Restructure State to Save It

Cross-posted from, your one-stop shop for news and analysis of going on in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Thirteen months ago, I noted the problems caused by the U.S. State Department having dramatically different divisions than the military COCOMs.

The DoD considers Pakistan part of the Central Command, or CENTCOM (which includes the Middle East and Central Asia), but places India in the Pacific Command, PACOM. Meanwhile, the State Department places all of Central Asia in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, while neighboring areas like the Middle East are a part of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. How Africa policy is divided up is even more chaotic.

The end result is a confusing, bureaucratic mess, in which multiple and otherwise fairly independent military commands have to coordinate with multiple State Department bureaus to execute the President’s foreign policy goals, whatever they may be. (There is a side issue to this, which is that nearly 93% of the U.S.’s foreign policy budget is military and only 7% is diplomatic and aid, but that’s a larger post not entirely appropriate to this space.)

In that post I was lamenting the problem of considering Pakistan outside of its relationship with India, since Pakistan filters almost all of its foreign policy through the formulation of India as its primary threat.

It seems I’m not alone: Mountain Runner, an excellent blog about public diplomacy, linked to this paper on the ways the DOS needs to change to better adapt to the modern operating environment.

In order to increase American diplomatic power and improve interagency coordination, it is critical to create a diplomatic post on par with the military’s theater combatant commander, providing leadership and oversight, and coordination of regional diplomatic efforts with emphasis on crisis response, stability operations, and “soft power” projection. Placing some diplomatic expertise in the combatant commands, as is being done with USAFRICOM, appears to further the notion that the regional military commander is the “most influential USG representative” and in a “position of preeminence.” DOS must make bold moves to reorganize and revitalize its ability to project diplomatic power and lead the U.S. government’s interagency efforts overseas.

And so on. It’s a damned fine idea. Meanwhile, the State Department is gently reminding us that al Qaeda remains a threat to world security. Pity they can’t field any useful teams of agents to the region most likely to harbor future al Qaeda operatives.

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5 Responses to “Restructure State to Save It”

  1. on 01 May 2008 at 6:35 am Keith_Indy

    The big question would be, even if it reorganized, would state be the department to do all this.

    DOS should create a Regional Chief of Mission (RCM), responsible for leading and synchronizing interagency capabilities to project the full range of national power elements. This diplomatic post would work in tandem with the geographic combatant commander and ensure a diplomatic face is planted on the region, not just a military one. It would also provide a regional leader for coordinating the non-military elements of national power and take the lead role in integrating interagency approaches to fulfill government objectives.

    They don’t have the capacity now to do it, nor have they had the leadership or internal wherewithal to change. That’s why a new department may be the option that gets the ball moving. Take the parts of the DOD and DOS that deal with aid, development and security, and mash them into one. Not that growing the size of the government is the best option, but if doing our best to make the world a better place to live is a goal, we should do our best to do it well.

    the proposed new department “would cover the process of getting states from failure to functioning, from instability to stability, from disconnectedness to connectedness, from war to peace, and transition them from what I have dubbed globalization’s ‘non-integrating gap’ (where the wild things are) to its ‘functioning core.’”

  2. on 01 May 2008 at 6:42 am Joshua Foust

    Barnett is nice, but his bias from working at the DOD is also pretty evident. Those authors — not coincidentally all middle-ranking officers in multiple branches of the military (the military is the strongest proponent for this, which is itself also interesting to note) — see the role of the State Department to represent the U.S.’s “soft power” abroad. I’m very sympathetic to this idea: diplomacy in its many forms is only one part of this equation. Since USAID tackles problems of governance, security, and economics, in addition to just handouts to poor people, it makes sense to have it at State. Similarly, the “department of everything else” that Barnett loves so much should be the State Department.

    Just because it doesn’t have the internal werewithal to change doesn’t mean it shouldn’t. Reducing it to just the diplomatic corps would permanently cripple the idea of diplomats, as they would have a severely reduced role in general interstate relations, and the sensitive interagency conflict zone operations we’re discussing here.

    It is notable how deeply both Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell have failed in performing any real transformative tasks along these lines. They can’t even be bothered to pretty please ask Congress to stop cutting the budget for foreign service officers, to say nothing of actually changing the Department to reflect the modern world.

  3. on 01 May 2008 at 7:08 am Keith_Indy

    It is disappointing that Rice and Powell didn’t push for more change.  But then, with 9/11, you would think anyone who wanted change would have stepped up to the plate, in any branch.  Certainly some have probably done that and been smacked down by the bureaucracy and careerists.

    The problem I see with State doing all this other work is in the area of providing security.
    Somalia and Haiti are two cases where we did intervene, and had to have more security then state could provide.  Those are cases where you can’t trust the locals to provide the security, nor do you necessarily want a large military footprint (because their mandate is to blow things up and capture bad guys.)

    You said it yourself, State represents our “soft power.”  DOD is our “hard power.”  What about the middle?  Those places where we are needed but not necessarily invited, like Rwanda, Somalia, Haiti.

    I’m all for what ever has the best chance of working.

  4. on 01 May 2008 at 7:18 am Joshua Foust

    I must be missing the middle ground. I’ll be sarcastic and ask: is that called “squishy power?” The point here is that State should lead interagency efforts — that is, efforts between agencies. As in: they handle the political and economic issues, while the military does what it does best and provides security.

    Barnett’s idea of combining the two is the same fundamental problem raised by Provincial Reconstruction Teams: it ends up crippling the military units, and limiting the diplomats. That’s not to say those don’t work — I think a retasked PRT, with a section of FSOs at the head directing policy and acting as advisors to the local BCT — could be enormously effective. That sort of thing is what the paper addresses, and is how I think State needs to evolve.

  5. on 01 May 2008 at 8:51 pm peter jackson

    I think countries like England and Poland, i.e. real countries, should get diplomats, and juntas such as the one in Pakistan should get military attaches (lawyers) who report to both State and DOD. And by this I don’t mean to imply that we owe all of the juntas in the world malice, but nor should we offer them the same dignity we offer our democratic counterparts.

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