American National Security Strategy: The Challenge of Resourcing a Strategy


By Richard Weitz

The PNSR Case Studies: Righting Resource Allocation

Allocating resources improperly is a persistent problem with U.S. national security policy. The national security system finds it easier to mobilize resources for hard power assets (e.g., military capabilities) than for soft power capabilities (e.g., civilian agencies or public diplomacy).

Congressional resource allocation is uneven but generally less supportive of soft power assets, especially public diplomacy, than for hard military power capabilities. Other regulatory and administrative procedures further hamper the timely provisions and redistribution of resources for national security strategies

Even when civil-military cooperation exists at the strategic level, the insufficient funding and staffing of non-DOD agencies engaged in international affairs makes operational integration difficult to achieve.

Such was the case with pacification efforts during the Vietnam War, Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the police training effort in particular, to cite only a few examples.

All too often, U.S. policy makers employ the military to address national security challenges simply because the Pentagon has the most readily available personnel, money, and other resources, even if their employment leads to inefficient and inadequate policies. Credit Image: Bigstock

The resource mismatch prevents the system from providing the full range of capabilities necessary for priority national missions, undermines U.S. surge capacity, and heightens interagency friction by reinforcing civil-military tension in the field and in Washington, where budgets are protected with fierce institutional loyalty.

Simply put, the cases indicate that national security policy will remain ineffective as long as civilian international affairs assets are under-funded and under-staffed.

The case studies of the Iraq War, the disestablishment of USIA, Bosnia and Kosovo, and U.S. policy towards Uzbekistan, among others, illustrate how inadequate soft power resources have deprived the United States of the ability to employ all requisite elements of national power.

The U.S. government’s inability to provide enough trained civilian officials, diplomats, and aid workers especially inhibits U.S. capacity to conduct overseas field operations.

Such limitations have also subverted the much-touted 3D strategy of Operation Enduring Freedom-Horn of Africa, resulting in the mission emphasizing one D (Defense) to the exclusion of the others (Diplomacy and Development). Analysts fear that the effectiveness of AFRICOM will be undermined by similar deficiencies. To date, resource shortfalls have rendered civilian agencies unable to fill billets within AFRICOM in accordance with DOD requests.

All too often, U.S. policy makers employ the military to address national security challenges simply because the Pentagon has the most readily available personnel, money, and other resources, even if their employment leads to inefficient and inadequate policies.

Ironically, this process prevails even when DOD leaders would prefer that civilian agencies lead the response for missions that require the military to perform roles outside its core competence. This was evident during Operation Uphold Democracy when the military took on tasks that civilian agencies had originally been assigned but for which they lacked resources.

Across agencies, the cases find that the USG suffers from shortfalls in foreign language capability and local expertise. The studies conclude U.S. policy towards Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa have been especially affected by such deficiencies.

The case literature points out that the implementation of public diplomacy, peacekeeping, counterterrorism, reconstruction, stablization, and other activities central to 21st century national security are inherently handicapped by these shortfalls.

Washington has had additional personnel problems as a result of its difficulty in recruiting, training, and integrating individuals with expertise in relatively new areas of national security such as the health and finance. Taken together, all these personnel weaknesses are partially symptomatic of a USG bias towards hard-power assets and a proclivity to resource past challenges and current crises.

Strategy planning and resource allocation focuses on managing urgent, short-term national security dilemmas rather than enduring challenges.

Time and other resource limits make this tendency inevitable, especially at the presidential and White House level, but departments also tend to be reactive in their planning and resourcing. Congress also tends to focus on (and resource) immediate national security concerns.

As a result, the U.S. government encounters great difficulty in constructing preventative strategies, as demonstrated by its belated response to the escalating civil strife in Rwanda, Bosnia, and East Timor. For many vital national security issues, the president is the only person who can authoritatively compel integration.

Yet, the ideal time to address crises is at their earliest stages, when they are most malleable and before they have inflicted extensive damage. All too often, however, it is only after a conflict escalates to major proportions that it motivates the presidential action needed to induce a well-integrated and well-resourced U.S. government response. And if presidential attention wanders, so can the resources, as seen in the failure of the Treasury Department and the CIA to resource the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center until three days after 9/11, notwithstanding that the center was authorized and partially funded by President Clinton in May 2000.

Moreover, congressional resourcing decisions are regular catalysts for inter-branch conflict. Recent U.S. history offers numerous examples of executive-legislative conflict in policy development and execution. Representative cases include U.S. policy toward China, the U.S.-Indian nuclear relationship, and American policies towards Central Asia.

Conflict over resources is especially prevalent, with both branches resorting to various stratagems to circumvent the other.

Although the Iran-Contra affair provides the most egregious example of this problem, other instances regularly occur, such as when the President or Secretary of State, in order to advance the national security agenda, is compelled to certify, perhaps falsely, that the human rights situation in China or Uzbekistan has improved, that Pakistan’s nuclear program is under control, or that the Russian government has met the criteria to receive aid in dismantling, securing, and controlling its nuclear materials.

When the Administration and Congress pursue independent strategies, successful implementation and outcomes become increasingly difficult.