A Critical Juncture

September 2, 2011 By Jane Kaminski

“We’re at a critical point.”

That’s what Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides said this week about the budget while speaking at the Center for American Progress.  As appropriators are considering cuts of up to 20% for the FY 2012 International Affairs Budget from just two years ago and begin planning for FY13, the value of international affairs programs and American leadership in the world cannot be overstated.

The argument the International Affairs Budget should be considered as part of a unified national security budget is not new and has earned bipartisan support.  Secretary Clinton came out in support of this approach last year, saying “In tough budget years you’ve got to make the case… how diplomacy and development support security. And in order to do that, you’ve got to have a better coordination among the three,” she said, “We’ve got to have a unified approach.”

A report released this week by the Task Force on a Unified National Security Budget says their idea could save nearly $50 billion by rebalancing funding among the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State without sacrificing national security.  It refers to these three departments respectively as defense, offense, and prevention.  The authors of the report argue that, looking forward, we should focus more on prevention rather than offense.  Diplomacy and development provide preventive and stabilizing measures that mitigate conflicts, reducing the need for military intervention, a role valued and stressed by military and defense leaders.  In Secretary Gates’s words, “Development is a lot cheaper than sending in soldiers.”

Even when considered as part of the National Security Budget, the International Affairs budget makes up a small portion of the budget, which includes the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and some select programs from other agencies.


At less than 2% of the federal budget, the International Affairs Budget punches above its weight in the value it provides to the American people through economic, developmental, and diplomatic.  “Deep and disproportionate cuts won’t do anything or make any sense if our goal is to enhance our national security,” said Nides.

At a time when prevention is growing ever more important as Iraq and Afghanistan transition to civilian control, it is vital for Congress to recognize the value of diplomacy and development.  As Deputy Secretary Nides said, “Few things are more important than making the case for security, economic, and humanitarian assistance. And few things are more important than making sure that Washington appropriates funding in a rational way.”