Mission Creep: The Militarization of U.S. Foreign Policy? Edited by Gordon Adams and Shoon Murray. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. 2014.
“Overall, even outside Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States military has become more involved in a range of activities that in the past were perceived to be the exclusive province of civilian agencies and organizations. This has led to concern among many organizations ...about what’s seen as a creeping “militarization” of some aspects of America’s foreign policy. This is not an entirely unreasonable sentiment.”
In July 2008, at a dinner for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offered the above words. The quote, and the concern expressed by Secretary Gates, opens the increasingly relevant book, Mission Creep: The Militarization of US Foreign Policy? Edited by Gordon Adams and Shoon Murray, Mission Creep brings together eleven national security experts to explain the history of the ever-expanding Defense Department mission-sets and why they believe the Department of Defense is seen as the best deliverer of American foreign policy by the Executive and Legislative branches of U.S. government. Adams and Murray begin the book by defining the Defense Department’s mission creep as expanded “activities and programs into areas that go beyond core military operations” and militarization as “a growing trend to view decisions on national security strategy, policies, and policy implementation from a military perspective.” From these definitions, the authors examine two major questions. First, whether the Defense Department should be considered the governmental lead on projects outside of the core mission of warfighting based on their competency to actually complete those projects. Second, what it means for American national security when the Executive and Legislative branches operate as though the Defense Department is America’s only useful manifestation of national power.
The book is divided in three parts: The Institutional and Political Context, Observing the Militarization Trend, and Implications of Militarization. The first outlines how the Cold War and stability operations in the 1990s helped produce the current strategic view of the Executive, as well as how changing Congressional attitudes have reinforced the increased role of the Defense Department in activities outside of core military operations. In the second, the book transitions from the historical context of militarization, to delve deeper into the wider breadth of the Defense Department’s expansion into non-core missions. The chapters range in focus on the Defense Department’s role in, or encroachment on, a range of fields such as humanitarian assistance projects, public diplomacy efforts, and the post-9/11 world-wide counterterrorism campaign. These chapters are exceptionally well-researched, well-thought out, and well-argued vignettes of the Defense Department capturing the "turf” of various civilian departments and agencies, successfully or not. The concluding section, summarizes the themes and chapters of the previous parts, addresses the question, “Does the mission creep and militarization of foreign policy matter?” and asks what the long-term consequences of the increasingly large role the Defense Department plays in American foreign policy decision making might be.
Readers hoping for a narrative that portrays the Defense Department as an aggressive and out of control organization preying on weak and feckless agencies in the complex climate of post-9/11 national security challenges, should look elsewhere.
The topics of militarization and mission creep can easily slide into generalizations, but the combined collection of authors strike a remarkably fair tone. While the authors generally agree the US military’s mission-sets have expanded into the domains of other agencies and departments, each author provides their own unique perspective on questions of whether the Defense Department is best suited for the expanded missions it has taken, what could be done to improve the efficacy of those missions, and whether the non-Defense Department lead agency or department is even capable of carrying out their former roles. The authors look critically at both the expansion of Defense Department missions, and why it is looked at as the most reliable tool of American power. The authors present a common theme of an agency or department not having enough financial and/or quality human resources to match the Defense Department and having very little agency with Congress. Readers hoping for a narrative that portrays the Defense Department as an aggressive and out of control organization preying on weak and feckless agencies in the complex climate of post-9/11 national security challenges, should look elsewhere. Instead the authors deftly present an even-handed view where the Defense Department has expanded into new missions and encroached on the turf of other agencies, but has not done so alone. They contend the increasing militarization of foreign policy was not an overnight change beginning with the George W. Bush administration after 9/11 and accelerated under President Obama. Instead, they describe a consistent and long term process with Congress, the United States Agency for International Development, the Department of State, and other parts of the Executive, all helping in their own unique institutional ways, to facilitate this shift and pull greater power to the Pentagon.
While some authors provide policy prescriptions to change or tweak the current expanded missions, actually rolling back Defense Department influence is generally agreed to be a nearly impossible endeavor and out of the hands of many of the affected institutions. The closing chapter by Adams offers a grim and plausible view that the only way for militarization and mission creep to be rolled back is after a major crisis or shock in policy. The examples of what these shocks are range from coups in countries the U.S. has supported militarily or a negative reaction to U.S. military presence in a host nation. Whether these shocks or crises would actually change the institutional imbalance are outside of the scope of this review, but worth pondering as crises in the Asia-Pacific, North and West Africa, and the Levant continue to escalate.
Mission Creep is a valuable and thought-provoking book that should be read by all students and practitioners of national security, be they diplomats, military professionals, or humanitarian workers.
Mission Creep: The Militarization of US Foreign Policy? is a well-crafted book that succeeds at examining the complex history and meaning of why the U.S. military is increasingly seen as the face of America abroad. The viewpoints and history examined by the authors’ are relevant as the United States continues to operate in more complex environments and the Defense Department is asked to continue expanding its mission-set outside of combat operations. Mission Creep is a valuable and thought-provoking book that should be read by all students and practitioners of national security, be they diplomats, military professionals, or humanitarian workers.
Ian Platz is a defense research analyst. Follow him on Twitter @Ian_Platz.
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Header Image: U.S. forces instruct a Jordanian soldier on how to fire a M-4 carbine rifle during live-fire training at Al Qatranah Range in Jordan. (U.S. Army photo)
 Adams, Gordon, and Shoon Murray, eds. Mission Creep The Militarization of US Foreign Policy? Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014, 3.
 Ibid, 14.