Former Defense Secretary Gates Calls for Revamp of Diplomacy and (functions of) USIA to Refocus Non-Military Instruments of Power

Editor’s Note: During his time as Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates advocated for instruments of “soft power” and advocated for increased spending on diplomacy and for the State Department. In a seminal speech known as the Landon Lecture at Kansas State University on November 7, 2007, Secretary Gates called for increased civilian participation in foreign affairs and increasing government resources for diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development in its efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremist. You can watch that 2007 video here. Fast forward to May 2020, when the United States is grappling with the global impacts of a pandemic and a strategy focused on competition with great powers and state actors such as China and Russia. In an article to be published in the July/August 2020 issue of Foreign Affairs, former Secretary Gates once again confronts the “overmilitarization” of  American foreign policy and the need to re-invest in non-military instruments of national power, such as foreign aid, strategic communications, and a strengthened State Department to harness the whole of government in international affairs. Gates laments the loss of the U.S. Information Agency, particularly as our adversaries become increasingly skilled in cyber warfare, and the diminished role and funding of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“What’s needed is a new top-level organization—akin to the USIA on steroids and located within the State Department but empowered by the president—to enable consistent strategic communication using all available venues. It would oversee all traditional and electronic messaging, including social media, and all public statements and other communication efforts by other parts of the U.S. government relating to foreign policy.”

Gates is not alone in his thinking. Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, leading a series of events at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) this week on Future Strategy, also stressed the need for the U.S. to rebuild its economic and diplomatic savvy, by strengthening the State Department, economic power tools, and becoming more effective in the “Grey zone” of conflict.

Read Secretary Gates’ full article in Foreign Policy here.

1 Response
  1. Michael Williams

    Former Sec Gates was a big proponent of strengthening DoD capabilities as well and led a Defense-Wide review of IO programs and organizations. It was best known for pushing the term Military Information Support Operations (MISO) on the PSYOP community but that was actually a very minor action coming out of the review. The most important actions were making the USD(P) responsible for IO (said oversight has since withered for reasons explained elsewhere) and for stressing the need for oversight of the many, many IRC programs in the Department which are largely uncoordinated efforts from a Joint perspective (see, e.g. the hidden from sight reduction in airborne broadcast platforms accomplished by the USAF (with tacit assent from USSOCOM)). Goes without saying that there remains little joint oversight of IRC development though USCYBERCOM is likely to gain more control of service efforts in the cyber arena. I was once told “Want to know about the Department’s policy on a particular topic? Show me where the money is spent, and I’ll tell you what that policy is.” I think that’s still about right.