Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses audience members at Kansas State Universities Landon Lecture Series in Manhattan, Kan. on March 3.
MANHATTAN, Kan. (March 3, 2010) – The nation’s top military officer expressed concern today that U.S. government agencies other than the military have been slow to expand their role in Afghanistan.
Speaking to an audience at Kansas State University here, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, underscored the need for a “whole-of-government” approach to Afghanistan, with greater input from so-called “soft power” agencies such as the State Department.
“My fear, quite frankly, is that we aren’t moving fast enough in this regard,” Mullen said. “U.S. foreign policy is still too dominated by the military, too dependent on the generals and admiral who lead our major overseas commands, and not enough on the State Department.”
Mullen’s remarks at the Landon Lecture echoed a familiar refrain that the United States should seek balance in military and nonmilitary efforts, a tack that represents a departure from what Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has referred to as a “creeping militarization” in American foreign policy.
The chairman embraced requests by Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for more funding and greater emphasis on soft power, suggesting that deployment of U.S. troops should depend on other government agencies’ readiness to engage.
“I would argue that in future struggles of the asymmetric, counterinsurgent variety,” he said, “we ought to make a pre-condition of committing our troops that we will do so only if and when the other instruments of national power are ready to engage as well.”
Mullen acknowledged the value of having a strong military able to rapidly deploy in response to national security needs, but stressed the need to have more weight shouldered by interagency partners.
“It’s one thing to be able and willing to serve as emergency responders,” he said, “but quite another to always have to be the fire chief.”
In a speech that borrowed themes from the school of international relations that emphasizes multinational solutions, Mullen said a whole-of-government approach within the United States should be complemented by support from American allies and partners.
“In addition to bringing the full weight of the U.S. government to bear, we must also bring our allies and partners with us to the fight,” he said, noting that 42 nations are participating with the United States in Afghanistan.
“Whether by formal alliance or informal agreement,” he continued, “multinational commitments lend not only a higher sense of legitimacy to the effort, they lend to local populations certain skills and knowledge which we alone do not possess.”
Mullen gave a two-fold message in his assessment of the security alliance engaged in Afghanistan, most of which comprises troops from the 28-member NATO alliance. He said the sacrifices and efforts of allies are significant, even if the level of contributions isn’t as great as that of the United States.
“But that doesn’t detract from the very real impact many of them make,” he said. “It also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exhort them to do more.”
The chairman predicted the multinational force would succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but cautioned against expecting that any new strategy applied to a counterinsurgency operation could render a swift victory.
“We will win, but we will do so only over time and only after near-constant reassessment and adjustment,” he said. “Quite frankly, it will feel a lot less like a knockout punch and a lot more like a recovering a from a long illness.”