The battle over next year’s budget is already heating up on Capitol Hill, and with fires popping up all over the globe, we need to take a good look at what the most effective tools are to protect our nation and interests in a very complicated world.
I had a front row seat to the winning of the Cold War during my 35 years in uniform, but I also saw a dangerous trend after that victory as we began to withdraw from the world. In particular we cut back on the civilian national security tools so critical to keeping us safe.
This trend changed after the tragedy of 9/11, when we recognized that we cannot ignore what’s happening in the world as attacks on our nation were staged from one of the poorest countries in the world.
So we started innovative programs like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to bring stability to the continent of Africa, saving millions of lives, but also bringing stability to countries facing extinction from the scourge of that disease. The Millennium Challenge Corporation began a new way of partnering with countries on development, ensuring they were held accountable for success and putting their own money on the table to bring opportunity to their people.
But even with the increases we have seen in our civilian national security tools since 9/11, we are still spending half of what we did during the Reagan Administration for our International Affairs Budget as a percent of GDP.
Now from the crisis in Ukraine to the civil war in Syria to riots just to our south in Venezuela, we are facing some challenges that directly impact our national security at home. However, we are also facing crises in the developing world, such as poverty and food insecurity, as well as the spread of global pandemics.
But one way to mitigate these crises and many others without putting our brave men and women in uniform in harm’s way is through our development and diplomatic programs to prevent conflicts before they can even rear their head.
That’s why former Defense Secretary Bob Gates said, “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”
At just one percent of federal spending, development and diplomacy are cost effective and help bring solutions to complex global challenges.
And we have seen some real successes in the past. Just look at South Korea. Once a recipient of our economic and security assistance, we helped that country rebuild following the Korean War. Now, South Korea is not only our sixth largest trading partner, but they are also an aid donor themselves.
For the lives we can save, as well as the taxpayer dollars, these tools bring a tremendous return on investment for the American people.
So as Congress puts federal spending under the microscope in the coming weeks, let’s make sure we invest wisely in what’s in our best interests, and in this former airman’s opinion, that’s our International Affairs Budget.