THE SAD STORY OF TWO DEFENSE/FOREIGN AFFAIRS BUDGETS AND OUR DYSFUNCTIONAL POLITICS

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 2.29.10 PMBy Julia Jacovides and Harry C. Blaney, III

Over the past two months, congressional appropriations subcommittees for Defense and Foreign Operations have been reviewing, marking up and approving their recommendations for the FY2015 budget. A simple comparison between the four appropriations bills – Senate Defense, House Defense, Senate Foreign Operations, and House Foreign Operations – reveals a stark contrast in both size and focus. Though Congress is now in the first week of its summer recess, it is important to take a look at where it has allocated our nation’s money for the fiscal year beginning October 1.

The most striking comparison between all four budgets is the enormous gap between spending on defense and on foreign affairs. Both House and Senate defense appropriations subcommittees recommend spending around $550 billion. For Foreign Affairs, they each allocated a mere $48 billion. Although this discrepancy could be explained by the sheer cost of military technology (the House Defense subcommittee recommended increasing the number of F-35 fighters), it is alarming to think of the consequences.

The Defense budget provides payment for (among other things) military personnel, operation and maintenance, aircraft and missile procurement, and shipbuilding. In contrast, the Foreign Affairs budget provides funding for USAID, Peacekeeping Operations, Migration and Refugee Assistance, international organizations, the Peace Corps, embassy security, and non-proliferation programs. In light of recent events in eastern Ukraine, there has been talk of a “new Cold War.” As many will remember: the last Cold War involved a massive arms race that put the entire world – not just the United States and Soviet Union – at great risk. It destabilized relations, made some states untrustworthy and suspicious, and often favored guns to diplomacy. The FY2015 defense budgets present the alarming possibility that the United States has not learned from its past. It continues to give lower funding to the diplomatic route. When MH17 was shot down in mid-July, it was the Malaysian Prime Minister’s diplomatic actions that ensured the release of the crash site. Over the past year, it has been diplomacy that has steered our nuclear talks with Iran. This is something the appropriations subcommittees would do well to remember next year.

It is also worth noting the places each subcommittee has cut funding. The House Foreign Affairs subcommittee cut the State Department’s operational budget by $926 million below the President’s request and $128 million below FY2014. The total bill is also $708 million less than FY2014’s funding and $277 million less than President Obama’s request. The House Defense bill also cut funding for a Cooperative Threat Reduction non-proliferation program by 27% from last year. This program works with partner countries to reduce the risk, threat, and transfer of weapons of mass destruction. By cutting the program, Assistant Defense Secretary for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs testified in April that “we are accepting some risk.” Alongside this cut, the House Defense subcommittee did not approve amendments to end military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it blocked some Pentagon proposals to save money.

Though some major cuts have been made, money has also been allocated to new ventures. The House Foreign Affairs subcommittee has added $120 million to deal with unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and (as was already mentioned) the House Defense subcommittee approved an increase in the number of the problem-prone F-35 fighters. Meanwhile, the Senate Defense subcommittee has provided $1.9 billion to fund a new Counterterrorism Partnership Fund that will train and equip foreign militaries. This includes $500 million to train vetted Syrian rebels. So, while the Congressional budget recommendations significantly cut the Foreign Affairs funding, the U.S. military continues to expand both physically and geographically. Though there are logical reasons for doing so, it will not prove practical in the longrun. Money should be directed towards diplomatic, not militaristic programs – war does not necessarily bring peace.

The final point worth noting about all four subcommittee recommendations is that the House Defense subcommittee’s decision was nearly $80 billion over President Obama’s request ($571 billion to $490.7 billion). Both the House and Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittees allocated less funding than the President’s request – approximately $280 million for both. The gap between Defense and Foreign Affairs funding seems to be growing wider, and the complexity of the subcommittee recommendations means it is difficult to fully understand the long-term impact of such a move. If there is one takeaway, it is that the Congress continues to favor military ventures over diplomatic ones.

The larger question still at play is the shortsightedness of gutting (or not increasing) many of the key tools of American diplomacy and engagement abroad. These are aimed at what we call “preventive diplomacy” and include development assistance, peacekeeping/peacemaking, support for civic society and good governance, and assistance to areas of conflict or early intervention in areas of rising tension and unrest. The Department of State under Secretary John Kerry is also trying to re-tool and increase its capabilities to better address emerging crises areas. Congress, though, still seems to think that buying big budget military systems (that the Department of Defense neither needs nor wants) is a better investment than conflict prevention. It is clear that “preventive diplomacy” trumps the cost by large magnitudes of a long, expensive, and painful war.

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