The Case for a National Security Budget

Why a Better American Foreign Policy Requires a New Way of Paying for It

U.S. and Japanese ships in formation in the Philippine Sea, November 2018 Kaila V. Peters / U.S. Navy / Reuters

In 2007, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued a call that would, he predicted, strike many officials in his own department as “blasphemy”: the United States needed to spend more on diplomacy, foreign aid, and other nonmilitary tools of foreign policy. “Having a sitting secretary of defense . . . make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might,” Gates noted, “fit into the category of ‘man bites dog.’”

Not so today. It has become ordinary, even orthodoxy, for national security professionals to lament how the underfunding of civilian tools has fueled an overmilitarized foreign policy that is ill-equipped to take on today’s most pressing challenges. As James Mattis, then the commander of U.S. Central Command, put it in 2013: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Unfortunately, this rhetorical consensus has not produced the necessary rebalance in resources. If

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