A real national security budget would fully fund State Department
© Getty Images

Italian diplomat Daniele Varè once said, "Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way." But if President Trump's budget is any indication, he wants others to have their way and not ours.

Recently, President Trump released his budget blueprint for 2018. Trump has touted his plan as one that "emphasizes national security and public safety," one which would increase federal defense and security expenditures by roughly $54 billion while dramatically slashing the State Department budget, along with that of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), by 29 percent.

Such a cut would require firing a great deal of employees, including security contractors protecting American diplomats abroad.

The argument for this proposed decrease is predicated on the need to fund an aggressive military buildup necessary to defend the United States from the many global threats it faces today.

To safeguard our borders and our citizens, so goes the Trump administration's logic, we cannot afford to waste money on diplomatic tools, like international assistance packages, that would detract from the underlying goal of putting America first.

ADVERTISEMENT

That train of thought could not be more flawed. Directing all attention on military prowess ignores the crucial role soft power plays in advancing American interests, including issues of national security. While the use of military force plays an important role in addressing immediate situations, diplomacy can help reshape the international landscape in fundamental ways that promote long-term global stability.

 

One of the primary responsibilities of the State Department is just this: to promote "peace and stability in areas of vital interest to America ... helping developing nations establish stable economic environments." This means promoting good governance and pro-growth reforms in the developing world.

These issues may seem irrelevant to most Americans, but investing in the soft power that advances American interests around the world directly impacts national security. Countless studies have established the link between instability, poverty, corruption and rates of violent extremism.

It makes sense on an intuitive level: No opportunities for an improvement in the quality of life, and disillusionment with the governments that prevent these opportunities, promote hopelessness in many young people that leads to desperation and increased vulnerability to radicalization.

Soft power tools help establish on-the-ground conditions — like a thriving civil society, shaped by American values, and economic growth opportunities — that prevent this radicalization from occurring, and protect U.S. national security from the threat of terrorism.

By weakening the State Department, developing countries will likely suffer from the lack of U.S. support— and that will often lead to the instability that fosters groups like al Qaeda.

Relying solely on national defense is simply unsustainable. By always resorting to military action in the face of national security threats, we promote the conditions that foster antagonism to the United States and create a constant, long-term threat of war.

Diplomatic efforts by the State Department help to lessen the threat of terrorists and ensure beneficial economic deals through negotiation, not through the hard power of weapons.

As Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump: 'I wouldn't mind' a long Senate impeachment process Poll finds Graham with just 2-point lead on Democratic challenger Hill editor-in-chief calls IG report 'a game-changer' MORE (R-S.C.) explained it bluntly, cutting the State Department by substantial percentages "would be a disaster. If you take soft power off the table, then you're never gonna win the war."

Military action and diplomacy are necessary partners in the fight against the many rising global threats. As expressed in a letter sent to leaders in Congress by over 100 retired generals and admirals, "the military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism — lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness. ... Now is not the time to retreat."

Properly funding the State Department will provide the soft power tools necessary to creating those strong civilian partners.

That the State Department budget is a drain of resources from the federal budget is also a wholly unconvincing argument. In 2016, the $4 trillion federal budget included solely $50 billion allocated to the State Department and USAID— hardly 1 percent of total spending. That miniscule fraction of the federal budget goes a long way in pursuing American interests.

If the Trump administration is genuinely interested in cutting wasteful spending, they would do better to identify issues that are a legitimate drain of taxpayer money — including the government funding of cruel and unnecessary experiments on animals, which inexplicably costs $12 billion annually.

"If you don't fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately," then-U.S. Central Command chief James Mattis once told a congressional committee.

As the current secretary of Defense, Mattis fully understands that an active, effective and fully funded Department of State guarantees America's global leadership, advances U.S. national and security interests, and saves American lives.

Joseph K. Grieboski is the chairman and CEO of Grieboski Global Strategies, founder and chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, and founder and secretary-general of the Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom.


The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.