The Urgent Need to Support Our Foreign Affairs Budget

As part of the agreement to re-open the government, the House and Senate have finally agreed to form a budget conference committee and pass actual appropriations bills for the next fiscal year. While the top-line funding numbers are important, the details of how the foreign affairs budget is reconciled are also critical. The foreign operations bill provides funding for nearly all of the non-defense functions of U.S. foreign engagement. The need for American leadership is as urgent as ever, but the version that came out of the House Committee earlier this year made deep and dangerous cuts to our diplomatic toolkit while sequestration is systematically starving key programs. Legislators who understand the vital role of American leadership need to fight hard for robust and funding in the coming weeks and months as critical accounts like the Middle East Partnership Initiative and the MENA Incentive Fund hang in the balance.

via usaspending.gov

via usaspending.gov

Programs like these need to be protected and grown because they represent the best and most effective approaches to international support. We need to be doubling down on region-wide and flexible mechanisms that leverage partnerships with NGOs and the private sector in order to help our policy become less reactionary, invest in long-term U.S. interests, and help build up the capacity of populations through health, education, economic growth, and active civil society.

This type of assistance is not simply foreign charity; it is a vital component of American leadership and economic growth. Then- Secretary Clinton laid out the basic ingredients earlier this year, encouraging governments to “ view civil society not as a threat but as an asset. A genuine democracy is like a three-legged stool. One leg is responsive, accountable government; the second leg a dynamic, job-creating private sector; and the third leg is a robust and vibrant civil society.”[1]  The U.S. has the tools and expertise to help developing countries construct this three-legged stool, but our diplomats and partners can’t do that work while being forced into robbing Peter to pay Paul. The importance of maintaining a strong defense is without questions, but the country is weaker if we allow our military to be our primary actor on the global stage. If we wish to see a world comprised of more modern, inclusive, and open countries – we need to invest in strategy designed to do just  that.

Too many politicians believe their constituents are too shortsighted or un-engaged to see the value of these investments, but that is simply not the case. After hearing that foreign assistance makes up merely 1% of the Federal budget, only 24% of Americans believe we spend too much while 36% believe that we don’t spend enough. With another 30% saying that 1% is about right, the last thing we should be doing is cutting back.[2] The Better World Campaign recently commissioned a nationwide survey finding that over 85% of Americans support funding programs which help women and girls in foreign countries achieve better health, education, and economic opportunity as well as being overwhelmingly supportive of efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger around the world.[3]  When it comes to fully funding the foreign operations budget, politicians have a much easier case to make than many of them think.


[1] Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State (Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society 2012 Summit, Washington DC: US Department of State)

[2] Kaiser Family Foundation Survey. May 2012

[3] Polling done in October 2013 for the Better World Campaign by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research http://www.betterworldcampaign.org/assets/pdf/bwc-fall-2013-poll-interview-schedule.pdf