Why Militarized Aid Fails
By Mary Stata on 01/07/2011 @ 09:30 AM
Military action is no longer regarded as the only effective tool of U.S. foreign policy. From the halls of Congress to the Pentagon, high ranking US officials now tout development and diplomacy as critical components of foreign policy.
Despite this wide support, the State Department and US Agency for International Development (USAID) remain woefully underfunded compared to the military. Over the past few decades, State and USAID’s shrinking budgets and capacity resulted in the military filling in the gaps by assuming traditional development and diplomatic activities. This trend is referred to as “militarized aid”.
A recent Foreign Affairs article describes militarized aid as ineffective for four reasons:
the pressure to spend huge funding quickly, the inability to match human resources with project management demands, the dominance of short-term political goals over longer-term development needs, and the focus of aid on certain groups for tactical gain.
In other words, militarized aid doesn’t work. It fails because its motivations are politically driven rather than centered around the needs of the communities it serves.
This week, the Washington Post highlighted failures of the Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) in Iraq and Afghanistan, which provides flexible spending to the military to use for development projects. Congress allocated CERP $5 billion over the past six years despite the program’s significant shortcomings.
Given the shaky economy and staggering deficit, the U.S. cannot afford to waste money on expensive and short-sighted aid projects that ultimately don’t work.
The Obama administration must separate the roles of civilian and military personnel, increase civilian agency capacity, and prioritize long-term development over short-sighted national security interests. Until this happens, more money will be wasted and development needs will remain unmet.