Foreign Policy Blogs

Beyond Kicking In The Door

“Our own national security toolbox must be well-equipped with more than just hammers.”

Robert Gates, US Secretary of Defense

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates understands that the challenges America will face in an increasingly multi-polar 21st century  require capabilities that extend beyond traditional combat operations. The U.S. military increasingly finds itself ordered to support peacekeeping, and reconstruction operations while maintaining its ability to kick the door in on any regime that threatens vital national interests.


Reacting to this new reality, the military a few years ago, promulgated a directive called “Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction Operations”. The directive was released with little fan-fare, however, it marked the beginning of a new era in military affairs by requiring the military to channel the same level of resources to “war prevention“ as it does preparing for combat.

Critics have expressed skepticism of the military’s move into the war prevention and nation building sand-box. Do we really want our military spending even modest amount of resources to support developmental-like programs? For example, how do you feel about the military deploying an Agriculture Development Team to enhance the agriculture productivity in rural Afghan provinces?

As we continue to support what has become a cross-generational counter-insurgency operation in Afghanistan, national security decision makers have had little choice but to ask our troops to support operations that would normally fall under the purview of organizations like the United States Agency For International Development (USAID). USAID’s parent organization, the Department of State, simply does not have the resources to take on very dangerous and man-power intensive projects in unstable environs like Afghanistan. The military on the other hand has the willingness, if not the expertise, to get the job done. Hopefully, the State Department will be able to rectify this shortfall in coming years so that the military can concentrate on a very limited set of pre and post conflict mission sets. Until then, American troops will likely have to learn how to repair and re-paint the doors they kick in.




Oliver Barrett

Oliver Leighton-Barrett is a multi-lingual researcher and a decorated retired military officer specializing in the inter-play between fragile states and national security matters. A former U.S. Marine, and Naval aviator, Oliver is a veteran of several notable U.S. military operations, to include: Operation Restore Hope (Somalia); and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and Philippines). His functional areas of focus include: U.S. Diplomacy; U.S. Defense; and Climate Change. His geographic areas of focus include: Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).