Commentary

A Foreign Affairs Budget for the Future: Fixing the Crisis in Diplomatic Readiness

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By Gordon Adams and David Glaudemans – The Obama administration will face a wide range of foreign policy challenges and opportunities, ranging from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to terrorism, to the challenges of globalization and international finance, HIV/AIDS and other pandemics, environmental degradation, and weak governance in many regions of the world. These dynamic challenges and opportunities can only be met effectively through a significantly more robust foreign affairs capacity for the United States. 

A recently released report by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Stimson Center, A Foreign Affairs Budget for the Future, calls for an increase of 4,735 in personnel for core diplomacy, public diplomacy, and foreign assistance diplomacy, at a cost of roughly $2 billion by FY 2014. In addition, the study calls for $1.3 billion in new programs and authorities to provide the diplomatic corps with the funds and capabilities necessary to respond to emergencies and to increase the Secretary of State’s ability to conduct Public Diplomacy and plan security assistance programs. 

These increases are urgently needed, even in the wake of the global financial and economic crisis. Their costs are marginal compared to the potential cost of military deployments and interventions that might result from instability in the international environment. 

For its core diplomatic capability, the State Department needs to increase permanent American staffing by 1,099 by FY 2014 to meet current and expected international challenges and opportunities. This increase will cost $510.5 million annually by FY 2014. In addition, to ensure that proper training and full staffing can co-exist, the State Department needs another 1,287 in personnel, at a cost of $309.8 million annually by FY 2014. 

U.S. capabilities in public diplomacy also need a significant increase in resources. The report recommends that State increase permanent American staffing by 487; double academic exchanges; increase International Visitor grants by 50% and youth exchanges by 25%; establish 40 American Cultural Centers; and re-engage the U.S. Binational Center network that fosters closer political and cultural ties. These staff increases will cost an additional $155.2 million, while the program activities will cost $455.2 million by FY2014.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has experienced the most significant staff cuts in the foreign affairs establishment, severely weakening its ability to develop and manage foreign and development assistance programs. In 1975, USAID had 4,300 U.S. staff managing just over $1 billion in assistance. Today, USAID has just 2,200 U.S. staff managing close to $10 billion in assistance. The report recommends USAID increase U.S. staff by 1,250, at a cost of $521 million by FY 2014.

Helping societies rebuild and strengthen their governance, both before conflict tears them apart and after it has done so is another important new objective of American statecraft. The U.S. has only begun to create a civilian capability to carry out this mission. To build that capacity, the report recommends the State Department increase staff by 562 (most of which will be defined as an ‘active’ corps to be deployed immediately in crisis situations), costing $286 million by FY 2014.

America’s diplomacy also needs to be built on a foundation of strong programs and authorities. One of the striking trends of the past two decades is the growing role of the Defense Department in providing foreign and security assistance under its own statutory authorities. The report recommends that the State Department be reinvigorated as the primary foreign policy agency responsible for planning, budgeting and overseeing foreign and security assistance activities. It recommends transferring authority from DOD to State for global training and equipping of foreign security forces (the Section 1206 program), for support provided to coalition partners (Coalition Support Funds), and for counter-terrorism education for foreign militaries (the Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program), adding 50 new staff to State to plan and budget these programs. These changes would add $785 million to the State Department program budget and $24 million in staff costs by FY 2014.

The time is ripe to rebuild the civilian foreign policy and national security capabilities of the U.S. government. We need enough diplomatic, public diplomacy, and foreign assistance professionals, properly equipped and trained, out, engaging foreign populations, working with civil society, running the interagency process, and working with our military forces to advance America’s interests. Failing to invest today in the needed civilian capability ensures that we will ask our military to perform even broader missions, while further weakening our civilian capacity. America’s international engagement demands nothing less than a quick start to rebuild this capability.  


Gordon Adams is a Distinguished Fellow and directs the Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense project at the Stimson Center. David Glaudemans is a Research Associate at Stimson.

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