Gordon Adams: Why The U.S. Military Shouldn’t Be Tasked With Rebuilding Nations

This week, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter hosted American University Professor in Foreign Policy and former senior White House budget official for national security Gordon Adams as part of the Next American Economy, where the two discussed how the U.S. military establishment has changed over time and how America’s funding for the Department of Defense (DOD) does not amount to a successful mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. So what can we learn about rebuilding nations? Adams says, “it’s not the military’s mission to build a sustainable, developed architecture in these areas,” and yet we still invest more money in the DOD than civilian groups pursuing the same goals.

Gordon Adams :: Interview [excerpt] from Roosevelt Institute on Vimeo.

Adams points out that when the military became professionalized in 1976, it developed a new structure and culture so that ”today there’s almost not a function in the American government that you can’t find somewhere in miniature in the DOD.” This includes research on cancer research, HIV, and climate change and that “somewhere there is a pocket of money in the defense department that is doing work in one of those areas.” However he points out two problems with this: “We under resource our civilian capabilities to do the things that really are their missions in education and in health research,” and while we’re “under resourcing in the federal government” we are only “somewhat resourcing the capability in the DOD.” He adds that nation-building “is not core to DOD’s mission.”

While we think the DOD might be competent because it has money and a clear command structure, Adams says the problem is that we are too dependent on it to pursue missions that provide “short term delivery, a short term product intended to win the hearts and minds of people in those two countries but is in no way sustainable by the local government.” He continues that even though we build all kinds of health clinics and roads, there are no nurses, doctors, and other workers to maintain this infrastructure in the long term. “The difficulty I think we face more broadly as a government,” he says, “is we tend now increasingly to operate on the assumption that the DOD is the only capable institution in American government.” Perhaps we should turn to the many other civilian organizations that are actually committed long-term to bettering the world through research and rebuilding. Check out the rest of the interview in the video below: