Budget Cuts Will Hurt U.S. Soft Power by Nicky Riordan
President Trump’s first proposed budget outline, released today, lived up to its worst expectations with unprecedented cuts to diplomatic and foreign aid spending. The proposed budget raises annual defense spending by 9 percent and cuts State Department funding by 29 percent, increasing defense spending by more than the total State Department budget. These cuts will amount to fewer diplomats and less support for foreign development projects and international organizations.
Current funding levels for the State Department and USAID enjoy rare bipartisan support, as proven by the letter signed by over 120 retired generals and admirals last week warning the administration about the damage potential cuts could impose. The letter stated that State Department funding is “critical to keeping America safe” and that development agencies such as USAID are “preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”
Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson has been remarkably low-profile since his confirmation, yet defended the proposed cuts by suggesting that, “as time goes by, there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in.” This statement comes in direct contradiction to the concerns of the aforementioned generals and former diplomats, who insist that the various crises our nation faces “do not have military solutions alone.” Moreover, Defense Secretary James Mattis has said that increased diplomatic efforts have the ability to decrease the need for military spending.
Mattis’ argument reflects decades of bipartisan agreement that foreign aid and diplomacy are a means to leverage American influence and protect national interests. Global institutions like the United Nations were created in part by the United States to codify our strength and influence around the world, and to prevent conflict that could put our interests at risk.
During World War II, the work of American diplomats in France mended strained cultural and commercial ties between the two countries, establishing the foundation for a relationship that has benefited the United States for decades. Today, our embassies work to promote American values abroad and distill negative perceptions that can lead to violent extremism.
The proposed cuts to the State Department and foreign aid and development agencies shows a lack of understanding by the new administration of the need for soft power in a globalized world. Global stability is of the utmost interest to the United States. A larger, more visible military is not the way to achieve our economic and national security goals.
Nicky Riordan, M.A. Peace and Justice Studies, is Public Policy Manager at Feeding San Diego.