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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Edward I’m now 100% certain you aren’t a libertarian, I’ve never in my life heard one who’s so quick to apologize, make excuses for, deflect, deny on behalf of the Republican/Democratic machine.

You say we’re ignoring facts, yet you have no response for the FACTS I and the other poster brought up about us wanting into WW2. It seems pretty obvious to me, we did everything we could to antagonize the Japanese, we were in economic turmoil, best thing for us was a large scale war.

Maybe you votedf or Barr but that doesn’t automatically make you a libertarian, McCain was probably too much of a liberal for you and I will at least commend you for that.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

Again where am I defending anything? I guess not joining in the knee jerk America is always wrong camp makes me an apologist. That of course by your logic makes you an America hater, not Democratic/Republican hating, but America hater. Isn’t it nice when people warp what you are saying to fit into their worldview. Point out where I say America is right for what it does? All I do is show how skewed your “facts” are and all you can do is attack me. Much like when faces with reality all you do is continue to bash America.
I’m sure you also believe that the CIA arranged 9/11 in order for the government to steal our liberties. While it’s clear that the attacks were a godsend to the neocons to run roughshod over our freedoms that doesn’t mean we did it. Same as WWII, just because it jump started our economy and catapulted us to superpower status doesn’t necessarily mean we wanted it. The logic fallacies are the same, but again why let logic, reason or facts interfere with your self loathing liberal dogma?
You must be right America is a uniquely evil nation composed of greedy fascists and gullible drones, excepting you of course what with your righteous hatred of all things American. I’m off to lunch on babies and plot how to rip off the rest of the world for my corporate masters. I await your bitter self hating response.

Posted by Edward M. Blake | Report as abusive

enough of this ww2 bs. its already over and we won. as the most powerful nation in the world we have an obligation to protect ourselves from danger. but for the most part the threat is over. soon enough we will be finnished with iraq and we can move on. millitary wepions like the f22 are esential for keeping other superpowers from geting too power hungry. are we power hungry? nope were full, we already have the power now its just a matter of keeping it.

Posted by anon | Report as abusive

Mr. Ham,

It’s pointless to try to convince people of the reality of our situation. You simply cannot alter the thought process of those who rely on the controlled media for information and fail to look at history’s repeated warnings or the real evidence that is all around us. The only way for most of the sleeping to awake is by events that will cause an awakening. We haven’t reached that point yet, even though those who are intelligent enough to do their own research can and will see it. It’s like putting together a puzzle, you have to do the work…frankly very few are willing to even open the box.

There is plenty of evidence you can cite to show that our elected leaders have (for a long time now) no interest in doing what is best for the people of our country. If you look at history, there has never been a government, NEVER EVER who has not succumb to the temptation of power and corruption. America is a great country, but not for our current policies or our leaders. It is a great country because of who built it and put our Constitutional laws in place to protect us from the very same kinds of powers that now want to dismantle it. Our founders lived through tyranny, and they knew what would happen if/when the government became too powerful that the people no longer had a voice.

For example: Americans, if really made aware of where the “bailout money” was going (because the FED has enshrouded it in secrecy) would probably be in their own “shock and awe”. Would it be enough for people to change their view? Probably not. We’ve become so apathetic. Until everyone is caged up like an animal, no one will care…and history will again have repeated itself.

Best of luck,

-The Red Pill

Posted by The Red Pill | Report as abusive

and blake. im thrilled that your such a pessimist but why dont you start using arguments that make sence. you seem to think every american has been brainwashed by the media to eat babys at worship the devil. well it isint. you sound like a godamned anarcist and your childish aditude is only making the social situation in this country worse.

Posted by anon | Report as abusive

sorry blake, i meant ham. but i cant say i support either of you.

Posted by anon | Report as abusive

Edward I just dunno what else to say, you’re incapable of making the distinction between the american people and the american government. Am I an american government hater? Yes, yes of course, they’re slowly destroying the country that I love. This government does nothing in line with what we want so when people point out it’s blatant and obvious flaws you should be more quick to agree with them rather than point the finger at some other gov’t or give some reason for our gov’ts blatantly stupid policy stances.

