A Better National Security Budget

(cross-posted at On Day One)

Foreign Policy in Focus, a think tank that promotes diplomacy and international cooperation, has released a “Unified Security Budget” in which they outline their ideal foreign policy budget for the just begun 2009 fiscal year. The report argues — echoing a broad consensus that includes both presidential candidates as well as the current Secretary of Defense — that the United States should temper its military defense spending with increased investment in diplomacy and other crucial non-military tools for achieving our foreign policy priorities. These cogent recommendations are based on rather shocking findings about the extent to which military spending has dominated the budgeting process:

Our analysis shows that 87% of our security resources are being spent on military forces (in the regular budget alone, excluding war spending), vs. 8% on homeland security and 5% on non-military international engagement.

This disparity can be expressed even more starkly by facts like this: “the entire diplomatic corps, about 6,500 people, is smaller than the staff of a single aircraft carrier group.” And, of course, there are these doozies: the number of diplomats around the world is smaller than the number of military band members or the number of lawyers in the Defense Department. This needs to change.In addition to bulking up our diplomatic corps, the report urges increased funding for international organizations, prominently the extremely valuable International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and UN peacekeeping. The reasoning is crystal clear:

The United States has chosen to belong to each organization and signed treaties committing to pay for our share of their operations. We can choose to drop out of any of these organizations if we find that they do not suit our diplomatic purposes. To date, the U.S. government has made no such finding.

Simply put, we contribute to these organizations because they work, helping to achieve U.S. interests at a fraction of the cost of “going it alone.” The United States relies on the IAEA — even paying it extra — to uncover undeclared nuclear programs, as well as as a key interlocutor with countries like Iraq (where heeding its advice could have averted war) and Iran. Yet U.S. policy has consistently been to pay its dues to the IAEA more than a year late, undermining the agency’s ability to operate most effectively. And we have pressed at length here at UN Dispatch on the imperative of repaying the United States’ $1.2 billion debt to UN peacekeeping, a debt that contrasts sharply with our reliance on — and even pressure to expand — crucial missions in places like Darfur, Haiti, and Liberia.

The reason for supporting international organizations goes beyond their effectiveness. By contributing our fair share — in full and on time — the United States signals that it is equally invested in taking on problems with which the entire world is coping and that (kind of like piracy) can only be solved through collaboration. By fully funding international organizations, the United States can both enhance the international community’s response and legitimize the U.S. position when we seek important reforms. The report’s authors argue:

[O]ther dues-paying countries take note when the U.S. fails to honor its commitments in these international organizations. As a result, our influence on making budgetary and policy decisions in them is reduced. For example, the United States consistently wants the Food and Agriculture Organization to increase its capacity to set world-wide food and plant standards; such expectations are undermined by the U.S. government’s chronic record of failing to pay its dues on time.

There is no reason that the United States cannot have its cake and eat it too here. All it takes is a little strategic recalibration of our budgeting priorities. Read the full report here [pdf].