We Risk America's Security If We Cut the International Affairs Budget

As former Members of Congress, we know our colleagues face tough choices as they fight to get our massive deficit under control. We believe strongly that we must restore fiscal sanity and balanced budgets to Washington. One thing we can’t do, though, is sacrifice our national security and economic prosperity. That’s why, despite being from different political parties, we both agree a strong and effective International Affairs Budget is a wise investment, even in lean budgetary times.

This week, we will sit side-by-side on the other side of the dais as witnesses before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations. There, we will speak with one voice to say our country’s relatively small investment in smart power programs like development and diplomacy pay big dividends in terms of keeping families safe and creating new jobs here at home.

Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. spends just over one percent of the federal budget on International Affairs programs. Our military leaders have told us time and again that these tools are essential to our national security. In fact, last year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen sent a letter to Congress in support of international affairs funding with a handwritten note, saying starkly, “the more significant the cuts, the longer military operations will take, and the more and more lives are at risk!” When it comes to the lives of our soldiers, sailors, and Marines, we think an investment of one percent of the federal budget is money well spent.

It’s not just in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan where International Affairs programs work for our national security. Cold-War era threats are being replaced by terrorism, pandemics, weak and failing states, and America’s national security today is dependent not only on the deterrence of a strong military force but on increased investments in the full range of diplomatic, development and humanitarian tools.

Those who serve on the front lines of our national defense understand this well. That is why 70 retired U.S. military leaders recently urged greater support for a strong and effective International Affairs Budget, saying in their letter to Congress that “development and diplomacy keep us safer by addressing threats in the most dangerous corners of the world and by preventing conflicts before they occur.”

The Bush administration was wise to heed this kind of advice from military leaders and classify the International Affairs Budget as national security spending in its annual budget requests. The Obama administration has continued this tradition, as has the U.S. Senate and the bipartisan deficit commission. We believe this important tradition should not be broken by the U.S. House of Representatives.

In addition to the national security benefits of the International Affairs Budget, the programs it funds help create jobs here at home. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote just a few weeks ago to Members of Congress, saying these programs are “essential to creating jobs and spurring economic growth here in the U.S.”

During these difficult fiscal times, it’s obviously imperative International Affairs programs, like every other part of our government, are accountable, transparent and results-driven. The good news is that diplomacy and development leaders have been taking concrete steps in that direction for the last several years. These reforms must move forward, but if we fail to invest, they could stop short, wedding us to the old flawed ways of doing business.

There is not a doubt in our minds that the International Affairs Budget is in the best interest of our nation. It is far from just charity. For literally a penny on the dollar, this is a cost-effective way to advance our security, prosperity and open hearts and minds to America’s message of liberty, fairness, and free markets.

When we testify before the House Appropriations Subcommittee this week, our request will be clear, and it will be simple: ensure a strong and effective International Affairs Budget and oppose deep and disproportionate cuts to these investments in a safer, more prosperous world.

Dan Glickman represented the 4th District of Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977 to 1995. He was U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1995-2001. Mark Green represented the 8th District of Wisconsin in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999-2007. He was the U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania from 2007 to 2009.