Gates proposes $2 billion in funds to aid unstable countries

By Mary Beth Sheridan and Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 24, 2009

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has proposed a major overhaul of the way the Pentagon and State Department do nation-building, seeking to end friction between the bureaucracies by putting them jointly in charge of three huge new funds aimed at stabilizing strife-ridden countries.

The proposal is aimed at addressing problems that have dogged the U.S. effort in Iraq and Afghanistan -- particularly, disputes over whether civilians or the better-funded military should be in charge of stabilization.

But Gates' proposal goes beyond those conflicts to address what the military increasingly sees as the greatest threat to the United States -- failing states such as Yemen and Somalia that could provide a haven for terrorist groups.

The proposal would concentrate existing and new money in three long-term funds totaling as much as $2 billion. They would be dedicated to training security forces, preventing conflicts and stabilizing violence-torn societies around the world. The funds would exist separately from the war budgets, and allow for quicker and better-coordinated response to looming or actual conflicts, officials said.

In a memo to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gates noted that the huge increase in Pentagon funding for stabilization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan has prompted complaints about the militarization of U.S. foreign policy.

The proposal "sets forth a new approach that could transcend these debates. It argues for a new model of shared responsibility and pooled resources for cross-cutting security challenges," Gates wrote in the unclassified Dec. 15 memo, which was obtained by The Washington Post.

Gates hasn't discussed his proposal directly with Clinton, though they have talked about the broader issue, officials said.

Several legislative aides and a senior administration official said Gates' idea for joint funds might not fly, given that the multiple congressional committees that oversee the Defense and State budgets are unlikely to cede control.

More broadly, the plan could raise concerns that the Defense Department is trying to expand its growing role in institution-building, which was traditionally carried out by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

"It goes well beyond current Defense Department involvement in stabilization and conflict prevention," said Gordon Adams, a defense and foreign affairs budgeting expert at the Stimson Center think tank. "And the sizeable money they're asking for seems unrealistic." Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell said the proposal wasn't a Pentagon power play but "an attempt to get people out of the business-as-usual approach."

"We need to be much more quick to respond to allies who are in need of security assistance so they can handle these problems and they don't devolve into emergencies that require American forces," he said.

Under Gates' proposal, State and Defense would provide money from their own budgets -- either contributing 50/50 or according to each department's priorities. The departments would select the projects together.

Gates painted different scenarios for launching the three funds in 2011. The most ambitious envisions a $1 billion fund to train and equip foreign security forces and another $1 billion for conflict prevention and stabilization. "Such an approach would dramatically increase non-military assistance," the memo says.

The joint funds, based on a model used by Britain, would not only improve coordination but set up a broader mechanism to finance national-security needs, Gates said. While the Pentagon has gotten generous increases in recent years, State has lagged.

"The civilian component of what we're doing is critical to success for our country," Gates told U.S. soldiers in Kirkuk, Iraq, earlier this month, echoing a concern he has expressed frequently. "And, unfortunately, the civilian elements of our government -- the State Department, AID and so on -- have been starved of resources for decades."

State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said the department was reviewing the memo.

"It contains some creative ideas on moving forward. Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates share an interest in improving the security assistance process," he said.

The Gates memo is vague on where the lines would be drawn between the funds aimed at improving security services, fostering stabilization and preventing crises. The lack of detail could raise hackles among lawmakers concerned that the pools could become open-ended funding obligations.

Gates noted that the joint funds would fall under the oversight jurisdiction of eight congressional committees. To avoid a bureaucratic nightmare, he suggested creating special standing committees in the House and Senate.

The State Department traditionally has taken the lead in institution-building abroad, including providing funds for training and equipping security forces. In recent years, the Pentagon has become more active in that area through its $350 million-a-year Global Train and Equip Program and the Commander's Emergency Response Program, which allows officers to hand out small grants for starting businesses or doing community projects. That program received about $1.5 billion in 2009.

Staff writer Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company