March 4, 2013
Don't shortchange our national security
By GEN. MICHAEL W. HAGEE (RET.) and JAMES LOY
As the president and Congress deal with fiscal uncertainties and shrinking budgets, the challenges we face around the world are not waiting on hold. Violence in Syria continues to mount, insurgents in Mali are growing, and saber rattling in North Korea threatens stability in Asia. The stark budget realities at home make it abundantly clear we must be strategic in our priorities, and one thing we cannot afford to shortchange is our national security.
From our days in the military, we know firsthand the importance of utilizing all of our tools of national security, both civilian and military, to keep America safe and strong. Just as our brave men and women in uniform always rise to meet the challenges before us, so do our development experts and diplomats.
The effectiveness and efficiency of our development and diplomatic programs are exactly the strategic use of resources we need today. For just 1 percent of the federal budget, these programs keep us safer by addressing threats in the most dangerous corners of the world and preventing conflicts before they occur and require boots on the ground.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said it best: "Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers." And this is true not only in terms of dollars but, more important, in the lives we can save.
Our enemies today are not as cut and dry as they were in the Cold War. Conditions in the world such as grinding poverty, pandemic disease and severe food insecurity serve as seeds from which extremism and instability can grow.
By addressing these issues, we diffuse many of today's national security threats and keep our troops out of harm's way.
With the military draw-down and transition to civilian-led missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, our civilian programs become even more vital to our own national security. As told in the story of late Rep. Charlie Wilson, the ghosts from the void left in Afghanistan after the Soviet-Afghan War came back to haunt us, and without our diplomats and development experts working to preserve the gains made by the military, history will repeat itself.
Disproportionate cuts to the International Affairs Budget would have a minuscule effect on our deficit but would have lasting consequences to our security and our economy. With 95 percent of consumers living outside the United States, overseas markets are vital to American businesses. The fastest-growing markets today are in the developing world, so by investing in the stability of these countries, we set the stage for investment and help our businesses compete, which in turn grows our economy and creates jobs here at home.
This is not a partisan issue, this is an American issue. National security experts from both the Republican and Democratic sides of the aisle reiterate the importance of strong funding for the State Department and other development agencies. In fact, many of our fellow three- and four-star colleagues will be on Capitol Hill Tuesday talking with members of Congress about the importance of adequate resources for our civilian tools.
It may seem strange to have generals and admirals on the Hill talking about nonmilitary funding, but as our friend and recent commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, has noted, "While the hard power of the military can create trade, space, time and a viable security environment, the soft power of USAID and the development community can deliver strategic effects and outcomes for decades, affecting generations."
The president and members of Congress should heed his advice. Budget cuts are inevitable given our fiscal situation, but we must be careful in what we cut. Our tools of national security all complement one another, and our development and diplomatic operations are needed more than ever. These programs funded by our international affairs budget are a cost-effective and efficient way to achieve our security objectives and protect our interests throughout the world
Retired Gen. Michael Hagee, USMC, served as commandant of the Marine Corps from 2003 to 2006. Retired Adm. James Loy, USCG, served as commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard from 1998 to 2002. They are co-chairs of the National Security Advisory Council of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.