A Rift Between US State, Defense Departments?

At a Jan. 27 hearing of the Senate Arms Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there needed to be better cooperation between the military and civilian aid groups. "Coordination of these international efforts has been difficult, to say the least," the Bush administration holdover said, according to the New York Times. Gates added that the Pentagon is spread thin in Afghanistan and that it needs to adopt more modest goals.

Does this mean that Gates might be willing to offload some of the development responsibilities that the Pentagon had taken on during the Bush years? Secretary of State Hilary Clinton would seem on board. During her confirmation in mid-January, she said that the U.S. Agency for International Development had been "decimated" during the Bush years and that the Pentagon too often took control of development initiatives. She attributed this to the perception that DOD can get things done faster.

"When a young Army captain gets cash to go build a school, that's foreign aid. That's not war fighting," Clinton said in apparent criticism of DOD's recent role in providing development assistance.

So, Gates tells the Senate that there needs to be greater coordination between the U.S. military and civilian aid groups and that DOD is overextended in Afghanistan, while Clinton says that DOD has too much control over development projects and that USAID needs to be retooled to better provide assistance. It's unclear if their positions on the roles of State Department vs. Pentagon are congruent, or whether this has the makings of an ideological shift within the Obama administration. (Calls placed to USAID were not returned.)

Either way, these statements raise one of the most interesting questions that the development community will face under the Obama administration. Will the "militarization" of aid - through Africom and other similar projects - continue or will there be a renewed effort to get development work done through USAID and the State Department?

About the author

  • David Francis

    David is a Washington-based journalist and former Devex staffer who spearheaded Devex's "Obama's Foreign Aid Reform" blog. He has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, SportsIllustrated.com, San Francisco Chronicle, Foreign Policy magazine, and the Washington Monthly. David holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and a graduate degree from Georgetown University.