CHICAGO — As the United States continues to push military intervention through the massive national security budget, more individuals have begun to speak out in favor of civil development as a more reliable solution. The effort to scale back brute force methods has gained an unlikely source of advocacy by United States military officers.
The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition funded and conducted a study of 606 military officers that found 83 percent of military officers are in favor of “nonmilitary tools such as diplomacy, food assistance, health care support, education and economic development are either very important or fairly important for achieving national security goals.” Some 59 percent of those polled were in favor of increasing the budget on these nonmilitary tools.
Of the officers who agreed on the importance of nonmilitary tools, nearly all were mid-level officers in either the zero to four or zero to five pay grade. It’s likely that these officers have served between 10 and 20 years, which puts them in a prime position to judge the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan due to their experience on the ground level. Junior officers lack any amount of experience, while officers in a higher pay grade lack experience in modern warfare. But are these conflicts the only ones that can be resolved like this?
The answer is not really. In the 1980s the scholar Joseph Nye coined the phrase “soft power.” In essence, the term is a means to “achieve outcomes through attraction rather than coercion.” In 2009, Hillary Clinton was emphatic in the government’s commitment to ‘smart power’ which is a mix of balancing both hard and soft power. Given the structure of the United States budget, her statements suggest the need to increase soft power.
It seems that the long-lasting conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking their toll on military officers. Nearly 50 percent of those polled described themselves as pessimistic or very pessimistic about Afghanistan. Many of these individuals overlap with those seeking nonmilitary tools, the mid-level officers. But the majority of officers agreed that extreme poverty and rampant disease in a country will likely end in a conflict that will require military forces. They also agreed that a proactive effort would set the military on the correct path.
Mid level officers from 21st century conflicts are not the only military officials who support soft power. One advocate occupied the second highest position in the navy and served in the Vietnam War — Adm. Mike Mullen. The retired admiral has reiterated several times that he needs only to look back to his time in Vietnam as anecdotal evidence of how brute force can fail. On foreign policy, Mullen said we need “a whole-of-government approach to solving modern problems. And we need to reallocate roles and resources in a way that places our military as an equal among many in government — as an enabler, a true partner.”
– Andrew Rywak
Sources: NY Times 1, The Atlantic, Economist, Air Force Times NY Times 2