A Comprehensive National Security Strategy

August 22, 2011 By Jane Kaminski

As the debate heats up over the budget, concerns continue about the disproportionate cuts to diplomacy and development.  While both the Obama and Bush administrations have fought to realign and bolster international affairs programs, proposed budget cuts threaten the capacity of the civilian arms of U.S. foreign policy.  Under the debt deal reached earlier this month, the International Affairs Budget will be grouped with the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs when facing budget cuts in FY12 and FY13, making the International Affairs Budget more vulnerable to reductions when competing for resources with other agencies.

Unfortunately, the trend of declining resources and authorities for American civilian agencies is not new.  In a new book, State vs. Defense, the journalist Stephan Glain notes that most budgets dropped sharply after the fall of the Soviet Union, including both the State Department and the Department of Defense.  However, as a result of the first invasion of Iraq, the war in the Balkans and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Department of Defense’s budget soon returned to, then exceeded, Cold War-levels. Meanwhile, the civilian agencies’ staffing and capacity have not recovered as robustly.  As Glain says, “The number of State Department diplomats and support staff is only 10% greater than it was a quarter of a century ago, when there were twenty-four fewer countries in the world and U.S. interests were concentrated in Europe and northeast Asia.”

When considering budget cuts, we must also consider the threats we face in today’s world.  With the expansion of asymmetrical warfare, an intertwined global economy, threats of pandemic disease, military strength is not enough. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen has said, “Our future security concerns require a whole of government effort, not just a military one, and we serve best when we serve hand-in-hand with all of our partners and support, rather than lead, foreign policy.”

Glain’s book echoes the consensus that the programs of the International Affairs Budget are vital U.S. foreign policy, saying that the challenges of today’s world “should bid up the value of nonmilitary methods of protecting U.S. interests overseas,” adding that “Pentagon officials are emphatic about the need to bolster civilian capacity to assert ‘smart power’.” Legislators will soon have the task of making final decision on the budget.  They have an opportunity to demonstrate their support for a comprehensive, ‘smart power’ national security by ensuring a strong and effective International Affairs Budget.