Interview with Defense NewsJohn Hillen, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs
By Vago Muradian of Defense News
October 9, 2006
Few U.S. government bodies better meld the elements required to fight terrorism and insurgency than the State Departmentís bureau of political-military affairs. John Hillen, quoting George Orwell, explains his job as building bridges between diplomats and "the rough men who stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."
That is more important than ever as the United States struggles with insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan and the prospect of a long war that experts contend will take more diplomacy than firepower.
Hillen, a former Army cavalryman who served in the 1991 Gulf War, has a doctorate in security studies from Oxford University. After his military service, he ran information technology companies before taking his current post last October. His priorities include building "partnership capacity" by recruiting allies into U.S.-led coalitions, and working with the Pentagon to embed diplomats into military units.
QUESTION: Is diplomacy as important as firepower in this new war?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILLEN: To paraphrase Churchill, the world is producing more history than it can consume. The demand for international security forces that are expeditionary, deployable and sustainable greatly exceeds the worldís supply.
It is in the common security interest of the United States to partner with nations around the world because there just arenít enough forces to go around for things like humanitarian intervention in a place like Darfur or traditional peacekeeping in Lebanon or regional security in places like North Korea or the Persian Gulf, through to counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Given the strain on our forces, the best thing we can do is to build capacity in our partners, and in the nonmilitary parts of our government. That is explicitly recognized in the Quadrennial Defense Review: that security these days requires us to pull together all our resources. In much of the world, security is as much about good governance and economic opportunity as it is about tanks, ships and planes.
The military has done all the doctrinal and intellectual work. The reality of counterinsurgency warfare is that 80 percent is political and 20 percent military. As Secretary Condoleezza Rice recently said, the military has borne a disproportionate share of the political responsibility for operations like Iraq and Afghanistan.
QUESTION: But thatís because the Pentagon didnít want State involved in its show.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILLEN: Weíre moving forward. A key tenet of transformational diplomacy is the recognition that challenges are as likely to come from transnational and substate actors as from traditional states.
That is driving a reallocation of resources within the State Department. For example, there were 20 political officers in Moscow, but only three in New Delhi. There was something very wrong in that and so Secretary Rice is moving hundreds of diplomats from Europe to Asia and the Middle East.
QUESTION: Are you expanding the political adviser program?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILLEN: In the past, the political advisers were usually retiring ambassadors that we would give out to the four-stars. We are now tripling the program and pushing it down to the brigade level with younger people. I had a young language-speaking, regionally trained Foreign Service Officer advising the Army brigade in Khost, Afghanistan. They need each other because they are in an environment where politics, policy and diplomacy meet military operations in the field.
In the old model, these worlds came together at the generalís headquarters. Now, they intersect on a street corner in Fallujah, a town hall meeting in Khost or an agricultural development project in Basra. We are pushing diplomatic assets and resources to lower levels, asking them to integrate day-to-day operations in the field with the military.
QUESTION: Isnít part of this a resource problem? When it comes to funding, itís often said the Pentagon is on steroids and everyone else is on life support.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILLEN: Secretary Rice is pushing hard to redress this imbalance of effort, which as you point out, is rooted in resources, but thatís for the president and the Congress to address.
In the meantime, there are creative things we can do where one is very well-resourced and the other isnít, but weíre all in the same business. Thatís why weíre using DoD money to do help with common challenges that state and DoD have, like security assistance. Last year, $200 million was authorized, and we used about $100 million in projects. This year, $300 million will be authorized.
QUESTION: Whatís still needed?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILLEN: Weíve done some entrepreneurial things with DoD, but we need to really institutionalize them. Iíve talked to members of Congress, many of whom have talked about the need for a Goldwater-Nichols act on the interagency level. The question is how you institutionalize these changes to continue to encourage good behavior and expanding cooperation. We are still getting our heads into the right place mentally to do that.
Jeb Nadaner at DoD has been a great partner because we can come up with ideas and run with it. If you have the energy, you will find the resources. And weíre building champions for our cause on the Hill and elsewhere to get things institutionalized.
One question is how you measure foreign aid. What is the value of U.S. troops deployed to a country? Is there foreign assistance value there? Are there different ways to measure what our government is doing? What are we doing commercially by direct investment apart from U.S. government funding?
QUESTION: What did you learn from the Israel-Hizbollah war?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILLEN: From a policy perspective, we have been working to bring peacekeepers to southern Lebanon. Our main focus is to train and equip the Lebanese armed forces, which ultimately is the key to success.
From a defense trade perspective, Iranian support for Hizbollah raised serious questions. So how do you craft end-user agreements and third-party transfer limits with nonstate actors sworn to bad purposes?
I have pressed our allies hard to understand our concerns. We recently put off-limits the sale of lethal arms to Venezuela, given our concerns about President Hugo Chavezís intentions. We had to work very hard with allies who have seen this as a market.
QUESTION: Are you still rounding up portable anti-aircraft missiles?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILLEN: Our Small Arms-Light Weapons Group is running around the world grabbing up these missiles. To date, we have gotten and destroyed just over 19,000 missiles and have agreements to destroy another 5,000. By our estimate, thatís about half of the worldís loosely secured or unsecured anti-aircraft missiles. Many of those are likely nonoperational. We have been doing it for about three years, and if you count everything in the interagency process, it probably costs us about $15 million a year.
QUESTION: Hizbollah used against Israel lots of sophisticated gear, including exact copies of American TOW anti-tank missiles said to be made in Iran.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILLEN: What happened between Hizbollah and Israel, and what is happening every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the future of conflict. Not many people are standing up and saying this whole insurgency thing is a fad and that in a few days weíll get back to good old state-on-state conflict. Rather, we must improve quickly.
That means bending the bureaucratic muscle memory of the institutions around training for and deploying together. It isnít just a military task. We need to get as much civilian capacity in the field as possible so the Marine lieutenant colonel running a micro-financing development on the outskirts of Ramadi, the infantry captain overseeing agricultural development in Afghanistan or the major convening a shurra arenít left on their own.
QUESTION: You also oversee the export licensing process. Industry still complains approvals take too long. Your view?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILLEN: I agree. My business is coalition-building, and the defense licensing process needs to reflect that. I have elevated the importance of licenses for Iraq and Afghanistan from our allies. So if youíre Australian, British, Canadian or another ally fighting alongside us, youíre license requests are going to the top of the pile.
Iíve revamped the Defense Trade Advisory Group, made it smaller to try to get us as far ahead of this process as possible. And it no longer has to meet publicly in plenary session. I want this to be the problem solver it is supposed to be. And when it comes to license discussions, Iíve asked companies to send me their profit-and-loss people, not their government relations guys. Donít get me wrong, theyíre great, but when you talk to the people who affect cash flow and profit, you can get more done.
QUESTION: What about the munitions list? Does it need further review?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILLEN: It is continually amended. We work with Congress to make sure that we satisfy their concerns but also evolve with a regulatory regime that fits with a globalized defense industry that continues to evolve.
The International Traffic in Arms Regulations is a living document. Any change must be done in accord with Congress. But the big temptation is to say, "because of the complexity of the issue and the political difficulties, letís stick to process changes to cut processing times by a day or so." At the end of the day, youíre not going to make any progress unless you attack this thing in a systemic way in partnership with all these communities, including Congress.
By Vago Muradian in Washington.