A UN Perspective on the Gates-Panetta-Petraeus Shift

The Beltway is buzzing this morning with news of some big shifts in the American national security bureaucracy.  General Petraeus is apparently leaving Afghanistan to head the Central Intelligence Agency, and Leon Panetta–who leads the CIA–will reportedly become the next Defense Secretary to replace Bob Gates, who is retiring.

From a UN perspective, the most significant of these shifts is Gates’ departure.  Secretary Gates’ unique contribution to his post as head of the $500 billion U.S. defense establishment has been his championing of increased funding for the State Department and other non-military aspects of US national security. It is far more typical for a rivalry to exist between State and Defense than it is for a Defense Secretary to urge Congress to direct national security dollars somewhere outside of his control.

What makes Gates so unique is that he’s probably the most vocal proponent of increased State department funding outside the State Department. He’s been on the case since he was serving a Republican administration, which lends these arguments some credibility among the party that controls the House of Representatives at the moment.

Consider this 2007 speech:

Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense – not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion – less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.

Despite new hires, there are only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers – less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group. And personnel challenges loom on the horizon. By one estimate, 30 percent of USAID’s Foreign Service officers are eligible for retirement this year – valuable experience that cannot be contracted out.

Presumably, after serving several years in various top positions in Washington, Leon Panetta understands how the imbalance between defense and civilian national resources undermines American long term security interests. I do wonder, though, if he’ll be as forceful an advocate for the cause as Gates.