Monday, June 23, 2008

Is Militarization Undermining U.S. Foreign Policy Goals?

International development experts and policy makers, from non-profit offices to think tanks to Capitol Hill, are concerned about the United States' attitude towards foreign assistance. In recent years, the military has taken an increasingly large role in development issues that can be addressed by civilian federal agencies. Dr. Gordon Adams, an American University professor and Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center, Joy Olson of the Washington Office on Latin America, and Mark Malan of Refugees International discussed these important development issues at a forum sponsored by the Partnership for Effective Peacekeeping.

Dr. Gordon Adams argues that the United States must move away from military-based foreign assistance and instead focus on civilian solutions. He contends that the best way to strengthen civilian involvement in foreign affairs is to integrate the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with the State Department. Strengthening USAID in such a manner would allow the two agencies to work together and build off each other's resources. This process would require the State Department to acknowledge the development aspects of many of the programs in which they’re involved, and to fully understand all the capabilities of their colleagues at USAID. This mutual awareness will enable the two agencies to collaborate on problems and devise both short and long term solutions. Adams also suggested that the State Department create a second Deputy Secretary of State to focus specifically on foreign assistance. Others at the forum disagreed and argued that the US’ foreign assistance problems will only be remedied by the formation of a new cabinet-level agency focused on development. However, Dr. Adams advised the audience not to dismiss the current system before attempting to reform it. He urged those who desire foreign policy reform to capitalize on the opportunity for change at the beginning of a new presidential administration by focusing on immediately strengthening the current resources and structures.

Joy Olson spoke about increased militarization in Latin America, which dates back to a 1989 congressional ruling that the U.S. military shares responsibility in monitoring and fighting drug trafficking. The United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which is a division of the Department of Defense responsible for Latin America and the Caribbean, often takes charge of problems that can be solved through civilian channels. However, civilian solutions are often more effective for the transnational, public security problems that many Latin American countries face. Ms. Olsen used the prevalence of youth gang violence to illustrate the effectiveness of civilian solutions. A military approach to this problem might involve increased policing and military action against youth gangs. However, a more successful response might entail community support and after-school programs that address the core causes of gang violence and provide a self-sustaining solution.

Despite her sentiment that U.S. foreign assistance in Latin American should depend less on military action, Ms. Olson was optimistic. She recommended that Congress continue to restructure SOUTHCOM, and move away from military-focused solutions by appointing a civilian to lead the department. She emphasized that in order to decrease militarization in U.S. foreign policy, Congress should strive for effective solutions even if they require a step away from the way things are traditionally done.

Image Source

Sponsor: The Partnership for Effective Peacekeeping
Date: May 29, 2008
Time: 10am – 11am
Representative Attending: Kate Lonergan

No comments: