Diplomacy can’t achieve much without the military.
From Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” analysts and foreign policy professionals have agreed that diplomacy without force to back it up rarely gets the job done — especially in cases that are vital to national security (think Iraq, Syria and North Korea).
But the pendulum may have swung too far in recent years to favor the big stick. The best response to this argument probably came from then-Defense Secretary Bob Gates. He told a Washington think tank in 2008 that diplomacy and development should lead American efforts abroad, and he warned against a “creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy. “It is important,” he said, “that the military is — and is clearly seen to be — in a supporting role to civilian agencies.”
The Foreign Service is typically our first contact in our relations with other states and other peoples. Experts inside and outside government know that it is cheaper and more effective to allow our diplomats to deal with crisis situations before they explode, rather than after. But even if the money is appropriated, it is difficult to claim success for the civil war that has been averted, for the mass rapes that have not occurred or for the state that has not failed. We all know, however, how easy (if regrettable) it is to claim success for the combatants killed, the enemy strongholds taken and the number of prisoners captured. In an update of Gates’s statement, we can recall Gen. Jim Mattis’s 2013 remarks, while leading U.S. Central Command: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”