Trump’s budget sacrifices diplomacy for bigger guns

The State Department would see massive cuts, while the Defense Department would get its budget padded further.

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and first lady Melania Trump wave as they board Air Force One for Israel at King Khalid International Airport, Monday, May 22, 2017, in Riyadh. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and first lady Melania Trump wave as they board Air Force One for Israel at King Khalid International Airport, Monday, May 22, 2017, in Riyadh. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget, released on Tuesday, ramps up U.S. military spending while slashing the budget for U.S. diplomacy and foreign aid by nearly a third.

If implemented, Trump’s budget would decrease the base discretionary funding for the U.S. State Department and other international programs (which include the U.S. Agency for International Development) from $39.7 billion in 2017 to $28.2 billion in 2018. Funding for the United Nations, climate change initiatives, and educational and cultural exchange programs would also be reduced.

Meanwhile, the funding for national defense will increase by $52.8 billion in 2018, a nearly 10 percent increase from the Obama administration’s 2017 fiscal year request. That includes a budget for 56,400 more soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.

The number of countries receiving direct U.S. economic and development assistance would be reduced by nearly 45 percent “in order to focus on those that are most critical to U.S. national security,” according to a report from the Office of Management and Budget.

“This is a ‘hard power’ budget. It is not a ‘soft power’ budget,” Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, told reporters in March, after the administration released its “skinny budget.”

Theo Sitther, Legislative Secretary for Peacebuilding at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, told ThinkProgress he was worried about the impact this “heavily militarized” budget would have on conflict resolution. “At a time when the world is just kind of facing multiple levels of crises, the only tool that the administration and our government is going to be left with if this budget goes through is the military. We will then see an increase in conflict and war and the deployment of U.S. forces without the use of our diplomatic or development tools,” he said.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres also warned about cuts in U.S. contributions to the United Nations’ budget last month — and the impact it would have on global diplomacy. “Abrupt funding cuts can force the adoption of ad hoc measures that will undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts,” Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Reuters. “The Secretary-General fully subscribes to the necessity to effectively combat terrorism, but believes that it requires more than military spending.”

Sitther said he has heard some resistance from Congress on both sides of the aisle regarding the cuts to the State Department and international aid.

“We’ve been talking to a lot of Congressional offices about the budget and particularly with appropriations staff — on both Democrats and Republicans — and we continue to hear pushback on Trump’s budget,” said Sitther. “We keep hearing that if we go down this route, we’re going to be creating a much more dangerous world.”

In March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed concern about the cuts to the State Department, as did Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), among others. A month earlier, over 120 retired U.S. generals and admirals wrote a letter to Congress, urging them to fully fund U.S. diplomacy and foreign aid because “elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe.”

Since Trump’s victory last November, there has been a serious disregard among lawmakers for the importance of diplomacy in U.S. relations with other countries. In January, the Republican-majority Congress introduced legislation to reduce or eliminate funding to the United Nations and withhold funding from the U.S. embassy in Israel until it relocated to Jerusalem (the embassy has not yet moved locations). The Trump administration also removed all of the Obama administration’s foreign envoys, leaving key ambassador posts vacant.

On the campaign trail, Trump made at least 119 promises related to national security, the majority of which would need a robust State Department in place for them to be fulfilled.

An earlier version of this piece stated that the funding for national defense will increase by $54 billion under the proposed budget. The correct number is approximately $52.8 billion.