As another round of political battles over the budget begins on Capitol Hill, we would be wise to not forget we still live in a dangerous world — one in which we do not have the luxury to be a passive participant.
While we need to get our fiscal house in order, we cannot ignore the significant global challenges we face to our security and economy and to our many friends and allies around the world that count on credible American leadership.
Just as Washington gets more complicated every year, so does our world. No longer are our enemies nations and states, but international terrorism, transnational criminal organizations, poverty, pandemic disease, natural disasters, and financial uncertainty.
This dynamic cross-section of challenges to stability and human dignity requires a new way of doing business, one that uses all the foreign policy tools available to us, both civilian and military.
This foreign policy approach for our country is what is known as a “smart power” one, which blends our development and diplomatic programs, with defense. Taking this more comprehensive approach helps us ferret out the root causes of instability in the world and the prevention of potential conflicts-ultimately benefitting our own security and economic prosperity at home.
From our own military service around the world in hot spots like Iraq and the Gulf, as well as working in some of the highest national security echelons of our government, we have seen firsthand how effective our development and diplomacy programs have been when working alongside our military to stabilize conflict, and thereby hope to avoid the need for boots on the ground. Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates is a great champion for this approach, having said “development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”
Strengthening America’s global leadership and engagement not only protects our national security, but advances our economic interests. As the world becomes ever more interconnected, we know that 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States. And where are the biggest growth markets in the world today? Most are surprised to learn they are in the developing world, the destination for over half of U.S. exports.
When we use our international programs to engage the rest of the world, we see effective results. South Korea is a great example. Once an aid recipient, South Korea is now an aid donor with the world’s 13th largest economy and a critical national security partner in Southeast Asia. South Korea is our seventh largest trading partner as well.
Another example is the Republic of Liberia in Africa. Following years of civil war, our assistance to Liberia is helping that nation rise from the ashes of civil strife, assisting them in holding their first free and fair election in years. When we engage with countries around the world on these initiatives, it’s not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do as well.
So as the Senate takes up the NDAA, it is important they remember the benefits of our global engagement abroad, including the International Affairs Budget, administered by the State Department. These programs are only about one percent of the total federal budget, but provide a huge return on investment for the American taxpayer in our national and economic security. If we don’t remain engaged, our ability to defend our national interests around the world will be diminished.