Monday, September 08, 2008

Civilians and the military in Latin America

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a speech at the Defense Ministerial of the Americas, and made some points I've mentioned a number of times in this blog, and which have been emphasized a lot in recent years:

For example, combating transnational crime, defeating terrorism, and responding to national disasters requires coordinated action across a range of government departments and agencies. In certain cases, militaries may be called upon to play a supporting role to civilian authorities when responding to these threats – but the exact nature of their role requires careful thought and discussion within each nation’s government and society.

By the same token, in areas such as law enforcement and public administration, civilian capacity may not match the expertise found in many of our armed forces. It is important that non-military capabilities receive adequate manning and funding – a point I emphasize frequently with respect to our State Department’s budget.

When I meet with my colleagues from the Americas and around the world, a consistent challenge I hear about is the need to work more collaboratively with legislatures and parliaments. The more we can educate legislatures and their staffs, to improve their expertise on defense matters, the better choices they will make when it comes to security funding and policy.

Unfortunately, change in this regard is slow. It will require a real change in how civilians view the armed forces, to develop lasting interest that allows for greater interaction, particularly with legislatures. This is not impossible (Michelle Bachelet is a good example) but it is incredibly difficult.


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