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February 10, 2006

The Budgetary End-Game: Are Our Security Needs Being Met?
Posted by Gordon Adams

Fundamentally, the national security budget is intended to meet our security needs. We all have different views of what needs take priority. My own are best captured in an article I wrote for the Foreign Service Journal in June 2005, available on their website To summarize, while terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are major security challenges, both are symptoms, not the underlying disease of this era. As long as our national security strategy puts these two threats at the top of the agenda and circles the budgetary wagons around them, we are likely to be fighting terrorists and stamping on proliferators for a very long time. Until we also directly tackle the underlying challenges of global poverty, failing or brittle governance, and conflicts of identity, with adequate resources, our security needs are not being fully met. And until we can do this using all the instruments of statecraft, exercising appropriate leadership with friends and allies, and engaging the globe with some semblance of humility, we will never muster the resources adequate to the challenge.

Thought it is, in some way, unfair to ask the administration to meet my goals, I have some thoughts on whether the priorities in the new budget do so. I can only provide this scorecard in an impressionistic way, here; too many programs; too little time.

First, there is no doubt that the budget focuses on the terrorist threat, as does the language of the Quadrennial Defense Review. The plan to add significantly the Special Operations forces and to retrain Army brigades and battalions to be capable of special forces types of operations are part of that focus. The international affairs budget also includes more than $155 m. for programs specifically aimed at confronting terrorism and assisting other nations to do so. Here, though, funding is scattered through various accounts, from regional bureaus, to Economic Support Funds, to the funding for what is called “Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining and Related Programs.” It is not clear this funding is strategically designed or well-coordinated with DOD or other agencies. The Homeland Security budget is largely structured around the threat of a terrorist attack in the United States, as anyone who has been through an airport recently knows, but there are shortfalls in such areas as first responder funding, port security, and infrastructure protection. Bottom line: there is a good deal of anti-terrorism funding scattered around; its coordination and strategic design is somewhat less clear. Grade: incomplete; high priority, but a risk of inattention because of our commitments in Iraq.

Proliferation is another matter. It does not get the same rhetorical attention terrorism does, though for some the two are closely linked. Resources are relatively small. International affairs funding explicitly targeted at proliferation include the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund (NDF) with $38 m., not a major increase from prior years. Science Centers and export control funding at roughly $100 m. are also small, though they can play a critical role in halting proliferation at the border or preventing scientists from being tempted to sell critical know-how. In defense, the most targeted funding is the Comprehensive Threat Reduction Program, which deals with safe handling and storage of nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union. CTR would grow to $409 m. in 2007, after having lower priority in the first term of the administration. Former Defense Secretary Perry believes this is one of the most critical investments in long-term US security. The Department of Energy has a major program, with nearly $2 b. allocated to international activities dealing with proliferation concerns. In general, though, funding and responsibility are scattered in the government, with central strategic direction unclear. Grade: C-

When it comes to the longer-term agenda, support in the area of governance is the most clear. The administration has made promotion of democracy a key pillar of national security policy, as a solution to problems of instability, state failure, unhappy populations, and threatening states. The budget proposal does not, however, contain significant funding for this mission, aside from the sums currently being spent for nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. The AID budget includes strengthening governance and the rule of law as one of its goals and would also increase its Office of Transition Initiatives, which supports transitions in failed states, from $40 to $50 m. in FY 2007. The Human Rights and Democracy Fund, which promotes democracy and civil society in countries of strategic importance to the US, would receive another $35 m. The Middle East Partnership Initiative would have $120 m. to support democracy in the Middle East. These are small sums, while the challenge of supporting democracy, let alone stable, relatively effective and representative governance is enormous. Setting aside the test cases in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, where funding is significant and the challenges are great, there is not enough funding the budget to deal with governance in other countries. Moreover, a global strategy for achieving a democratic transition is not evident. Grade: A for intention; D for execution.