Are our people evil? No of course not, is our government? Yes, no doubt about it. Edward as time goes on you’re going to have less and less people who are quick to defend and deflect in favor of this gov’t, and you’ll be stuck justifying your perspective by calling all those who question this gov’t and it’s tactics un-American.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

You can not fight terrorism without some military might. This fight could just as easily move to Pakistan and other regions. Terrorists do not “negotiate” per se. Their view is more “My way or the highway.” To root them out requires ground forces and smart weapons that can respond immediately to the tactical situation that is prevalent now. Not ten minutes from now.

Some countries can not afford or will not support this mission for political reasons. Therefore, we must fight this battle alone if necessary. Other countries will reap the benefits but not be part of the solution so alone we shall go. The fight is necessary and will go on until done or until some “spineless jellyfish” decides we can not keep going. The latter is the part that chaps my hide. If I had a loved one lost in this fight, and we pull out prior to it really being done, it will all be for nought.

As an veteran, I have witnessed first hand the half coked approach to solving problems. All you do is inflame the terrorists and increase their propaganda/recruiting efforts.

Posted by Ron | Report as abusive

I am equally as exasperated as you, where have I defended the governments actions? All I do is point out that no other country seems to have any nefarious agendas. Only American and Israel have anything to answer for, how is that in any way fair and how does it advance any dialogue other than America is bad and not to be trusted. The inference is that other countries are moral and just and only do bad things because of the US and Israel or don’t matter because the US and Israel are so much more evil.
I don’t see how you don’t get that unflinching criticism without perspective is equally as bad as unwavering defense.
If you want to “debate” with people who agree with you and don’t want to bring any real world perspective, be my guest but don’t try to brand me a defender of the American government simply because I know all governments are basically as corrupt and grasping as their power allows. Do you really think if the US wasn’t doing it’s dirty tricks in these 3rd world nations, some other greater power would not be there fueling the corruption and stealing the resources with just as much gusto?
It’s all well and good to hold ourselves to high standards, but to think that somehow the world wouldn’t be as screwed up if America didn’t interfere is pollyannaish and pointless.
I know how corrupt our system is, how the two parties just represent different special interests at the expense of the middle class. I also know that the rest of the world’s governments are just a corrupt and greedy and would happily step into the vacuum left if the US stopped it’s unjust actions. So don’t tell me I support the system, I just know that America isn’t the only offender. If that is defense in your narrow view, so be it. It’s impossible to judge ethics in the real world by normative standards.

Posted by Edward M. Blake | Report as abusive

I understand what you’re saying I do, trust me I don’t want our gov’t to be terrible at everything. More military musicians than diplomats, more border security in other countries than ours, the IRS can’t account for 30% of what they take in, costs them 3 cents to make a penny, etc, no efficiency or common sense.

I just tend to not bring up other gov’ts cuz really I’m not overly concerned with them, if we take care of what we take care of then our country will be safe and free.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

*if we take care of what we need to take care of*, man typos all over with me lol

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

I think that the real core culminating in the events of the last eight years is competely obfuscated and hidden behind wrong ideals, policies, fears and ego.

The requirement for US534 billion spending on an apparently ineffective military service (not one war won and not one objective completed and held since WW11) seems to be based on the same ideals of the last British empire under Victoria.

Surely in such an over-crowded planet the apportionment of even half the 2010 defense budget coupled with the true humane professionals (aka not employed by government, military or religious organisations) would have a greater and longer lasting effect for Earth.

I would dare to venture that such an outflow of intelligence, humanity, aid and a willingness to listen would go a long way to helping start a return to what USA citizens once aspired to be.

