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U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), speaking last night at the Kennedy School Forum, criticized the United States for failing in recent years to develop stronger relationships with international allies, leaving the U.S. military to go it alone in protecting the world against terrorism and extremism.
“The United States has essentially had no public diplomacy in the last few years,” charged Hagel.
U.S. military effectiveness, he said, depends on building coalitions and ensuring that these coalitions understand that the challenges of the 21st century are common to all societies regardless of their differences.
“Terrorism, extremism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Those are not a threat to the United States alone, or to Western Europe or Eastern Europe alone, or Japan alone. They’re a threat to mankind,” he said. “And we’re going to have to build these coalitions of common interests, just as we did during and after World War II when we built NATO, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades to bring the world together in common purpose.”
Such coalitions will take greater pressure off the U.S. military and its troops, noted Hagel. “To strengthen those alliances doesn’t diffuse our purpose and power in the world, it enhances it.”
Hagel underscored the tremendous pressure borne by the U.S. military, which is currently committed in 130 nations and serves in two hostile countries — Iraq and Afghanistan. Half of the country’s active duty army is overseas at a time when recruitment and retention is falling.
“If we continue to commit our force structure more and more overseas, and retention and recruitment are going down, and more are wounded, where does that lead us? The mission must match the resources,” he said. “If not, there will be a failure of foreign policy objectives.”
Hagel emphasized, however, that he remains committed to the idea of an all-volunteer army, saying that a military draft is no longer a viable option. Instead, said Hagel, the U.S. should concentrate on improving military benefits in the areas of education, housing, and healthcare. The pressures on the budget will be immense, Hagel stated, but an increase in benefits is necessary to keep the military competitive.
Hagel lightheartedly brushed off a prediction made by several Kennedy School students, which Dean David Ellwood noted in his introduction, that the senator would win the 2008 presidential election. Hagel told audience members, the majority of whom were Kennedy School students involved in the School’s end-of-year Spring Exercise, that he was not at the Kennedy School to announce his candidacy. He did however describe those students who predicted his 2008 presidential win as “enlightened.”