More than seventy retired military officers wrote a letter to Congress urging that the body not cut the budget for non-military means of executing U.S. foreign policy. The letter, written under the auspices of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s (USGLC) national security advisory group, spoke out against “disproportionate cuts” that would cut civilian programs while boosting military spending, calling on Congress to ensure that “civilian programs have the resources needed to maintain the hard-fought gains of our military.”
The letter (PDF) defending the so-called international affairs budget that covers non-military spending went on:
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 State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other civilian-led programs are especially critical at a time when we are asking them to take on greater responsibilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Addressing today’s challenges with civilian tools costs far less than it does to send in the military in dollars and, more importantly, in terms of the risks to the lives of our men and women in uniform. At just over one percent of federal spending, the International Affairs Budget is a strong return on our investment.
The letter comes just a week after Republican Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a budget that called for the international affairs spending to be slashed by 11 percent, or $6 billion, while boosting military spending by at least $8 billion. Ryan’s budget document took shots at the administration, noting in one section that Obama “has chosen to subordinate national security strategy to his other spending priorities.” Speaking to U.S. News and World Report, Russell Rumbaugh, a former senior Senate Budget Committee aide now with the Stimson Center, said:
This reflects more an ideological statement than any real discussion about what the international budget levels should be.
An Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran summed up the Republican plan: “They cut every tool in the president’s toolbox that isn’t a gun,” said Michael Breen, who works with the Truman National Security Project, recounting how it was a foreign language-enabled diplomat — not their own weapons — that once helped him and fellow soliders get out a jam.
The ostensible aspirations of the Ryan plan, meanwhile, are shared by the USGLC letter signatories, who wrote that they “recognize that we must reduce our nation’s debt.” Yet, with non-military spending such a relatively small piece of the pie and capable of a “strong return” on the investment, the ex-military leaders urged Congress to “support a strong and effective International Affairs Budget and oppose disproportionate cuts to this vital account.”