U.S. military giant, diplomatic dwarf?

May 14, 2009

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate— Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own —

The U.S. armed forces, the world’s most powerful, outnumber the country’s diplomatic service and its major aid agency by a ratio of more than 180:1, vastly higher than in other Western democracies. Military giant, diplomatic dwarf?

The ratio applies to people in uniform (or pin-striped suits). In terms of money, the U.S. military towers just as tall. Roughly half of all military spending in the world is American. Even potential adversaries in a conventional war spend puny sums in comparison. The 2010 defense budget now before Congress totals $534 billion, not including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. China’s defense budget is $70 billion, Russia’s around $50 billion.giant_dwarf_w350

Is the huge imbalance between the size of the U.S. armed forces and the civilian agencies that make up “soft power” — chiefly the foreign service and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) — destined to remain a permanent fixture in the political landscape?

The gap is not likely to shrink dramatically, despite a growing internal debate over how to balance the instruments of power. Ironically, the man who has provided some of the most memorable statistics illustrating the hard power-soft power gap is Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only holdover from the cabinet of George W. Bush and President Barack Obama’s most inspired choice.

One of Gates’ favorite examples: The 6,600 foreign service professionals of the State Department equal the number of personnel of one (out of 11) aircraft carrier strike group.

The Pentagon spends slightly more on health care for the military than the State Department spends on looking after foreign affairs. And the United States employs more military musicians than professional diplomats.

The gap is meant to shrink, so that the United States can “renew its role as a leader in global development and diplomacy,” in the words of the White House Office of Management and Budget. It lists $53.9 billion for the Department of State and other international programs in the 2010 budget, a tenth of the defense budget.

The Obama administration wants to double foreign assistance by 2015 and “significantly” increase the size of the foreign service and USAID, the foreign assistance agency which shrank from a high of about 15,000 during the Vietnam War to just over 1,100 now.


Building up “soft power” is a sign that Obama is turning away from the notion that diplomacy is largely a tool to convey threats – a notion popular among the neoconservatives who drove the Bush administration’s policy – rather than to negotiate compromise and avert war instead of cleaning up the post-war ruins.

Adding people to civilian agencies that promote U.S. foreign policy interests may well be easier than adjusting the arsenal of the armed forces to the wars they are fighting now or are likely to fight in the near future.

Cutting the size of the military itself is not a subject of debate in Washington, not only because it is obvious that they are badly stretched by the two simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but also because few Americans, and even fewer American policymakers, doubt the wisdom of permanent military supremacy for the United States.

How that should be guaranteed is a perennial subject of debate, reignited this month by the defense budget Gates submitted. It calls for a 4 percent increase over the previous year, not insignificant in a country facing a $1.2 trillion deficit next year, and showed that the “military-industrial complex” the late Dwight Eisenhower warned about is alive and well.

In his presidential farewell address in 1961, General Eisenhower said the military establishment and a permanent arms industry combined to create a military-industrial complex whose “influence  –economic, political, even spiritual– is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the federal government.”

That influence is still felt, as shown by the reaction to Gates’ decision to readjust the arsenal, moving more money to the tools of irregular warfare and scrapping high-ticket items originally designed to fight a Cold War enemy who no longer exists. Case in point: the F-22 jet fighter, an aircraft pilots describe as the Ferrari of the air. It costs $140 million apiece.

The Air Force originally wanted 381 of the planes, Gates wants to halt production at 187 already built or in the pipeline. The aircraft is being built by companies in 44 states. That translates into 88 senators and ensures broad political support in Congress as well as vivid complaints over job losses once production ends.

Before betting on the outcome of the congressional fight over big-ticket weapons systems, keep in mind an old Washington adage: “The president proposes, Congress disposes.”


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Dear Annonymouse, WW2 wouldn’t have kicked off were it not for WW1 (which could be viewed as simply paused), and the run up to that one is the one that fascinates me with an extensive run up going back to the Reformation (and no doubt longer). The between the wars period is fascinating for just who knew what and how much they knew – it seems no one at the time was taken by surprise although Adolph did surprise the sector of society who thought he was their man (not the democratic sector).
I am very well traveled from early childhood on. Whereas I haven’t been to Pakistan I have been to India and many other “third world” countries. The thing I see is rapid development and change despite the colonial era pillaging (although I wouldn’t include Pakistan so much in the development, but the change does apply) in Asia. Yes they do have massive impoverished populations. They have massive populations.
It is a great shame that the UN (a post-WW2 re-hash of the League of Nations which was set up to fail post WW1) is so inept as the vacuum of a good strong international diplomacy will be filled one way or another by an individual state which will only repeat past mistakes. There is probably little that can be done from the outside in the Middle East the way things are going and the stakes are so high it’s chilling. The reason I suggested Beijing probably went over your head.
It never ceases to amaze me the differences different people see when looking at the same picture. It is a truly fascinating (and to me beautiful) world, I hope it stays that way for many generations to come.

