Support for Development and Diplomacy Broadening

April 10, 2012 By Joel Paque

Although some in Washington say that “international affairs has no domestic constituency,” the range of voices in support of diplomacy and development suggest otherwise.  Last week, over 80 military leaders signed a letter to Congress supporting U.S. diplomacy and development efforts, saying, “In today’s ever-complex world, we must use all the tools of national security to achieve our objectives, including a strong State Department and other civilian-led agencies.” This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about the foundation of smart power to the cadets at the Virginia Military Institute.  Clinton tied her message to the legacy of George C. Marshall, saying, “Along with the great problem of maintaining the peace, we must solve the problem of the pittance of food, of clothing and coal and homes.  Neither of these problems can be solved alone.  They are directly related to one another.”  Our current financial situation should not overshadow the importance of these efforts to our security, she advised.  “Once again, our country is facing tight budgets, and there is a dangerous impulse to withdraw from our responsibilities, because, some say, we can no longer afford to engage internationally. But now, as then, we must recognize that strengthening America’s global leadership is the best investment we can make in our own future.”

Add to this the support of the private sector and it isn’t hard to see that global engagement is gaining such strong backing because it’s about keeping America safe and promoting our economy, while helping countries in need.  Business leaders are clear—investing in the developing world isn’t about Corporate Social Responsibility, it’s about promoting U.S. economic interests in new and expanding markets and helping build new partners.  In a recent letter to Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, “Diplomacy and development programs are essential to creating jobs and spurring economic growth in the United States. The International Affairs Budget supports and protects U.S. diplomats, who are on the front lines of American commercial diplomacy and export promotion efforts. Additionally, U.S. foreign assistance programs provide technical advice and build stronger political, legal, and economic policy regimes in developing countries that help these nations to become reliable trading partners.”

Too often, global engagement — and development in particular — can be painted as a luxury we can’t afford in these times of budget deficits. But in reality, this one percent of the federal budget actually serves much broader objectives than development alone. Certainly the core of many programs is humanitarian, such as helping mothers better provide for their children in the developing world, but when evaluating the full impact of the International Affairs Budget, the voices of the military and private sector remind us of the role these programs play in creating U.S. jobs and keeping us safe. Hopefully, Congress will take in the full picture when making important decisions about the FY13 federal budget, and acknowledge that for a relatively modest investment, the International Affairs Budget pays big dividends for our future safety and prosperity.