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Why Cutting the International Affairs Budget Is a Mistake

President Trump’s federal spending proposal cuts funding for the International Affairs Budget (IAB) by 31 percent. This reduction is concerning since it would make it difficult for programs funded by the IAB to address global problems—from the crisis in Syria to the famine in South Sudan. To the average American, these international crises might not seem like they affect the United States, but they do. In fact, these crises have a direct impact on their economic and national security interests. America cannot afford to slash funding and turn our backs away from the world.

Image courtesy of USAID, © 2010.

The IAB—also known as the “150 account”— makes up less than one percent of the federal budget. It covers diplomatic and foreign aid efforts administered by the U.S. government by providing funding for key agencies such as the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and the Peace Corps. Programs overseen by these federal agencies are able to reach those in the most vulnerable and dangerous regions of the world—countries like Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia. From preventing crises and stabilizing conflict zones, promoting democracy, opening free markets, abating the spread of diseases, combating global terrorism, lifting people out of poverty, to name a few, these programs are not only helping to solve complex international problems but, in turn, safeguard American national security and economic interests. The work of the IAB in volatile regions is, thus, imperative.

In Colombia, drug trafficking and violence decreased through a successful U.S. military and diplomatic initiative named Plan Colombia. This initiative is also credited, in part, for bringing long-sought peace to the country. At the end of last year, the Colombian government signed a peace accord with the FARC—a guerrilla group long at war with the government. The United States created a similar model to Plan Colombia in Mexico—the Merida Initiative—to reduce the flow of illegal drug trafficking into the United States and prevent drug-related violence from crossing over the border. In West Africa, American foreign aid mitigated the further spread of Ebola. Had it not invested in doing so, the disease might have spread to other parts of the world and would have caused numerous deaths. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP)—a federally funded conflict prevention and resolution organization—is working with state governors in Nigeria to strategize on ways to combat Boko Haram—an extremist Islamic group.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Foreign Assistance Act, which led to the creation of USAID. It provided military and economic assistance to countries at risk of falling under Communist rule and those in extreme poverty. President Kennedy believed that helping low-income countries through foreign aid was not only the moral thing to do, but also the most effective way to safeguard American interests and its national security. Upon signing the bill, he remarked:

“The amount of money that is involved in the nonmilitary areas are a fraction of what we spend on our national defense every year, and yet this is very much related to our national security and is as important dollar for dollar as any expenditure for national defense itself.”

President Kennedy was not alone in believing that foreign aid and diplomacy are vital to national security. There are many others who think the three are correlated. Secretary of Defense General James Mattis famously said during a hearing on the Hill in 2013:

“If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Cutting spending for the IAB only weakens America on the global stage, resulting in greater risk for instability. Moreover, it makes it easier for the United States to lose its position of leadership in the world, which could lead to other challenges like a weaker economy.

In order to protect U.S. economic interests and continue safeguarding itself from external threats, America must invest in programs that mitigate the root causes of these. To do so, the United States needs to support those programs funded by the IAB. Such global engagement is vital to protecting its security and interests.



Marcela Aguirre

Marcela currently works in digital fundraising for a political campaign. She holds an M.A. in International Affairs from Boston University and a B.A., summa cum laude, in Communication Studies with a minor in French from The University of Texas at El Paso. She specializes in foreign policy, public diplomacy, and conflict resolution, and has regional expertise in Europe and Latin America. You can connect with her on Twitter @mar_ce_la_88.
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