Deep and Disproportionate Cuts to the International Affairs Budget: Dangerous to Our National Security

May 11, 2011 By Liz Schrayer

This entry is cross-posted with The Will and the Wallet.

In these tough economic times, leaders in Congress have some difficult choices ahead of them to get our deficit under control and our fiscal house in order.  In recent weeks, however, we haven’t been able to open a newspaper without seeing evidence of the dangerous, complex and every-changing world in which we live.  These are every day reminders that we cannot allow deep and disproportionate cuts to risk our national security and leadership in the world.

Military leaders from General David Petraeus to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen have reminded Congress time and again the International Affairs Budget is a critical part of our national security.  Despite their call, the final FY 2011 budget cut International Affairs programs by over 11% compared to last year.  Perhaps one could argue that in this current fiscal climate, that’s not really that bad.  However, look at the $38 billion in additional cuts to the FY 2011 budget: the International Affairs accounted for nearly 20% of these overall cuts—a disproportionately larger percentage than any other area of the budget.

Now the House has passed a budget for FY 2012 that contains a further 18% cut on top of the FY 2011 figures.  If passed, this would result in a devastating decline of nearly 30% in just two years.

This is of particular concern at the moment when our troops are being drawn down in Iraq and our civilian-led agencies are left to protect the fragile gains we have made.  As our military leaders often remind me, our International Affairs programs not only include counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency assistance in frontline states, but they also help to prevent conflicts before they require military action. When it comes to International Affairs programs, it’s hard to find any area of the budget that does more with less to protect Americans here at home.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee late last month, General David Petraeus said, “I am concerned that levels of funding for our State Department and USAID partners will not sufficiently enable them to build on the hard-fought security achievements of our men and women in uniform.  Inadequate resourcing of our civilian partners could, in fact, jeopardize accomplishment of the overall mission.”

I am impressed with the broad, bipartisan support for our civilian-led agencies, particularly since 9-11 and how support for these programs has grown.  Starting in the Bush Administration and continuing in the Obama Administration, the International Affairs Budget has been designated as national security spending.  Even the recent bipartisan debt commissions agreed International Affairs is part of national security spending.  Unfortunately, recent Congressional legislation breaks this bipartisan tradition, divorcing these vital programs from the rest of our security spending.

Singling out the civilian-led tools of international engagement – a mere 1% of the total budget — has the potential to cause real harm to our men and women in uniform.  As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said to Congress last year, “The more significant the cuts [to the International Affairs Budget], the longer military operations will take, and the more and more lives are at risk!”

And it’s not just about our national security.  Just look at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce letter to Congress noting that “diplomacy and development programs are essential to creating jobs and spurring economic growth in theUnited States.”  As 50 top business leaders said last year, the International Affairs Budget “is a smart economic investment in a stronger and more prosperous future for American workers and businesses.”

Americamust be competitive in the global economy and the tools in the International Affairs Budget help strengthen and open new markets for American goods and services.  Today, nearly half of U.S.exports go to the developing world, a figure that has steadily grown over the past decade, and one in five American jobs is now dependent on trade and exports.

Clearly we must address the deficit, and we welcome the debate in Washington.  But it is critical that this 1% of our budget, programs that are vital to our national and economic security, do not absorb disproportionate and deep cuts along the way to solving a much larger fiscal problem.

Liz Schrayer is Executive Director of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.