WASHINGTON (AFP) — US Defense Secretary Robert Gates called Monday for a dramatic increase in spending on civilian efforts to project US "soft power" globally through diplomacy, foreign aid and public relations.
"We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen," Gates said in a speech at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.
Gates said greater civilian participation was needed for the success of military operations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan but also to head off problems before they turn into conflicts.
He said the 36 billion dollars a year the United States budgets for foreign policy programs is "disproportionately small" when compared to a military budget that is now close to a trillion dollars a year.
"What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on civilian instruments of national security -- diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development," he said.
Noting the irony of a defense secretary advocating spending on diplomacy, Gates said "I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use 'soft power' and for better integrating it with 'hard power.'"
He was particularly scathing about Washington's failure at "communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture."
"It is just plain embarrassing that Al-Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America," he said.
In addition, Gates said the United States needed to develop "a permanent, sizeable cadre of immediately deployable experts with disparate skills" to work alongside the military in trouble spots.
The State Department, which is trying to build what it calls a "civilian response corps," has had difficulty filling positions with provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gates suggested that with just 6,600 professional foreign service officers, the US diplomatic corps is not big enough for the complex challenges that have arisen since the end of the Cold War.
New civilian institutions were needed to project America's "soft power," he said.
The US military also has to adjust to the reality that it is more likely to find itself fighting guerrillas and terrorists than conventional armies, he said.
"These conflicts will be fundamentally political in nature, and require the application of all elements of national power," he said.
"Success will be less a matter of imposing one's will and more a function of shaping behavior -- of friends, adversaries, and most importantly, the people in between."
In a question and answer session in Kansas that was broadcast at the Pentagon, Gates acknowledged that anti-American sentiment has been high and many countries are ambivalent about US power.
But he said "most governments are eager to work with us," citing Russia and China as well as Germany and France.
"I'm having to, frankly, review 40 years of biases when dealing with the French," he said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is "amazingly pro-American and is looking for ways to cooperate with us," he said.
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