Move Over State Department, Defense Department Shapes Foreign Policy

By Battlefields Staff
Battlefields Staff
Battlefields Staff
The Battlefields Staff is a diverse collective of military veterans, first responders, and their supporters, who share their thoughts and experiences on the front lines and the home front through The Epoch Times.
February 2, 2023Updated: February 2, 2023


“Distrust and caution are the parents of security.”—Benjamin Franklin

Has the Constitution created a gap and seam in U.S. national security? By design, the framers of the Constitution created checks between the executive and legislative branches. The Constitution created a separation between the ends and ways—controlled by the executive branch and the means—allocated by Congress. While the power to declare war constitutionally rests with Congress, the president commands the military and is responsible for planning U.S. security strategy. The framers of the Constitution did take care to limit the president’s powers regarding the military; Alexander Hamilton explains this in his Federalist No. 69 essay.

”The president is to be commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy of the United States. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces … while the power of the British king extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies, all of which … would appertain to the legislature.”

Along with the armed forces, the president also directs U.S. foreign policy. The president decides whether to recognize new nations and new governments and negotiates treaties with other nations, which become binding when approved by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. Congress has an important role in national security, including the exclusive power to declare war and to raise and maintain the armed forces.

However, the real gap or seam in U.S. national security stems not from these constitutionally mandated separations in power between the executive branch and Congress, but rather from the gap between national security and foreign policy. At a time when adversaries seek asymmetrical advantages over the United States, a disconnect between our military and foreign policy is one that can potentially be exploited.

Dana Priest wrote in a book called “The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace With America’s Military” about how the military’s regional combat commanders were responsible for planning operations and managing security relations in vast swaths of the world, and increasingly served as the faces of U.S. foreign policy. U.S. military leaders acknowledge the role foreign policy plays in shaping military strategy; however, there is increasing frustration with the State Department’s inability to lead U.S. foreign policy.

Some argue that the reason for the State Department’s inability to lead the nation’s foreign policy is due to the lack of resources. Former secretaries of defense and chairmans of the joint chiefs have advocated for greater State Department funding. The State Department has determined that it needs an additional $3.3 billion across four years to meet its current mission requirements. Such a sum amounts to roughly a 1.5 percent increase in the department’s $52.8 billion yearly operations budget.

That is a small number compared to the Defense Department’s annual budget request. However, a lack of financial resources is not the primary issue. The State Department’s inability to conduct U.S. foreign policy is due to its lack of efficacy and leadership. As an organization, the State Department does not train or prepare its leaders to conduct planning and execution on a commensurate scale with the U.S. military. Lacking efficiency and leadership, U.S. foreign policy implementation, therefore, defaults to the Defense Department.

Although the U.S. military is quick to long for the days when it simply could fight and win the nation’s wars, in reality, the Defense Department will continue to shape U.S. foreign policy. For example, combatant commanders continue to shape foreign policy regionally through the execution of the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF), Foreign Military Sales, and International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. FMF has preserved the peace between Israel and Egypt, and the IMET program has allowed U.S. senior leaders to foster and leverage relationships vital to national security interests.

Improving the capabilities of the State Department and creating civilian operational capacity is vital to sealing the gaps between U.S. military and foreign policy. However, this will take time. The United States cannot afford to abrogate the security of the nation to allow the State Department to catch up. Therefore, the Defense Department must continue to act as a principal element in the execution of foreign policy. The military may no longer have as its purpose merely to fight and win America’s wars but now must create conditions for peace and stability.

By an anonymous former Special Forces Officer. 

This article first appeared in The Havok Journal.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute department endorsement.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.