The Tie that Binds the New National Security Team

Matthew Yglesias smiles approvingly at this New York Times piece arguing that incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, incoming National Security Adviser James Jones and Defense Secretary Robert Gates all share a common determination to bolster non-military foreign policy spending. This means investing more to boost the State Department’s foreign service, the incipient Office of Stability and Reconstruction, and foreign development aid among others.

You do not typically expect a Secretary of Defense to argue forcefully for the increase in spending for a government bureaucracy that the does not control. Robert Gates, though, is not an ordinary Secretary of Defense. In fact, he has been on the case (as have we) for quite a long time. Here is an except of a speech on the topic almost exactly a year ago.

Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense — not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion — less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.

Despite new hires, there are only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers — less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group. And personnel challenges loom on the horizon. By one estimate, 30 percent of USAID’s Foreign Service officers are eligible for retirement this year — valuable experience that cannot be contracted out.

Overall, our current military spending amounts to about 4 percent of GDP, below the historic norm and well below previous wartime periods. Nonetheless, we use this benchmark as a rough floor of how much we should spend on defense. We lack a similar benchmark for other departments and institutions.

Read Hans Binnendijk and Tammy Schulz for more on why increasing non-military foreign affairs and boosting “civilian capacity” is so critical to American–and global–security.