Poverty reduction, or at least, economic issues, seem to have greater attention in the budget, given the relatively large sums of money dedicated to the Millenium Challenge Corporation, Economic Support Funds, global health and infectious diseases, and development assistance, and the rhetorical attention paid to the goal of integrating more countries into the global trading system. Here, too, however, coordination and common strategy are a problem; there are too many economic assistance spigots, each with slightly different goals, funneling into a single country.. For example, Afghanistan would receive a total of $1.1 b. in economic and security assistance, but it is divided into economic support (State), child survival and health (AID), development assistance (AID), international narcotics and crime (State), and military training (DOD). Liberia would receive nearly $90 m., split up between child survival, development assistance, economic support, narcotics and law, foreign military financing, and peacekeeping operations. Although AID would administer many of these programs, policy and objectives are defined differently for each. The broader dilemma is that poverty and economic development problems overwhelm these small amounts of funding. Even the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which seems large at $3 b., is divided into significantly smaller funds, country-by-country. Without a global strategy for poverty reduction, in partnership with others, US resources are woefully inadequate to have a major impact on this problem. Grade: A for volume: C for strategic design and implementation; D for impact.

Then there is the problem of identity conflicts – the ethnic and religious struggles that are setting the tone for international conflict in this century. Such conflicts are indirectly targeted in two places in the budget: educational and cultural exchanges, and international broadcasting. Funding is increased in both cases, with over $1 b. between the two areas, but they seem to be a secondary concern in the overall international affairs budget. Exchanges, while critical, have their impact over a very long period of time, while the impact of US international broadcasting on reducing ethnic and religious conflict is minimal. As Michael Scheuer, formerly of the CIA, noted in his book, Imperial Hubris, the problem in the Middle East may be less a lack of understanding of the West in the Islamic world, than it is the impact of US policies on the region. It is likely to take a monument of public relations, if that, to reverse that reality. Grade: F for lack of focus and low impact.

The other issues to be dealt with are partnership and hubris. I noted, in passing, in an earlier blog, that the Pentagon’s strategic review suggests that, in the wake of Afghanistan and Iraq, the military is taking the issue of partnership much more seriously than it did in the 2001 QDR. That is a good sign. The international affairs budget request does not reflect a partnership strategy for dealing with the major goals outlined above, though it is implied in the funding for international institutions. It is still not clear to this observer that the rhetoric of greater cooperation, which characterizes the second term of the administration, is being followed through in its budgetary choices.

The American style of leadership, however, is reflected throughout. This is a budget concerned with every problem and every nation, unlike the budgets of any other country in the world. It is so second nature to Americans to assume all problems are theirs that we almost miss this hubris. Assistance programs, for example, provide something to virtually every country in the world. The military has a “global” mission, the only military in the world that has such a broad mission. There are no criteria for choice here, and a certain loss of strategic focus; there is a little bit of something for everybody. Over time, this hubris has its own cost in lack of strategic focus, depletion of effective effort, and, even, in the reaction of other countries and peoples to what is sometimes seen as an America too deeply involved in all their issues.

The national security budget is still inadequately coordinated and targeted on strategic objectives. It continues to be a bit of something for everyone, reflecting entrenched programs and a broad range of concerns. To be more effective and more strategic processes need to be found over time to bring programs together, both within the stovepipes of defense and international affairs, and across them. The FY 2007 budget is still an “uncertain trumpet” for America’s strategic interests.


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Can we envision any circumstance or time in which the United States, because we finally recognize that we are part of the world and not apart from it, voluntarily submits (if only in principle) to an international governing authority in order to lend that authority the legitimacy it needs to impose order and, if necessary, governance upon failed, failing, or simply problematic countries?

This is more than merely a rhetorical question. If one of your neighbors is abusing his children, do you call the cops or do you assemble a coalition of your willing neighbors to intervene? Do you take it upon yourself and your friends to counsel and reform the offending parent? Or do you call social services and let them take care of it? So, do we need internationally legitimate police and social workers? Or do we persist in living in our own mythological Wild West, where the quickest guns make the law and dispense justice?

Huh, I can't see it unless we're in a crisis we can't get out of by ourselves.

And in that case, probably we wouldn't be in any shape to impose governance on other countries anyway.

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