Military officers want more diplomacy, or do they?

ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images The nonpartisan Center for U.S. Global Engagement released a new poll this morning, examining the attitudes of active and recently retired military officers toward non-military tools such as diplomacy and development. The survey found that a “significant majority of officers surveyed embrace a new paradigm in which strengthened diplomacy and development assistance ...

594018_080715_milindexsmall5.jpg
594018_080715_milindexsmall5.jpg

ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images

The nonpartisan Center for U.S. Global Engagement released a new poll this morning, examining the attitudes of active and recently retired military officers toward non-military tools such as diplomacy and development. The survey found that a "significant majority of officers surveyed embrace a new paradigm in which strengthened diplomacy and development assistance are important companions to traditional military tools for achieving America's national security goals."

Intrigued, I dug up FP's U.S. Military index from the March/April edition, which surveyed active and retired officers on the current state of the U.S. military. While the polls were designed with different aims in mind, I found an interesting discrepancy between two smiliar sections.

ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images

The nonpartisan Center for U.S. Global Engagement released a new poll this morning, examining the attitudes of active and recently retired military officers toward non-military tools such as diplomacy and development. The survey found that a “significant majority of officers surveyed embrace a new paradigm in which strengthened diplomacy and development assistance are important companions to traditional military tools for achieving America’s national security goals.”

Intrigued, I dug up FP‘s U.S. Military index from the March/April edition, which surveyed active and retired officers on the current state of the U.S. military. While the polls were designed with different aims in mind, I found an interesting discrepancy between two smiliar sections.

From the Center for U.S. Global Engagement:

In evaluating steps the United States could take to achieve our strategic goals and improve national security, officers in our survey rank “strengthening our diplomatic efforts and cooperation with other countries” (83% very/fairly high priority) on par with “increasing counter-insurgency training for our troops” (87%) and “improving our military’s rapid response capabilities” (81%).

From FP:

Below is a list of things that could potentially assist the U.S. military in winning the Global War on Terror. Please choose the TWO most important things you believe the United States government must do to win the war on terror.
31% More robust diplomatic tools
73% Improve intelligence
21% Increase the size of U.S. ground forces
19% Increase the number of troops with foreign language skills
38% Further increase the size of Special Operations Forces
13% Develop a cadre of operational, deployable civilian experts
14% Increase spending on economic development assistance programs

While the officers polled in the Center for U.S. Global Engagement survey seemed to place diplomacy on the same tier as the use of force, the FP index ranks diplomacy as a distant third. What explains the disparity? Several factors could be at work.

First, the two polls have different demographics. The Center for U.S. Global Engagement surveyed 606 commissioned officers, including 499 active duty offices and 107 who retired since Sept. 11, 2001. FP, on the other hand, polled more than 3,400 officers, 71 percent of whom had retired more than 10 years ago. It’s likely the older officers may support more traditional military methods.

More significantly, the Center for U.S. Global Engagement survey allowed officers to rate each strategy in terms of priority, but FP forced respondents to choose the two most important. My guess is that limiting the options forced officers to make a deliberate decision, and when faced with a hard choice the officers chose traditional methods and force over the non-military tools that the Center for U.S. Global Engagement poll highlights.

I’d be curious to see how the results of the Center for U.S. Global Engagement poll would have looked if respondents were faced with the same constraints as the FP index. I’m also curious if this “hard choices” theory explains how budgetary decisions (funding force over diplomacy) are made.

Patrick Fitzgerald is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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