Defense Secretary Gates Discusses U.S. Foreign Policy Budget Imbalance with Committee Members
House Foreign Affairs Committee Acting Chairman Howard L. Berman (D-CA) this morning convened committee members to discuss with Defense Secretary Robert Gates the persistent imbalance between U.S. funding for defense and diplomacy.
"We are grateful that Secretary Gates took the time and trouble to bring his message to this group and to hear us," Berman said. "Years ago the U.S. Secretary of Defense came before the Foreign Affairs Committee regularly. Reinstating this custom will help Congress and the Administration work more closely together to restore some balance between what has come to be known as hard power' and soft power.' And Mr. Gates' own statements of late bear that out. "
In a November 26, 2007 speech, Gates said, "The Department of Defense has taken on many of (the) burdens that might have been assumed by civilian agencies in the past. [F]orced by circumstances, our brave men and women in uniform have stepped up to the task, with field artillerymen and tankers building schools and mentoring city councils -- usually in a language they don't speak. But it is no replacement for the real thing -- civilian involvement and expertise."
And four weeks ago, Gates noted at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that long-term security challenges "require our government to operate with unity, agility, and creativity, and will require devoting considerably more resources to non-military instruments of national power."
Before Foreign Affairs Committee members met with the defense secretary this morning, Berman observed that "in his 2002 National Security Strategy, President Bush affirmed that diplomacy and development are just as important defense. They will not be funded equally, but we should strive to strike a better balance than we have now. The budget for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development together is anemic next to that of the Defense Department."
Berman pointed out that the international affairs budget that supports diplomacy and development programs directly contributes to U.S. national security. "The activities under this budget help fight terrorism through a variety of means, prevent the spreading of nuclear weapons, and enhance the safety of our embassies around the world. They also support a plethora of programs to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law; to give a boost to U.S. businesses abroad; and to provide much-needed aid for people in the poorest places in the world. And yet, ironically, this budget typically requires just more than one percent of total federal spending."
On fighting terrorism in particular, Berman noted, "We cannot win the fight against extremists by proverbially tying one arm behind our back. We need to deploy America's finest engineers, development experts and diplomats in the campaign for reconstruction and stabilization in vulnerable countries. I welcome Secretary Gates' advocacy to help bolster the civilian agencies best suited for that fight."
In a voice vote on Wednesday the House passed H.R. 1084, which establishes a Readiness Response Corps so that the United States can deploy civilian personnel in response to crises to support reconstruction and stabilization projects abroad - such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Advocating the bill's passage in a statement on the House floor, Berman pointed out that "there are only 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers today in the State Department. According to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, this is less than the personnel of one carrier battle group and, allegedly, less than the number of active military band members."
"The gap in civilian capacity has over-burdened the military, which has assumed tasks best performed by civilian experts," Berman noted this morning. "This committee is examining the issue closely to guard against Defense Department over-reaching into areas traditionally under the authority of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. We're concerned that an overly expansive military role in support of short-term security interests could work to the detriment of long-term foreign policy goals, which would be dangerous and destabilizing. The face of America abroad needs to be, first and foremost, its diplomats. Secretary Gates' breakfast with us is a welcome first step in making sure this happens."