At a time when the major policy concerns of the US and the world have shifted from military confrontation to the environment, trade, migration, nonproliferation, and terrorism, the US is weighting its budget away from diplomacy and toward the traditional military and intelligence. This spending shift is dangerous.
Cuts made so far have compromised United States security, halting or slowing efforts to combat the nuclear, biological, and chemical-warfare threats by rogue countries and terrorists that US politicians profess to be so concerned about.
Though last year there was an attempted purchase of a plague virus in Ohio, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) can't afford to hire experts to work on controls for such weapons. The Clinton administration has attempted to negotiate improvements in the enforcement of the ban against biological weapons, but its efforts have been delayed by the lack of funds to send experts to negotiations in Geneva.
The US could not hire a specialist to monitor the nuclear procurement programs of Iran, Iraq, and Libya. It had to halt seminars and exchanges between American arms-control, intelligence, and defense officials and their counterparts in Egypt, Oman, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and India that would show them the benefits of adopting US export-control and nonproliferation standards on chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and encourage them to sign the chemical weapons convention.
In some cases, the US has had to be bailed out by allies, hardly bolstering the image of "the leader of the free world."
*The United States negotiated an agreement that moved North Korea off the fission track onto an International Atomic Energy Agency-safeguarded nuclear program. To pay for it, Japan agreed to contribute $1 billion, South Korea $1 billion, and the US $200 million. Washington didn't have money to make its first payment and a few months ago had to ask for an advance from the Japanese.
*Bosnia's army needs strengthening to deter a Serb attack, yet the US lacked the funds to pay for its commitment to train Bosnian troops and went to the Saudis to advance the money.
*US failure to pay its more than $1 billion share of the $2 billion owed by all states for UN peacekeeping has helped cause the United Nations to fall behind on reimbursing countries for troop deployments. That has prompted some states to decline to provide troops for missions in Rwanda and Burundi.
*International environmental cuts will mean less aid to help China reduce the pollution that comes from its high-sulphur brown coal, which affects the global environment; and to help Russia improve environmental cleanup, nuclear-plant safety, and prevent the spread of nuclear contamination if accidents occur.
*The cuts will even affect US trade. More than three-quarters of Agency for International Development (USAID) money returns to America in the form of purchases of American goods and services, such as farm products and implements and computers. The aid also promotes the opening or expansion of general trade relations. Some problems - terrorism, the drug trade, and money laundering - require military and intelligence work. They also need US diplomatic leadership and engagement. Yet in the last few years, Washington has closed 35 embassies and consulates.
In 50 years of Fulbright exchanges, more than 200,000 Americans and foreigners have lived and worked in each others' countries, later becoming heads of state and CEOs with the kind of understanding and contacts that promote good political relations as well as trade and investment with other nations. Now a proposed 20 percent cut would prompt partner governments to cut their own matching contributions and reduce the benefits for all our societies.
Both Democrats and Republicans argue about whose foreign policy is "stronger." While Hill Democrats support the foreign-affairs budget, the administration proposes big cuts and the Republicans call for massive ones. They propose a 16 percent reduction in the foreign-affairs budget now and a slash of 30 percent in five years. Diplomacy would go from 1.2 percent of the budget now to 0.3 percent in 2002.
The attack on the diplomatic budget would affect every aspect of the face the US puts to the world - the State Department, USAID, the US Information Agency, ACDA - and the major organizations America relates to, including the UN, the World Health Organization, and even contributions to Israel and Egypt mandated by the Camp David accords. Republicans want to abolish ACDA, USAID, the Fulbright program, and population assistance.
Spending for diplomacy has dropped to $18.3 billion, less than half that at the height of the cold war, but the "peace dividend" has left defense and intelligence spending at 80 percent of cold-war levels. US defense spending now equals that of the next 10 highest-spending nations combined.
A major reason for the disparity in cuts is that a "fire wall" shields the defense and intelligence budgets, while the diplomatic account is in the domestic budget. You can't take money from the defense budget to build a highway, but you can shift funds in the diplomacy budget to domestic programs. Another reason is that the military budget includes spending on hardware and installations that translates into jobs in congressional districts. Congress has increased President Clinton's military-budget request by $11 billion.
What lopsided priorities, what blindness verging on the criminal has caused the people who determine America's budget to fund fantasy and pork-barrel defense procurement that even the Pentagon says it doesn't need, while putting Americans in mortal danger of the terrorist and other societal threats we see around us, stripping us of resources to deal with the real world?
*Lucy Komisar is a freelance journalist who writes on foreign affairs in Washington.