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.