Today’s terrorists were yesterday’s guerillas nee freedom fighters. All that has happened is that over the preceeding fifty years the consistent and pervasive expansion of ‘Americanism’ across the world using political, economic and military means has raised non-american ire in the form of annoyance, anger and frustration with the irreverance shown to non-USA cultures and beliefs. Ironically, Victoria’s empire preceeded and paved the way by spreading English as the global language.

500 F22 fighter and 50 aircraft carrier strike groups cannot defeat a civillian clothed force that carries out strikes against a well identified military force.

Transferring funds from hard asssets to create non-human devices of war (being called irregular warfare) is just as absurd. The development of a purely remote mechanised armed service will remove the last vestiges of humanity left in armed conflict and will just underpin and accelerate the threat.

It seems that the proposed 2010 budget is just perpetuating the malnourished thinking of the last thirty years of USA government.

Posted by Alan Murgatroyd | Report as abusive

How come other countries’ military budgets aren’t so overextended and yet they survive, whatever their political regime?
Eisenhower said it already in January 1961 upon leaving his Oval Office – and he certainly knew, because he helped its creation – it’s the military-industrial complex, the big non-transparent black box which sucks money (though also a big corporate government employer…oh, how leftist!) which keeps striving for survival whatever it takes.
Actually, just a supersized organism like many other trying to survive and keep its host organism – the federal budget maze – alive.

Posted by Hippie | Report as abusive

“500 F22 fighter and 50 aircraft carrier strike groups cannot defeat a civillian clothed force that carries out strikes against a well identified military force.” – Posted by Alan Murgatroyd

This might happen only for one reason – namely, when the military is burdened by concerns other than completing their purely military mission. Particularly – avoidance of collateral damage, respect to local sensitivities, and doing tasks not common for the military such as building schools and hospitals in enemy territory.
Worse yet, these things surely happen when political correctness prevails over the military concerns. Things like proportionality of response, civil rights of enemy combatants, whatnot. And all the do-gooders threatening to sue officers in ICC and whatever other kangaroo courts for violation of whatever civil rights.
The US Army potentially can pacify Afghanistan in a matter of days. However it would take the tools like carpet bombing and napalm. Scorched earth tactics. The problem is, there will be no Afghan people remaining to enjoy peace and quiet. This is the price not even Bush thought appropriate, let alone BHO. But lesser tools will not work. Same with Iraq. If the troops could call for a massive air or heavy artillery strike at any suspected insurgent target, and would shoot at any moving object within zones of exclusion set wherever deemed necessary, Iraq would have been a quiet place – as quiet as a cemetery. The body count of locals though would have been much higher – many times over what it is.
What makes Afghani and Iraqi lives more valuable than German lives in Dresden and Japanese in Hiroshima? Apparently only the mindset of current American leadership. If FDR/Truman were as sensitive, the victory would’ve come about much later, if ever. Well, not in Europe, but only because Stalin didn’t give a [insert proper expletive here] to such sensitivities, and he’d won the war with or without Allied involvement anyway. But the Japanese would have then a fighting chance to keep their imperial regime unchanged.
And one more thing. While even Hitler had the decency to admit defeat in the end, the likes of Taleban and Hamas don’t. For them, the more the civilians of their own side suffer the better – that would raise louder outcry among the Western liberals and eventually stop punishing military actions before the military accomplishes their stated mission.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Ah, the tragic cycle of the anti-war lobby.

All wars continue, until one side runs out of willpower. The war is lost, the moment Americans start to claim so.

If America has a reputation for losing wars, it is not the military that is to blame. It is the lack of political will held by her people.

People live comfortably in the land of the free. So confortable, that many no longer feel the need to care about the suffering of people outside their nation.

They can’t bear the thought that their military is killing people. So they decide to condemn entire nations to slavery and despotism, rather then have blood on their hands.

Just like they abandoned Saigon. And like they want to abandon Iraq and Afganistan.

If you are not willing to kill in order to keep other people free, then you do not deserve the freedom that other people fought to give you.

And yet these same people decry the ineffectiveness of the American military. How could it be that the greatest, most expensive military in the world is beaten by some gurillias in the mist?

