Penny wise and pound foolish on Embassy Row
DEPUTY Secretary of State John Whitehead recently warned that the United States faces a ``national-security crisis'' stemming from the budget cuts being debated in Congress. Mr. Whitehead, naturally, took the ``macro'' view of the problem; that is, he concentrated on the big-ticket items, explaining how the budget cuts would decimate our economic and security assistance programs to such important friends as South Korea, Thailand, and Turkey. But there is also a ``micro'' aspect to this crisis, for the budget reductions on the scale being considered by Congress would have an equally profound, if less obvious, effect on the day-to-day activities of each of the United States' 141 embassies around the world.Skip to next paragraph
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Of course, I can only speak for our embassy and consulates in West Germany, a key strategic ally and economic partner. This year the US Embassy in Bonn has had to absorb cuts of more than 10 percent; next year, if Congress has its way, the cuts will be far greater. But the problems we face in Bonn are similar to those being confronted by my colleagues nearly everywhere. Here in West Germany, as elsewhere, the budgetary crunch is having the following effects:
Lowering the US profile: In late June we closed our consulate in Bremen, the oldest one on the Continent. To make matters worse, this is the second time in five years we have taken this step, which naturally leads many Germans to wonder whether the US knows what it is doing. More important, if the current budget picture fails to improve, we will have to close more consulates next year. This will mean a major blow to US influence in a country as diverse and decentralized as West Germany. It would deprive us of a presence in such important centers as Hamburg, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, and Munich.
Our cultural presence is also under threat. German-United States binational institutes have played a crucial role in cementing ties between our countries in the postwar period by fostering cultural exchange. Yet the institutes, in five major cities, are in jeopardy because US funding for them has been cut by 90 percent in the last year.
Diminishing our access to the German people: US diplomats are hardly able to travel in West Germany any more. This is a real problem because when John le Carr'e wrote that Bonn is ``a small town in Germany'' he was right: West Germany can no more be understood from Bonn than the US can be understood from Washington. Thus, the understanding of US diplomats of what is happening beneath the surface of this complex society is slowly being compromised.
This stands in stark contrast to what the Soviets are doing. While we could afford to send only two of our Bonn-based diplomats to the principal opposition party's recent national convention last August, the Soviets sent six, including their ambassador.
To compound these problems, we have been compelled to reduce our subscriptions to German newspapers and magazines by 50 percent. Economies such as these are bound to impair seriously our understanding of West Germany and its society. Can you imagine foreign diplomats in Washington not being able to read the Washington Post or the New York Times?