What the Military’s Most Powerful Leaders Reveal about the Changing Face of Defense

April 1, 2014 By Zach Silberman

The importance of a “smart power” strategy is on the minds of military leaders at the Pentagon. Given all the global security challenges on the table, the importance of working with civilian counterparts was key as Combatant Commands were on the Hill all March delivering their “posture statements,” on priorities, accomplishments, plans and programs, and in the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) that lays out the military’s strategy and resources for the next four years.

The 2014 QDR focused mostly on the emerging budget challenges for the department, while arguing there is a need for the department to “rebalance” its resources due to the rapidly changing global security environment. With the department focused on these challenges and the winding down of a decade of war, it recognized that, “whenever possible, we seek to pursue these interests through diplomacy, economic development, cooperation and engagement, and through the power of our ideas.”

When asked about “smart power,” Christine Wormuth, the nominee for Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, said the Pentagon still “very much embrace[s] the concept.” She said the QDR notes “at some length about the fact that military is just one tool in the national security toolkit, and we very much see ourselves as part of developing whole-of-government solutions to security challenges.”

Combatant commanders responsible for leading in peace and in war also are often vocal leaders in recognizing that the military needs strong civilian partners to address the threats they face. U.S. Central Command commander General Lloyd Austin said in his posture statement, “in order to work to push things in a direction that trends more towards security and stability, it’s going to require a constant whole of government approach…the military is an instrument of power, but it’s only one of many.”

When Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) asked how U.S. Africa Command was coordinating its work alongside the efforts of diplomacy and development on the continent, commander General David Rodriguez responded that, the “interagency feature of AFRICOM is a huge help. And we’re able to do a good job of coordinating the efforts and reaching out to leverage all the capabilities of the U.S. government.”

U.S. Southern Command commander General John Kelly also praised collaboration between civilian and military agencies, saying it can “strengthen governance and foster accountable, transparent, and effective institutions throughout the Western Hemisphere.”

In this difficult budget climate, our military leaders are clear we must build even greater U.S. civilian tools to keep our nation safe. Perhaps U.S. Central Command Commander General Jim Mattis said it best last year when he told Congress, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”