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

To: Peter H/Annonymouse

“Dear Annonymouse, WW2 wouldn’t have kicked off were it not for WW1″.

1. History doesn’t deal with ‘would’ history is all about ‘was’.
2. You only right about name ‘WWII’. WWII can only be after WWI, but the big war was unavoidable and history has written prove .
Since we all pretend to know history…
In 1940’s even with Germany out of equation war was unavoidable.
1. Russia assembled biggest army ever with number of tanks running in 1000’s. (BTW strike was set on summer 1941-42)
2. Japan built fleet next to British breaking 1922 Washington treaties.

Democracy obviously has big pre-requirements :) World full of failed Democracies look at Africa and Latin America.
Annonymouse naïve in attempts to explain stability of West democracies by Middle class and Wealth. He sees that Wealth came after West plunder poor colonies. I agree that Wealth brings stability to society. But…
Most Western democracies emerged in 19-20 centuries while counties were in ruins after wars.
West spend on Aid to 3rd World more that US spent to aid to Europe and Japan after WWII just to see tribal chiefs promoted themselves to Presidents rather than Emperors. At the same time poor and multiethnic India was able to build great Democracy. So it not about Wealth… May be it is about culture and tribes/clans become nations.

Posted by SKV | Report as abusive

Let me list all the ideas

Turn as many Empty Factories in Every State of the Union into Greenhouses that catch as much water, sun, and energy
to be as self sufficient as possible. They can be oasis’s of Food, Heat, Shelter with Structure as Homes around these Depressed areas are Rebuilt. Plus, We would not be so dependent on food being shipped, less gas used, less pollutants.

By placing just One Solar Panel and One Wind Generator with a new Battery (A large one they will use in Electric cars) The Jobs created to make the Panels, Generators, and Batteries will be an Immediate help to our economy. The Instillation will create Jobs.
Homes that can Produce their Own energy will Lessen OUR need for Fossil Fuels across this country. This will put less pollutants in the air, as well as lessening the demand for MORE power-plants. Our National security as well as Security for the Population will increase since homes can produce their own Energy in Emergencies.

Creating a Magnetic Train system(Like Europe, but MUCH better) will lessen the amount of OIL needed for air travel since the train,Using Solar panels ALL ALONG the tracks, with wind catchers to catch the trains passing wind and mother nature, should help power itself, making it cheaper to operate, making it cheaper to travel! If we connect ALL State Capitals, Major Cities, Universities, and Casino’s how easy would it be to see OUR COUNTRY in all her Glory?
Small Business thrives on tourists!

Casino’s have always been hubs of underworld activities like Prostitution, Drugs, and Money Laundering. Why should we let Gambling make Millionaires and Billionaires out of Mafia Types, who wish to make money on our vices, when we can take that money and create a Free Health Care System. How much can we save when we CUT OUT ALL HEALTH INSURERS, who don’t care about your health, only THEIR PROFIT! Doctors pay would not be affected since Skill and Ability in that field always rise to the top. Malpractice would be rethought, since Insurers are not involved. How much better could Health Care in general be when we take out the PROFIT motive, and focus on Healing and Caring for the Ill, not making as much as possible off of them.

Where is all the State Lotto money going? I thought it was supposed to go towards Schools? YET School budgets get slashed every year while the money spent on Lotto’s keep going UP? This needs to be looked into, this discrepancy in BUDGETS.

Where is could the money come from to start these projects? How much has been spent to bailout “BANKS” and those who have been ripping us off? These people made how many BILLIONS off of the Public, you and me, NOW they get more BILLIONS to rescue them from THEIR MISTAKES, and HAVE YET to start letting the “CREDIT” flow?

Big Oil has been “Speculating”, “Price Fixing”, and engaged in “Anti-Competition” practices for HOW LONG? When was the last time you saw a “Gas Price War” from your Local Gas Stations? I’m not saying Nationalize, but why don’t we Freeze some of the Accounts of Leaders, go through these Oil Company Patents and see if they have BOUGHT technology that would improve Gas Mileage. Remember, Big Oil makes money PER GALLON, so the lower MPG your car gets, the better for them, and they have how many BILLIONS to LOBBY Congress? No wonder America’s MPG Standard is the Lowest in the World.