The answer? Look in a mirror. The troops didn’t lose the war. You did, when you called for the troops to pull out.

Posted by Anon. | Report as abusive

“If America has no means of enforcing military demands by force, then why would anyone bother to negotiate with them in the first place?”

I beleive that until now it was interesting for most countries to access the US market, and that was the #1 reason making US diplomacy sucessfull. Besides it is an incredibly efficient strategy to obtain cooperation in way you’d never achieve with any military option.

With the crisis we may see countries looking at Asia’s diplomacy like the real superpower in the near future, whatever army anyone may have.

The $534 billion spent on defense will be paid by american tax payers (around $1780/citizen), imagine what could be done for the country with a bit of that yearly jackpot.

Most dangerous opponents are China and Russia, their defense budget totals $120 billion, let’s get crazy and add Iran’s and North Korea budget as well… vs 534 billion there’s still something I dont understand :)

Posted by Jack | Report as abusive

It would seem that the dynamic trio of Anon, Anonymouse and Edward M. Blake is on their “extend the war mission” on this column too!
They obviously can’t see what many people can, that the War which started out with the mission to eradicate Al Quaeda, (which was thwarted by the same government that initiated it, just as the more than capable US military was closing in on their target), then morphed into Regime Change in Iraq on the pretext of non-existent WMD’s (and the WMD’s that had been in Madass’s possession were largely supplied by the US to support the Iraqi’s in the Iraq vs Iran war), which has now morphed into bringing “democracy” to the unfortunate inhabitants of Afghanistan and saving them from their Talebanised medieval society (who if they did get a vote would most likely vote for their own tribal group anyway), which it now seems there is now an attempt to also include womens’ rights as an issue in order to popularise the long-running campaign in Afghanistan in the minds of the Fox news consumer in the states, in the war that has also been peppered with periods of claimed poppy eradication (which curiously seems to have had the opposite effect) and other periods of re-building (which doesn’t seem to have had any effect at all, other than making money disappear).
The rather pathetic claims that anyone who questions the tactics and methods being used in this seeming never-ending war with “foggy” at best constantly shifting goals is a simpleton who is simply Anti-America and Anti-War is a rather bald, obvious and stupid claim coming from a group of morons whose one intention is to fool the American public to attack Iran under the pretext that we will all be better off if Iran does not get a nuclear bomb (which may or may not be the same as the WMD claim prior to Iraq).
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see Iran get a nuclear bomb, as I would much as I would like to see all nukes consigned to history. Conventional warfare appears to have enough destructive capacity without adding nukes to the mix. What I don’t agree with is these muppets method of doing it.
To quote the inimitable Gee Doubleyah, “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you.” I hope your mission fails and you are sidelined by a society which will never look at an investment brochure the same way they did prior to 2007.

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

Oops, I’ve done a Bushism! I must correct my last paragraph… It should of course be “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”!!

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

Anon, you don’t get it, people who don’t want to be occupied will fight with their bands if they have to until there’s no one left. 6 million dead vietnamese isn’t enough for you, trust me, they would’ve fought until it was 10 or 20 million. Is there any price that isn’t too high to pay? A lot of people prefer theocracies or dictatorships to the “democracies” like we have here in the US where your essentially rooting for 2 identical politicians every 4 years.

The same will happen in Iraq if we don’t end our occupation soon, they’ll continue being willing to blow themselves up to get us to leave. People just cast off suicide bombers as insane, maybe that’s true but that’s how motivated so many thousands of people are to get their occupiers off their land.

Why is it so important for us to expand our empire? Is 136 countries with US troops not enough? How many of your own countrymen are you willing to sacrifice for some far off world to have a government you prefer and they might not? How much are you willing to be taxed in order to pay for this nation-building? There has to be a limit, and apparently thousands of young americans and the average homeowner having 40% of their income go to the government in some form or another isn’t enough. We’re so willing to trade our own freedoms for more government, whether it be here or abroad.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive


Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive