THE BLOG
11/19/2012 02:02 pm ET | Updated Jan 19, 2013

Cutting in All the Wrong Places

With the election decided, lawmakers have returned to Washington with just seven weeks to negotiate an agreement to avert sequestration, which would impose about $1 trillion in cuts to Pentagon spending and domestic programs. The crude across-the-board cuts of sequestration are not smart budget policy. But these negotiations present an opportunity for Congress to take a step towards a more efficient national security budget and correct the imbalance in funding between the two pillars of American national security, the Department of State and the Department of Defense.

As Congress looks for more areas to cut in this time of austerity, lawmakers must remember that the Department of Defense has continued to receive a disproportionate amount of the nation's security funding -- in spite of unprecedented cost overruns and incidents of gross mismanagement -- while the State Department remains chronically underfunded and continually subject to the threat of cuts.

Despite some promising rhetoric from Pentagon officials, rebalancing the international affairs and defense budgets continues to be more of a talking point than a reality. In the last two years, the base -- or non-war budget -- of the Pentagon has shot up to an astounding $553 billion in FY 2012 and now easily eclipses average spending during the Cold War.

In contrast, when the Obama administration and the Congress were forced to make spending reductions to avert default last year, Foggy Bottom was the target for an $8 billion, or 15 percent, cut in FY 2011. While international affairs funding has grown in the decade since 9/11, it has come nowhere close to closing the gap with a military budget that has grown even more exponentially.

Underfunding international affairs programs has a tangible impact that strikes deeply at core diplomatic missions. The State Department has made this known, and in an attempt to stave off the 2011 reduction, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton warned that the deep cuts will "be detrimental to America's national security." And the recent attacks on Benghazi underscore the risks Foreign Service Officers take for their country and our duty to give them the support they need.

The militarization of American foreign policy damages U.S. national security in two ways. First, funding the Department of Defense at a disproportionate level compared to international affairs projects does not adequately prepare the United States for the threats of the 21st century. Today's conflicts revolve around failed states and non-state actors, both of which require the efforts of State and USAID more than that of the Pentagon. This shift requires our military to take on larger roles in missions that would typically be reserved for civilian specialists. The burden on our military is heavy enough due to the strains of performing combat in a foreign theater. By adding development operations to that burden, the Pentagon only takes away from the military's comparative advantage in war fighting.

Solving the underlying causes for conflict through diplomacy and development comes at a fraction of the cost compared to military intervention. The United States is too often caught reacting to a crisis without having made concerted efforts to prevent it in the first place. Expanding foreign aid and diplomatic efforts will help the U.S. mitigate future threats to national security before they disintegrate into situations that require military action, which is too often costly in both blood and treasure.

Perhaps even more worrying than the current situation, however, is the very real possibility that our international affairs capabilities will be reduced even further. Despite taking a significant hit in 2011, House GOP members are looking to put Foggy Bottom back on the chopping block for FY 2013. Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan has pushed a proposal known as the "Path to Prosperity" as a potential blueprint for the future of American spending. If you get through the clouded language of "Prosperity," you'll find that over the next four years it requires an $11 billion cut from international affairs, while simultaneously giving another $42 billion to the Pentagon. That's a 20 percent cut and a 7.5 percent increase respectively.

The Department of State and USAID are struggling to maintain an effective global presence because of a budget that is less than a tenth of what their DoD counterparts receive. Considering Foggy Bottom has already been subject to cuts, further reductions would be nothing short of a slap in the face. Cuts to the Pentagon however, are readily apparent, and could help the Pentagon address its recent struggle with mismanagement, fraud, and cost overruns.

Lawrence J. Korb, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. Taylor Jaszewski is an intern at the Center.

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