Protecting U.S. national security interests in the 21st century will require the integrated application of all the tools of American power – military, diplomatic, intelligence, development, and homeland defense. As illustrated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while American troops are the best in the world, overseas operations remain incredibly costly in both blood and treasure. New challenges, such as the Arab Spring, the transitions in Afghanistan and Iraq, failing states, and instability in Sub-Saharan Africa, will require a more integrated and comprehensive approach to securing America.
An Aug. 31 event at the Center for American Progress brought together Deputy Secretary of State Thomas R. Nides, former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Verma, and national security experts Lawrence J. Korb and Miriam Pemberton — principal authors of the recent report A Unified Security Budget for the United States — to discuss the merits of a unified security budget, a smarter way of funding U.S. national security.
The discussion centered on re-balancing the distribution of resources between the U.S.’s offensive, defense, and preventative capabilities. This coming year, in fiscal year 2012, the total defense budget will near $700 billion. While these funds are labeled as “defense spending,” DoD’s budget largely goes towards supporting the U.S.’s offensive capabilities — covering weapons procurement, personnel costs for our troops, and the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the United States’ defensive (homeland security) and preventative (non-military international engagement) programs, run by Departments of Homeland Security and State respectively, are funded at a fraction of our military budget and could be at risk of receiving further cuts in the wake of the debt ceiling agreement.
Twenty percent of the overall federal budget goes towards funding the Department of Defense. By comparison, the State department and USAID receive just 1 percent of the federal budget. Yet despite this tremendous imbalance in funding, development, foreign aid, and humanitarian assistance programs are often first on the chopping block.
As a result, in the decade since 9/11, the Defense Department has grown exponentially while State and USAID have seen their budgets slashed repeatedly. This artificial division between diplomacy and military force weakens U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps the gravest example: as the U.S. military withdraws from Iraq this year, the State department will greatly step up its presence in the country in order to ensure continued stability. Yet in June, the House Appropriations Committee cut the State department and foreign operations base budget by 18 percent, at a time when these departments will assume primary responsibility for ensuring that the U.S.’s military gains in Iraq are not lost. By comparison, the committee approved a 3 percent increase to DOD’s budget.
Protecting America in the 21st century will require a more holistic view of U.S. national security. Since 2004, the Task Force for a Unified Security Budget, has argued that combining the budgets of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State as well as funding for U.S. intelligence agencies into one unified security budget would demilitarize American foreign policy while helping policymakers best leverage U.S. power to protect American interests.
To get our fiscal house in order, the United States must begin to deal with the massive federal deficit. But in the words of Deputy Secretary Nides, “avoiding crises where we need to put boots on the ground through diplomacy saves us an incredible amount of money.” It would be counterproductive for policymakers to slash our diplomatic and foreign assistance accounts at a time when we need them more than ever.