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American Forces Press Service

Military-Diplomatic Relationship as Critical in Pacific as Middle East

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

HONOLULU, Sept. 26, 2007 – With a big emphasis in Iraq on getting diplomatic and economic progress to catch up with security progress, officials here say U.S. military-diplomatic cooperation is just as important here, half a world away in the Pacific.

The so-called “DIME” principle of applying all elements of national power –– diplomatic, information, military and economic -- to U.S. foreign policy goals is as key to maintaining stability in this region as everywhere else in the world, Ambassador Gene B. Christy told American Forces Press Service.

As the full-time foreign policy advisor to Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Christy provides a vital communication link among PACOM, the State Department and U.S. ambassadors in the region.

The goal, he said, is to ensure that as the United States engages with countries in the region, it leverages its diplomatic and military efforts in a coordinated, unified way. It’s an effort he said has improved significantly since Sept. 11, 2001, and continues to be more synchronized.

At the simplest level, diplomacy takes the lead in assuring friends and allies of U.S. support, or deterring aggression and of dissuading excessive military buildups that could threaten them, he said. “It’s the part you want to have most active, most engaged and most successful, so you don’t face having to implement the ‘M,’” or military force, he explained.

But at the same time, Christy said, diplomacy can’t be fully effective without military power backing it up. “You have to have the ‘M’ to make the other parts credible,” he said. “Deterrence will deter no one if you have no capability to deter and to move onto the next stage.”

U.S. military power adds another dimension to the diplomatic equation, Christy said. It’s often the major catalyst in building partnerships, alliances and coalitions. Particularly in small and relatively vulnerable countries, a strong relationship with the United States offers an assurance “that in the event of trouble, there would be a friend in a position to come to your assistance,” he said. “And in that case, the United States is a pretty good friend to have.”

Military-to-military relationships offer other, more immediate benefits as well. For example, he said, some countries welcome the political message and the deterrence value that comes when a U.S. ship visits its port. Many view exercises with the U.S. military as an opportunity to enhance their own military skills and capabilities. Still others, like tiny Tonga, which recently sent its second 55-member troop contingent to Iraq to serve in Multinational Force Iraq, take strong national pride in contributing to a coalition effort alongside the United States.

Ambassador Larry Dinger, U.S. ambassador to Tonga as well as Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Nauru, said the military component has always been important toward diplomatic efforts around the world. “The military does the warfighting, but everything else that goes after it and around the edges of it needs both (military and diplomatic) systems contributing,” he said.

The military contribution has become increasingly important in recent years in the Pacific Island nations, particularly as U.S. Agency for International Development funding for the region has dried up. That, he said, makes military programs one of the most important tools in his diplomatic toolbox.

“When we can provide the Tongans with some ammunition and equipment and training and exercises, it’s a big deal,” he said. “It is really appreciated, and it strengthens the relationship. It works.”

Another benefit to the region is the humanitarian assistance missions the U.S. military regularly carries out. These range from teams delivering critically needed medical and dental care to construction crews building schools and clinics to servicemembers visiting orphanages or performing concerts.

Dinger cited a recent humanitarian exercise in which teams of U.S. military reservists carried out week-long medical-support and construction missions in Kiribati and Nauru. “The people-to-people aspect was phenomenal,” he said. The troops involved “reconfirmed U.S. engagement with this region and with each country.”

Christy called this “soft power” application of military capabilities an important aspect of diplomatic efforts in the region. It helps to win hearts and minds as it builds new relationships or repairs strained ones, he said.

Few examples of the healing effect of this soft power compare to the U.S. military response following the December 2004 tsunami that devastated Ache, Indonesia. U.S.-Indonesian relations were at a low ebb at the time when U.S. forces rushed in to offer relief.

“Here were soldiers rescuing babies, delivering food, doing things that demonstrated a great deal of sympathy and empathy,” Christy said.

Even less dramatic personal interactions go a long way toward supporting diplomatic efforts, he said. A Foreign Service officer who’s reached the apex of his career and earned the title “ambassador,” Christy hesitates to call U.S. servicemembers ambassadors as they interface with foreign militaries and citizens. But he acknowledges that in many ways, these troops serve as the embodiment of U.S. values overseas.

Whether volunteering for a civic-action program or simply shopping at a local market, they give foreign nationals the opportunity to “put a human face on American soldiers and sailors,” Christy said. That’s particularly important, he added, in cases where people have never met an American personally and might have preconceived and possibly negative notions about Americans.

“There’s a lot of misappreciation of the United States, and one of the most effective ways to overcome that is through people-to-people contacts,” Christy said. In this way, he explained, individual soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines “are becoming part of the ‘D’” application of the DIME principle.

“They play a very active role in diplomacy by their presence, their behaviors, their openness, their willingness to engage with people and satisfy their curiosity,” he said. “They are diplomats. They are ambassadors. They are showing what America is all about,” he said.

As important as this relationship is to the Pacific, Dinger said, it’s important to the United States, too, as friends and allies become stronger partners in the security of the region and beyond. There’s “no doubt that the military role in this region is important,” Dinger said. “And it’s encouraging that even in the midst of huge military investment in the Middle East, we are clearly seeing more within this region, too.”

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