It is only a subtle shift in Thinking. Instead of PROFIT and CONTROL being the Focus of our Economy, we need to Make our Economy Strong, Steady, and Reliable by Building it to be that way. We just need to change LEADERSHIP at some places atop these TOO LARGE MULTINATIONALS, who do not care about the individual, region, or Nation, they only care about them, theirs, and their Bottom Line.

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive

I have ideas, and ideas

How would I set up GM? With intelligence. The World Car Market since the 1930′s has Always had a trend of Customization and Modification. All the Home Mechanics during the 60′s and 70′s took a lot of money out of the Big 3′s pockets. How many Dealerships, like YENKO, became more popular because of that Customization and Modification?

GM should approach this rebuilding keeping this in mind.
I see GM like Apple and its iPhone. Apple supplies the iPhone and allows whoever the ability to make an Application.

If GM redesigned and supplied a completely Modular car platform, with easy to install components, how easy would it be for Dealerships to offer Customizations?

I envision a new car buyer going into a Dealership. The Customer chooses a frame (small car, sedan, truck, ect.) then looks at the available body types that can be hung, picks an interior, a sound system, rims, and a customized paint job if they wish, among other things.

I see these Customizing Car Shops everywhere, why not turn them into Dealerships where GM ships Parts, Frames, and Pieces to be assembled. The Quality should improve since you are meeting your cars assemblers at the Dealership. YOU, the customer can watch your car being built. Each Dealership can Distinguish itself with their WORK! Popular Dealerships(like YENKO of the 60′s) could have Customers traveling across the country to have a car assembled for them. (Hopefully they will travel over a Comprehensive Train system and drive the New GM car back home)

How many people could be employed in Local Dealerships, instead of being concentrated in one area like a Giant Factory? These New Dealerships would employ Mechanics, Body Specialists, Painters, Interior Specialists, and Sound Installers among Salesmen and Shop Managers. Keeping it smaller scale will keep Quality High, especially since shady Dealerships will become easy to see because of the shoddy work.

Just another idea to better America.

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive

This idea for GM also puts most of the money in the hands of those who Construct, Build, and Assemble the cars, those who do the most WORK, and should limit what the Government can take out of the company in the form of Money.

Jobs are more important to a Strong, Steady, and Reliable Economy than the amount of Money that Economy can make in the form of Profit.

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive

I have more ideas.

Energy, energy, energy.
We will always want energy. How do we get it? Energy Companies take from you, too much, and use it to buy Fuel.
How about, along with the Solar Panel and Wind Generator, we add an Row machine, or a Bike machine which generates energy to feed into the system.

Kids at a Mall want to buy a CD, or DVD, or whatever it is Kids want to waste money on. Instead of Mom and Dad giving their hard earned money, the Kids can go and Row or Pedal, get some exercise, and get some money in their pocket.

For you Conservatives, what better way to instill a work ethic in kids? “Johny? you want some money? You can go be productive, put some Energy in the system, make some money, and buy what you want.” We can teach Work Ethic and Money management to our children while starting to free us from Oil, foreign and Domestic.

Folks, even the Homeless can go to a public place, get some exercise, do some work, and make some money that they can buy some food with. How much will the health of this Nation increase in 2 years?

See what thinking with Love can do? and not greed for profit?

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive

Some more about me.

I was a Latch Key Kid, meaning i kept my house key around my neck. Started in the First Grade. I lost my Key for the first, and only, time in the 3rd grade.

This is an example of how i was raised. My Dad raised me by himself, a rarity even today. He KNEW i would eventually lose that key, it is just the nature of children.

Instead of getting mad, he was prepared. He turned it into a lesson. He told me why a key was so important, why Security mattered. He got me involved in the lock changing process, explained why it cost so much.

All my life my Father has always Explained Why something was wrong, so i understood the punishment. Once you understand WHY something is wrong, you have no excuse for doing wrong again. That was his view anyway.

Worked rather well. How could you expect a child to be perfect their first go at life? However, my Dad thought that once he fully explained why something was wrong, it was my ass if i made the same mistake twice.

Smart people learn from mistakes, it is what makes us grow. My Dad has always said, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.

What have we learned, what can we learn, what will make us better, smarter, better prepared for Our future.
Dad said, “Always think ahead.”

Posted by C. D. Walker | Report as abusive