WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last month, the Trump administration proposed drastic cuts to the State Department and USAID. More than 120 retired generals, more than 100 faith leaders and numerous members of Congress have spoken out against the proposed changes. Going a step further, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) has proposed an alternative foreign affairs budget that would double the budget over the course of five years.
Sen. Murphy is a current member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Under the Obama administration, he served as the Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East, South Asia and Central Asia. He has also served as a member of the subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, International Operations and Bilateral International Development. His roles in various foreign affairs committees and subcommittees, therefore, leave him well placed to comment on overseas development and the effectiveness of foreign aid.
Sen. Murphy unveiled his alternative foreign affairs budget during a Council on Foreign Relations meeting held this month. Citing the Trump Administration’s recent decision to strike a Syrian airfield, he highlights the fact that military might alone is not enough to end the ongoing civil war — soft power is also essential. He describes how China is using soft power through its overseas investments, and Russia is using its natural resources to coerce and influence other nations.
Russia and China are not the only influencers; extremist groups are increasingly filling the vacuums left as a result of increasing political instability across the globe. Sen. Murphy argues that the way to deal with these growing threats is not to cut funding for overseas diplomacy and development but to increase it.
Sen. Murphy cites some interesting statistics to highlight the inadequacy of current U.S. overseas diplomacy and development. American military and intelligence spending outpace diplomacy and development by a factor of twenty to one. The Chinese public diplomacy budget outpaces the U.S. budget by fifteen to one. In 1950, at the height of the Marshall Plan program to redevelop European allies after WWII, the U.S. was spending 2 percent of its GDP on international assistance. Today, that number is 0.1 percent — a 95 percent decrease.
Sen. Murphy argues that, as other nations and organizations continue to outspend the U.S. on overseas development and assistance, the soft power of the U.S. dwindles. His alternative foreign affairs budget sets out three core principles:
- Overseas development is in the national security interest. The plan calls for a “21st century Marshall Plan” to prevent extremism, support at-risk regions and open new markets for American goods. Sen. Murphy proposes merging the milieu of overseas financing agencies into one institution, the U.S. international development bank, in order to overcome the burdensome restrictions on financing that exist today.The plan also calls for more funds for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the U.S. foreign aid agency that responsibly and sustainably promotes growth and alleviates poverty in countries all over the globe. The plan also advocates for the creation of financing programs to give nations the opportunity to become energy independent so they no longer have to rely on other “petro-dictator” countries who use energy as a weapon.
- Preventative diplomacy as a means to avoid conflict. Sen. Murphy calls for more assistance from the State Department so that it has the appropriate resources to counter terrorism and state-backed propaganda. The alternative foreign affairs budget would also allocate additional resources for the Peace Corps and Foreign Service officers who promote good governance and help sell American products overseas.
- The U.S. should lead the world in crisis management and prevention. Global crises inevitably affect the U.S.; crises such as the Zika virus cannot be contained within sovereign boundaries. Overseas conflict and political instability can leave millions of refugees seeking shelter. The alternative foreign affairs budget calls for increased humanitarian assistance and a consolidation of the existing flexible funding accounts within the State Department and USAID to better respond to political, military and social crises. The plan also calls for a new global health account that is pre-funded so that the U.S. is better able to deal with nascent pandemic threats without having to go through the long and arduous process of Congress appropriation.
This proposal comes at a time when the Trump Administration is calling for the same budget to be trimmed by 30 percent this year alone. Underfunding the foreign affairs budget undermines American influence and weakens its ability to respond to the increasing number of threats in the world. Sen. Murphy’s alternative foreign affairs budget sets out a progressive vision for the future of U.S. leadership in overseas development and assistance. It is now up to Congress to decide what vision they subscribe to for the future of American leadership overseas.
– Michael Farquharson