The ultimate strategic and social capital of the Reserves lies in the fact that they are first and foremost citizens. "America's greatest asset is its people," the National Security Strategy adds. "We must foster even deeper connections among Americans and people around the globe. Our long-term security will come not from our ability to instill fear in other peoples, but through our capacity to speak to their hopes. And that work will best be done through the power of the decency and dignity of the American people -- our troops and diplomats, but also our private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and citizens."
A perfect example of this work is the 20-year-old State Partnership Program of the National Guard, involving 65 nations worldwide, 28 of them in the Western Hemisphere alone. Utilizing citizen-ambassadors as well as citizen-soldiers, no other initiative more directly and broadly connects communities in America with communities abroad. Drawing now upon combat experience, they play a critical role in democratizing as well as professionalizing partner-nation forces. With more focused management and other program improvements, even more can be done.
If, in its strategic redirection, the United States intends to "lead through civilian power" as suggested in the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, then enhancing the Reserves makes even more sense. Long upholding a civil-military relationship critical to the nation's sociopolitical vitality, maintenance of its national values, and its democratic soft power, the Reserves help legitimize U.S. political-military efforts. Given the relevance of "global public engagement" to the 21st century international environment, these comparative advantages can be neither underestimated nor overlooked.
Civil-military transition management, for example, is something every reservist contends with, if not every month then with every deployment -- faced with complexities and uncertainties unfamiliar to most of their active counterparts. This is the main reason, for example, why more than 85 percent of Army Civil Affairs -- a crucial capability for stability and security engagement operations -- is in the Reserve component. Being largely from the private sector, they have a different approach to risk and opportunity that may be more conducive to persistent engagement strategies -- especially those that look to "build partnership capacity," as called for in the Quadrennial Defense Review.
The Reserves represent a great bargain, particularly in a time of shrinking resources, and their experience and know-how should not be wasted. Their transition into an operational as well as a strategic resource -- their most significant qualitative transformation in the last century -- makes it possible for them to play a greater role in defending the United States than even Abrams envisioned. The way to maintain the nation's return on its investment in the part-time force is to use it in steady-state missions, to further develop its human capital and equipment, and to continue to overhaul its cumbersome Cold War-era financial and personnel systems.
Although recent legislation has enabled the Reserves to deploy in support of disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and to perform homeland defense missions, and although most commands can now deploy soldiers directly to the area of operations, authorities to call up individual reservists or small teams for short-term tours of duty abroad are still a work in progress. Additionally, more could be done to allow Active and Reserve component personnel to migrate back and forth across the "continuum of service" in order to improve force management and retention, access personnel with special backgrounds and skills more easily, and ultimately save even more on costs.
The great contributions the Reserves could make are not matched by advocacy on Capitol Hill, and in many ways they are still resisted by a defense establishment heavily slanted toward the full-timers. It is remarkable, for example, that none of the articles the services have written for Foreign Policy on the future force make any mention of the Reserve component. Nor do most of the major studies coming out of Washington's think tanks.
Relying more on the Reserves would help restore balance in America's distorted civil-military relationship. Additionally, as the Cato Institute's Benjamin Friedman posited, a smaller active military "would not only save a fortune but also encourage policymakers to employ the armed services less promiscuously, keeping American troops -- and the country at large -- out of needless trouble." Reintroducing a smaller standing army and larger militia as in the first 150 years of U.S. history would also help reinvigorate America's moral standing abroad as a nation that looks, as Elihu Root said, "not to promote war but preserve peace."
And it could help with reform at home. As James R. Locher III, a prime mover on the Goldwater-Nichols reorganization, pointed out: "The Reserves are ideally situated to play a major role as a driver and shaping force to national security transformation, and more than because of their obvious stakeholder status.... Being mainly outside the government structure, in the private sector, their far-reaching influence in and out of Washington can also play a critical role in...addressing challenges that threaten everyone and developing opportunities that benefit all."
Jefferson's "unnecessary soldier" has been the paradox of the national strength and character of the United States. It has not been the warrior who has saved us in times of clear and present danger, or made America much the envy of the world. It has been the citizen who becomes one, whenever and wherever in need.