Courtesy Reuters

BEYOND PENNY-PINCHING

By Casimir A. Yost

To the Editor:

It is fashionable to blame Congress, as Richard N. Gardner does, for reduced foreign affairs expenditures ("The One Percent Solution," July/August 2000). But the 150 Account has not been a presidential priority in the 1990s. Indeed, the Office of Management and Budget in both the Bush and Clinton administrations has been a bigger barrier to higher spending for foreign affairs than any congressional committee. President Clinton has rarely used his bully pulpit and persuasive powers on behalf of those programs. Two secretaries of state since 1992 have been either unwilling or unable to mobilize effective support for their department. In April, Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers bragged that "we have successfully reduced our annual contributions to the multilateral development banks (MDBS) by nearly 40 percent, or $700 million, in real terms since 1995." Congress has merely taken its cue from the executive branch and made cuts of its own in foreign affairs accounts.

Unfortunately, neither presidential campaign suggests that Clinton's successor will expend political capital to pursue Gardner's lofty goal of a roughly 50 percent increase in the 150 Account by 2005. The squeeze on discretionary accounts, including the 150 Account, by entitlement spending will only increase in the decade ahead. The more likely response to Gardner's challenge is that the next U.S. administration -- Republican or Democratic -- will continue to conduct foreign policy on the cheap.

In any case, the answer to underfunding cannot simply be "more for everything." We need to prioritize. This may mean cutting out or turning over to other nations some of our foreign assistance responsibilities. We should not do everything, but what we do we should do well.

This prioritization has, in fact, begun, as suggested by Summers' statement about reduced U.S. contributions to the MDBS. The problem is that the effort is occurring without public debate and without a clear explanation of why certain decisions are being made.

If we have decided that we can forego multilateral aid expenditures because the United States already makes a substantial contribution to global peace and prosperity through our troop and base commitments around the world, we should say so. Certainly, East Asia, the Persian Gulf, and Europe would be more dangerous, less prosperous, and experiencing greater human misery without the U.S. military presence. Perhaps we should get credit in assistance circles for this significant contribution. These expenditures are not matched by countries deemed in development circles to be "generous," including Japan and Germany.

However, the United States -- if it is to retain a leadership mantle -- cannot be regarded simply as a hired gun for global peacekeeping. Nor, as our generals would attest, can we pursue our global interests through military means alone.

In any list of priorities, reliable, adequate funding for American diplomacy needs to be at the top. Last year, the bipartisan Overseas Presence Advisory Panel laid out a blueprint for strengthening American diplomacy, but it received only tepid support from the Clinton administration. The next administration can easily do better.

Ambassador Gardner is right. The United States cannot continue to lead on the cheap. The discussion should now be focused on what to cut and what to add so that our leadership and pursuit of global interests are once more credible and perceived as such in the United States and abroad.

Casimir A. Yost

Professor and Director, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University

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