By John Donnelly December 3, 2007

By John Donnelly
December 3, 2007
WASHINGTON - The US military, deeply immersed in reconstruction
projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, has almost overnight become a major
player in the traditionally civilian work of helping poor countries
develop. It now spends more than 21 percent of all US overseas aid,
nearly a fourfold percentage increase in just three years.
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The growth in military involvement in projects such as digging wells in
western Kenya and building schools in Afghanistan, which are designed
to win hearts and minds, has been so fast that Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates warned last week that his department is doing work that
should be done by the State Department.
Gates told an audience in Kansas last week that he had no problem with
the Pentagon getting more taxpayer dollars to help civilians rebuild
war zones or broken states. But he said the number of State Department
officials dedicated to rebuilding efforts has shrunk to dangerously low
levels and needs to be bolstered.
The entire US corps of foreign service officers - about 6,600 people is smaller than the personnel in one aircraft-carrier strike group,
Gates said.
The shift toward more military involvement in humanitarian efforts,
analysts believe, results from two major factors: simultaneous US wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan have created vast "no-go" areas too unstable
and violent for civilian relief agencies; and big increases in the
Pentagon's budget since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks gives the military
more leeway for humanitarian operations than the cash-strapped State
Department and US Agency for International Development.
But the Pentagon also has quietly approved internal policy changes that
embrace nation-building tasks in fragile states and conflict areas,
duties that were once scorned by President Bush and his top team of
military advisers before the Sept. 11 attacks as going beyond the scope
of US national security interests.
In November 2005, an internal Pentagon document, Directive 3000.05,
called for reconstruction projects to become a core part of combat
operations, extending the military's reach into areas of governance,
rebuilding infrastructure, and restoring areas of commerce.
The rationale behind such an expansion, defense officials say, is that
in the war on terrorism the military will often set up base in
dangerous locations and should be able to offer a range of services to
both military and the local community.
"State and USAID have been more or less starved for resources, so when
the administration wants to get something done, they turn to the
Pentagon because they know they can do it," said Joseph S. Nye Jr.,
distinguished service professor at Harvard University and cochairman of
the Commission on Smart Power, a report released last month by the
Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Nye said that reliance on the Defense Department for development
projects creates image problems for the United States overseas because
"it gives an overly military face to our policy."
Gates appears to be concerned about that also.
In his speech at Kansas State University, he said, "We must focus our
energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our
brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. . . . I hear all the time
from the senior leadership of our armed forces about how important
these civilian capabilities are."
In fact, he said, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
Navy Admiral Michael G. Mullen, once said that "he'd hand a part of his
budget to the State Department in a heartbeat, assuming it was spent in
the right place."
The Pentagon is already giving millions of dollars to the State
Department for certain jobs. Using a little-known directive, Section
1207 in the National Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Department
sent $102 million to the State Department in the last two years for
projects such as funding civilian police forces in Somalia and
improving health care in conflict-torn areas reclaimed by the military
in Colombia.
Nevertheless, many analysts have observed a rising tension between the
Pentagon and the State Department about the military's expanded role in
civilian or humanitarian relief efforts. They point to the recently
created Africa Command, which will coordinate all US military
operations in Africa and also involve representatives from other US
agencies who will advise the military on a range of issues.
Kathleen H. Hicks, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies who was director of the Defense Department's
policy planning department until August 2006, said the State Department
has "a real sense that DOD is making a grab here. At the DOD, that's
not how they see this. Their feeling is, 'Let's just go do the job.' "
Hicks noted the clash of cultures between the military and civilian
branches hasn't helped.
The Pentagon "has a can-do attitude, and the desire to fill voids and
create action is very strong," she said. "On the State side, it's more
cautious, getting the right tool to do the right job."
In 2002, the military's share of US official development assistance
totaled 5.6 percent; by 2005, it had quadrupled to 21.7 percent, or
$5.5 billion, according to a study by the Center for Global
Development, a research think-tank in Washington. More than $4 billion
of that money was allocated for projects in Iraq.
Other Defense expenditures just in 2005 included $447 million for
counter-drug activities mainly in South America; $844 million for
civilian reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and Iraq; $117 million
in tsunami relief; and $12 million in HIV and AIDS initiatives with
African militaries.
Kaysie Brown, coauthor of the Center for Global Development study on
the Pentagon and global development, said that nongovernmental
organizations' concerns of the military expansion include that they
could be targets of attacks in areas where the US military operates and
that local people might wrongly believe they are connected to the
She said that the creation of the US Africa Command, or Africom, will
be a test ground for how the military and civilians work together.
"The concern is that when the DOD finds religion, it really finds
religion, and could overshadow the other development efforts," Brown
said. "The question is when there's an inter-agency effort in an area
where there's lots of instability, who holds the ultimate authority?"
Africom, which was launched in February, is still a few years away from
being fully operational in Africa. For now, planners are looking at
setting up regional bases around Africa, with a coordinating
headquarters outside the continent. It expects to number between 800
and 1,200 staff, defense officials said.While Defense officials say the
initial focus will be to work with African militaries on building up
noncombat evacuations, emergency food deliveries, and crisis
management, analysts say the long-term military role in Africa and
other parts of the developing world remains undefined.
"As the Defense Department builds up its efforts, how and in what way
can we also build up civilian side of the equation?" Brown said. "It's
really tricky."