of accountable government systems, poor education opportunities, and social and economic deficiencies to achieve long-term, sustainable impact in Africa.”

General Raymond Thomas, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, May 4, 2017:

  • “Senator, the relationship to the State Department is indescribably critical…we are in 80 different countries and we look to have the most enhanced relationship possible with every one of those countries through our country team. If that’s not the baseline for our United States government approach, then we are flawed from the start.”

General Curtis Scaparrotti, Commander of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander, March 282017:

  • “I can’t comment on the cuts themselves…But I’ve said that the importance of the State Department and the work that we do in European Command is just fundamental.”
  • “…[A]ll the problems we face in Europe require a whole of government approach and they require, you know, approach with partners in the same fashion. So if you look at how I counter transnational threats of terrorism inside of Europe. Military’s a part of that…but most of the works done by treasury, state and others across our agencies to complete that work and enable us to do it. And again I think that in the deterring Russia it’s a whole of government approach as well. Diplomacy should be a priority and we, as a military, with the right posture provide some muscle for diplomacy to work.”


Photo: Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks before the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations Department of Defense fiscal year 2017 budget hearing, on Capitol Hill, March 22, 2017. Source: DoD, Dominique A. Pineiro / CC