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State Department working to solidify gains in influence

Aug. 8, 2012 - 04:02PM   |  
Andrew Shapiro, the U.S. assistant secretary of state, said Aug. 8 the State Department and the Pentagon are working more closely together than ever before.
Andrew Shapiro, the U.S. assistant secretary of state, said Aug. 8 the State Department and the Pentagon are working more closely together than ever before. (U.S. State Department)

The U.S. State Department has earned a greater say in international security policy, aided by years of joint nation-building in the Middle East that has improved cooperation with the Pentagon, a top State official said Wednesday.

The department is trying to shore up those gains in preparation for likely budget cuts, Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Speaking about the cooperation between the departments as a pillar of broader U.S. security policy, Shapiro emphasized that the State Department has been critical in global security planning.

The “State Department is a national security agency, too,” he said. “We are helping to save lives every day.”

State has, in recent years, increased its efforts to become directly involved in security assurance, even during military operations. It had diplomatic staff members on the ground in Libya during intense fighting there last year, Shapiro said.

As context for the increased role of the department, Shapiro pointed to efforts made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to create fertile ground for coordination, helping State gain a greater voice in how military might and U.S. assistance are applied abroad.

“Under this administration, there has been a sea change in State-Defense cooperation,” he said. “In previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic, relations between the two departments were often characterized by suspicion and distrust.

“Under the leadership of Secretary Clinton, as well as former Secretary Gates and [Defense] Secretary [Leon] Panetta, relations between State and [the Defense Department] are the best they have ever been,” he said. “The cooperation between the State Department and the Pentagon is truly unprecedented, and I think this will be remembered as one of Secretary Clinton’s lasting legacies.”

That improved cooperation has been aided by better funding despite persistent prejudices, as well as support from the defense establishment, he said.

“Unfortunately, there remains a lingering misperception out there that funding for the State Department isn’t as essential to strengthening our country’s national security,” he said. “Of course, our defense colleagues know better; just ask Secretary Panetta or [Army] General [Martin] Dempsey,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “They understand that investments in development and diplomacy today will make it less likely that we ask our troops to deploy tomorrow.”

Besides anecdotal accounts, Shapiro highlighted several programs that indicate changed attitudes:

• The creation of the Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF), a joint pool of money funded by upwards of $200 million from DoD and $50 million from the State Department to be used for rapid responses to security situations.

• A January memorandum of understanding signed by the two departments that nearly doubled the size of a personnel swap program, meaning that roughly 100 DoD staff members will be working at the State Department, and 95 State staff members will be working at DoD. The near parity is a notable departure from past agreements, under which State provided the lion’s share of personnel.

• The creation of a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), modeled on the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) that DoD employs for long-term planning.

Although headway has been made on improving the lot of the State Department, Shapiro said the fiscal threat posed by looming budget cuts could greatly harm the department if cuts are inappropriately applied.

“We’re in budget-challenged times, where we have to make the best possible case for every dollar,” he said. “There will always be a bit of a disparity in budgets because DoD just has more people and more things that cost a lot of money.

“What we need to make sure of is that the resources that we both get are not working at cross purposes, and that the secretary of state’s authority over foreign policy is not in any way undermined by resources being used in a way which would contradict U.S. foreign policy or the State Department’s leadership over foreign policy,” Shapiro said.

John Hamre, the head of CSIS and a former deputy secretary of defense, described the relationship between DoD and State as difficult at times and the current situation as delicate.

“This is a fragile little flower that’s growing in a hostile landscape,” he said. “It’s going to require support and nourishing from all of us.”

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