In these difficult economic times, we clearly need to tighten our belts as Americans, and we must be smart about the investments we make with the taxpayers’ dollars. Two areas we cannot afford to shortchange right now though are our national security and our economic prosperity, which is why we must continue to have a strong and effective International Affairs Budget.

Our entire International Affairs Budget, which funds all of our development and diplomatic programs, is just a little over one percent of federal spending, but it provides a significant return for the American people in terms of our national security.

In a recent poll, over 90 percent of active duty and retired military officers agree the tools of diplomacy and development are critical to achieving U.S. national security objectives and a strong military alone is not enough to protect America. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates put it bluntly recently when he said: “Without development, we will not be successful in either Iraq or Afghanistan,” and “economic development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”

Military leaders who have actually been in the hot zones and have gone toe-to-toe with the terrorists know the difference that can be made through programs funded by our International Affairs Budget. Now, as our troops begin pulling out of Iraq and our diplomats and development experts stay to finish the job, we must invest in our civilian-led strategies and provide them with the resources they need to complete the mission.

This is not a Democratic or a Republican issue but an American issue, which is why there is strong bipartisan support for a smart power approach to our foreign policy using development and diplomacy, alongside a strong defense, in keeping our nation safe.

President Bush and now President Obama both included the International Affairs Budget as part of national security funding in their budget requests. And as President Bush’s recent opinion editorial on World AIDS Day said, “No national security strategy is complete in the long run without promoting global health, political freedom and economic progress.”

Our investment in the International Affairs Budget also reaps large benefits for American economic growth. Today, one out of five U.S. jobs depends on international trade. Each year we export $500 billion in goods and services to developing countries, which is roughly half of our total exports. By investing in other countries, we are creating new markets for American goods around the world and supporting jobs here at home. And each dollar the U.S. spends to promote exports brings $40 back into our economy. These economic realities are why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports international development programs.

Our international affairs programs are cost-effective solutions to bring stability and security to dangerous corners of the world at a fraction of the cost of military action. And now with a focus on results and transparency following the State Department’s new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, efforts are being made to ensure programs are more effective and efficient uses of our dollars.

While many programs funded by the International Affairs Budget clearly demonstrate the generosity and good will of the American people as Brad Blakeman pointed out in his piece last month here in Fox News Opinion, it is definitely not charity. It is in fact a smart investment in a more stable and secure world that provides enormous returns for our country.

So before we conclude the federal budget can be balanced on this small fraction of funding, we should carefully consider how cutting the International Affairs Budget would do more harm to America’s national and economic security than good. Just a little investment goes a long way.

Richard C. Parker served as the Director of Communications for the Peace Corps in the Bush Administration from 2005 to 2009. He is now the Communications Director for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.