Saturday, January 17, 2009

Soft power with guns

By Peter Buxbaum in Washington, DC for ISN Security Watch

It hardly could have been a coincidence.
On Wednesday last week, the Pentagon's Military Health Service chief spoke before the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington on the role of the US military in global health. Meanwhile, the head surgeon of US Africa Command flew in from Stuttgart to chair a two-day symposium beginning on Thursday on AFRICOM's health-related activities.

With a new congress having recently been convened and a president about to take the oath of office, it is not surprising that advocates of military medical diplomacy are front and center extolling the virtues of their activities. US military health officials want to protect their budgets in a Washington atmosphere that may not be the best for them.

For one thing, the economic crisis has the US government pouring trillions of dollars into efforts to stimulate financial activity and create jobs, causing the budget deficit to balloon to frightful levels.

More to the point, many in Washington, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is being held over from the Bush administration by Barack Obama, have questioned the growing militarization of US foreign policy. By that, Gates means not only the rush to use US military force before diplomatic channels have been exhausted, but also the emphasis on using military capabilities for projects such as infrastructure building and humanitarian relief.

Ward Casscells, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, in his talk before the bipartisan CSIS, acknowledged that Gates had proposed to cut his budget for global health and transfer that funding to programs run by the State Department, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

"Of course, I'm obliged to say, 'Yes, sir,'" said Casscells, who will also be serving under Obama. But in the next breath he went on to explain why Gates should not take the axe to his budget.
Casscells' basic thesis is that the US military is moving in the direction of exercising more soft power. "Just as good health is an integral part of a person's well-being, a good health sector is vital to a nation's," he said. "The Defense Department's increasing role in global health is essential in improving security in troubled nations and minimizing conflict in others."
The full article is here

No comments: