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June 29, 2009

Militarizing Domestic Policy Watch
Posted by Michael Cohen

There is a really fascinating article in today's Washington Post about the simmering dispute between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense over border security. DHS wants more National Guard troops on the border and the Pentagon is warning of mission creep and larding on more responsibilities for the military that civilian agencies should be handling.

This is a tricky issue. I'm sympathetic to DHS and the border governors who are dealing with rising violence and it is the job of the military to, at least theoretically, protect the homeland. But, I think Gen. Victor Reunart head of U.S. Northern Command hits the nail on the head:

"It should not be that we always rely on the Department of Defense to fulfill some need," said Renuart, who is responsible for defending the continental United States.

Border law enforcement agencies should have adequate funds to do their job, he said. If the Guard is tapped, it should be for capabilities "that do not exist elsewhere in government," Renuart said.

The process that Renuart describes is one that has been constantly repeated over the past 15 years. The US lacks civilian capacity to do effective development work - call the military. The President calls for a civilian surge in Afghanistan, but doesn't have enough civilians to do the job - let's have the military do it.  AID is a hollow shell - rely on the military to not only do development but dole out foreign assistance.  The simple fact is that, whether it’s waging the war on terror or the war on drugs; nation-building in post-conflict environments; development, democracy promotion or diplomacy; fighting cyber-criminals or training foreign armies the global face of the United States today is most likely to be that of a uniformed solider.

So yes there is real danger of continuing this dangerous process by giving the military even more to do here at home. This dispute also highlights a key element of causality in this ongoing militarization of what should be civilian responsibilities: it's often the fault of civilians. In their recent excellent report on civil-military relations Sarah Sewall and John White at the Carr Center make this point quite nicely:

If civilians abdicate responsibility for the tough choices, or fail to resource or support civilian agencies, they effectively push the military into decisions and activities that belong primarily in the civilian space.

The military is not some magic Swiss Army knife that can solve every problem; at some point the civilian agencies like the Border Guard and others need to do their job - or Congress needs to appropriate the funds so they can do their job.


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