Obama’s Failure to Demilitarize US Foreign Policy

Obama exiting a camouflaged Air Force One. Image: Truthout/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 30 October, 2015.

The Obama administration has received much attention for its policy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region. The rebalance has been described as President Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative. Launched in 2009, it has received much attention from academics, practitioners, think tanks, and the media. In reality, the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific has been more evolutionary than revolutionary; a U.S. shift in focus and grand strategy began well before President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009.

If the Obama presidency in fact initiated a revolutionary rebalancing, it was his effort to rebalance American foreign policy generally from over-reliance on the military and toward greater reliance on diplomacy and development. Despite a concerted effort, when viewed through several lenses it seems clear that demilitarization has failed and U.S. foreign policy remains very, perhaps overly, militarized. As a result, the Pentagon can expect to be handed messy military operations short of inter-state war that it may not be prepared, equipped, or organized to handle efficiently or effectively.

End of ISAF, End of NATO?

Medical evacuation training at FOB Farah, Afghanistan.

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 29 May 2014. War on the Rocks Editor’s Note: This op-ed is based on the author’s article entitled, “Maintaining transatlantic strategic, operational and tactical interoperability in an era of austerity,” International Affairs 90: 3 (2014) 583–600, May 2014.

It is no accident that forces from NATO member states can actually operate alongside or embedded with one another. Interoperability is, in large part, the product of a war, one that is soon ending: the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)’s campaign in Afghanistan.  Later this year, though, NATO’s extensive involvement in operations in Afghanistan will come to an end, and with it, the alliance’s workshop for building and maintaining an unprecedented level of interoperability.

The end of NATO’s involvement in this war is, of course, not something to be mourned. Between the loss of blood and treasure over the last decade – including nearly 3,500 coalition deaths – and the defense austerity most allies are navigating, the expiration of the ISAF mandate is something to be thankful for. However, it will mean that NATO, and specifically the ground forces of alliance member states, will face greater difficulty in maintaining this unprecedented level of operational and tactical interoperability.