The Republican majority in the House of Representatives has made a disappointing first step in completing the FY2011 budget process. Yet, they are not alone in their failure to engage the American public in an honest dialogue about the U.S. budget deficit. President Obama has proposed funding for the Defense Department in 2012 at $553 billion.

In total, funding for Defense operations funneled through various other budgets in FY2010 brought Defense spending to more than 30% of the U.S. budget. By comparison, less than one tenth of one percent of the federal budget goes to programs that help displaced victims of war, persecution and disasters.

The failure to see many diplomatic and development programs as essential to US national security is a tragic misunderstanding of what national security is and how to best promote it. Indeed, history shows that smart investments in foreign assistance help us avoid future military conflicts, head off threats from beyond our borders and lay the groundwork for future economic growth.

Until the Obama administration and the Congress get serious about cutting Defense spending and unneeded weapons systems, fixing the tax code and attending to necessary improvements in government programs including entitlements, they will accomplish little in their attempts to fix our fiscal crisis.

It was the United States that laid claim to the principle that nations are guided by ideals as well as interests. U.S. humanitarian aid dates back to the early 1800’s and over centuries has been supported and strengthened by elected officials who recognized the moral, diplomatic, security and strategic value of humanitarian leadership around the world. Indeed the United States became a beacon of hope for people around the world suffering from repression and poverty, seeking freedom and a better life. 

Humanitarian aid has helped the United States provide a safe haven for victims of Soviet repression, Indochinese who fought alongside the U.S. military, and refugees from Central America, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan. Funding to promote peace through such relief aid represents a miniscule fraction of the amount spent on waging war against the Taliban or Al Qaeda. It is a cost effective way of increasing our national security, exemplifying a true respect for human rights, and reflecting the generosity of the American people.

Michel Gabaudan is the President of Refugees International.