OFF TO THE RACES

Trump’s Budget Would Rattle the World

Cutting the State Department’s allocation by 28 percent is penny-wise, pound-foolish—and guarantees even higher military spending.

The problems of failed states like Somalia illustrate the risks of cutting the U.S. foreign aid budget.
AP Photo/Ben Curtis
Charlie Cook
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Charlie Cook
March 16, 2017, 8:01 p.m.

The back­lash that Re­pub­lic­ans are ex­per­i­en­cing on their pro­posed Amer­ic­an Health Care Act is very real and should be wor­ri­some to the GOP. But the fal­lout from Pres­id­ent Trump’s pro­posed budget cuts could cause even great­er re­ver­ber­a­tions. Waste, fraud, and ab­use clearly ex­ist in gov­ern­ment spend­ing. But it’s also true that most spend­ing pro­grams ex­ist be­cause a lot of people wanted them, or be­cause they were per­ceived as im­port­ant pri­or­it­ies, pop­u­lar or not.

Con­sider the State De­part­ment. Early on, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posed to cut the State De­part­ment’s budget by as much as 37 per­cent, roughly $50 bil­lion. The num­ber now seems to be 28 per­cent—I sus­pect after Sec­ret­ary of State Rex Tiller­son ap­pealed to Pres­id­ent Trump to soften the blow. But the con­sequences would still be very real. When De­fense Sec­ret­ary James Mat­tis was a four-star gen­er­al head­ing up the U.S. Cent­ral Com­mand, he once test­i­fied be­fore Con­gress that, “If you don’t fund the State De­part­ment fully, then I need to buy more am­muni­tion ul­ti­mately.”

De­pend­ing on who is count­ing and how, there are between 178 and 196 coun­tries in the world, of which 35 are mem­bers of the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Eco­nom­ic Co­oper­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment. The OECD is ba­sic­ally the Par­is-based club for highly de­veloped and free coun­tries with a mis­sion to im­prove the eco­nom­ic and so­cial well-be­ing of people around the world. Most of the OECD mem­ber coun­tries are European, but it also in­cludes Aus­tralia, Canada, Chile, Ice­land, Is­rael, Mex­ico, New Zea­l­and, South Korea, Ja­pan, and the United States.

At the oth­er end of the spec­trum are failed or fra­gile states. The U.S.-based Fund for Peace and For­eign Policy magazine an­nu­ally pub­lish a rank­ing of coun­tries based on a dozen factors, in­clud­ing the sta­bil­ity of the cent­ral gov­ern­ment, the strength of the eco­nomy, the qual­ity of pub­lic ser­vices, and levels of crimin­al­ity and cor­rup­tion. In 2016, the Fra­gile States In­dex lis­ted eight coun­tries as on “Very High Alert,” a gen­teel term for bas­ket cases: Somalia, South Su­dan, Cent­ral Afric­an Re­pub­lic, Su­dan, Ye­men, Syr­ia, Chad, and the Demo­crat­ic Re­pub­lic of the Congo. An­oth­er eight coun­tries were put on “High Alert:” Afgh­anistan, Haiti, Ir­aq, Guinea, Ni­ger­ia, Pakistan, Bur­undi, and Zi­m­b­ab­we. Still an­oth­er 21 were on “Alert” status, and 28 more on “High Warn­ing.” Not in­cluded are Taiwan, the Palestini­an Ter­rit­or­ies, North­ern Cyprus, Kosovo, and West­ern Saha­ra be­cause of their less than uni­ver­sally re­cog­nized sov­er­eignty.

The “Very High Alert” and “High Alert” cat­egor­ies are ef­fect­ively a list of coun­tries that are con­trib­ut­ing greatly to the world’s woes, wheth­er be­cause of their polit­ic­al in­stabil­ity and cor­rup­tion, or levels of poverty, dis­ease, and fam­ine. Their gov­ern­ing, eco­nom­ic, and so­cial prob­lems ul­ti­mately be­come our na­tion­al se­cur­ity prob­lems. The United Na­tions Refugee Agency es­tim­ated in 2015 that 65.3 mil­lion people were for­cibly dis­placed from their homes. Of those, 21.3 mil­lion are clas­si­fied as refugees, and 10 mil­lion as state­less. Those num­bers are likely worse today. Fifty-three per­cent came from just three coun­tries: Somalia, Afgh­anistan, and Syr­ia. The coun­tries with the most refugees were Tur­key, Pakistan, Le­ban­on, Ir­an, Ethiopia, and Jordan. The con­flicts over refugees and the res­ult­ing im­mig­ra­tion prob­lems are cas­cad­ing around the world.

Next, think about what we spend on de­fense. The Peter G. Peterson Found­a­tion, us­ing fig­ures from the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tion­al Peace Re­search In­sti­tute, es­tim­ated that in 2004 the U.S. spent $610 bil­lion on de­fense, more than the next sev­en coun­tries com­bined. De­fense spend­ing by the U.S. rep­res­en­ted 34 per­cent of all de­fense spend­ing world­wide, three times more than China’s $216 bil­lion and Rus­sia’s $84.5 bil­lion.

While the U.S. does rank No. 1 in for­eign aid in ab­so­lute terms, with Ger­many, France, and Bri­tain com­ing next, the total rep­res­ents less than 1 per­cent of the fed­er­al budget. Five years ago, one study found that the U.S. spent less than a fifth of 1 per­cent (.19 per­cent) of its gross na­tion­al in­come on de­vel­op­ment as­sist­ance, rank­ing 19th in the world, less than over half of the oth­er OECD na­tions. Bri­tain spent twice what Amer­ica did as a pro­por­tion of its eco­nomy.

Very simply put, cut­ting State De­part­ment fund­ing in gen­er­al and for­eign as­sist­ance in par­tic­u­lar is penny-wise, pound-fool­ish. It is a guar­an­tee that we will have to spend an as­tro­nom­ic­al share of our na­tion­al eco­nomy on de­fense in the fu­ture. Help­ing fes­ter­ing coun­tries re­solve their prob­lems ul­ti­mately helps us and our al­lies, so that maybe a dec­ade or two from now, we won’t have to spend quite so much on de­fense.

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