Cost Effective National Security

March 4, 2011 By Joel Paque

Our civilian investments in frontline states are not only essential to securing a lasting and sustainable peace, but are also more cost-effective than continued military presence. That was one of the messages that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered to the House Foreign Affairs Committee when testifying on Tuesday in support of the President’s FY2012 International Affairs Budget request.

“Shifting responsibilities from soldiers to civilians actually saves taxpayers a great deal of money,” Secretary Clinton said, highlighting the dramatic savings anticipated by a shift from military to civilian-led operations in Iraq.  This year, for the first time, the State Department has presented its budget in a parallel manner to the Department of Defense, distinguishing between the “core” budget and Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account for frontline states.

By presenting their budget this way, the State Department hopes to underscore what Secretary Gates and other military leaders have been saying, “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”  Secretary Clinton testified that, for FY12, the military’s total OCO request worldwide will drop by $45 billion from 2010 as U.S. troops come home.  At the same time, the OCO account for the State Department and USAID will increase by less than $4 billion.  “Every business owner I know would gladly invest $4 to save $45,” said Secretary Clinton.

But it isn’t only the OCO account that is critical to our national security—as Secretary Clinton testified, “This budget devotes over $4 billion to sustaining a strong U.S. presence in volatile places where our security and interests are at stake.  In Yemen, it provides security, development and humanitarian assistance to deny al Qaeda a safe haven and to promote stability and progress. It focuses on those same goals in Somalia.  It helps northern and southern Sudanese chart a peaceful future.  It helps Haiti to rebuild.  And it proposes a new Global Security Contingency Fund that would pool resources and expertise with the Defense Department to respond quickly as new challenges emerge.”

While Congress and the President must take a hard look at the budget during these times of fiscal uncertainty, it would be shortsighted to look to the vital programs in the International Affairs Budget for savings. With 100,000 troops already home from Iraq, and with a planned drawdown of troops in Afghanistan set to begin later this year, Congress should keep the lessons of “Charlie Wilson’s War” in mind—if we don’t invest in the necessary diplomatic and development programs to help rebuild these countries today, we could end up paying dearly in both lives and dollars down the road.