1. Update
  2. Peacebuilding

U.S. Role in the World: Peaceful Engagement or Military Might?

By Theo Sitther, October 6, 2017


In the midst of efforts to radically reorganize the federal government, bolster military strength over diplomacy, development, and peacebuilding, Congress is pushing back.

Our efforts to protect critical conflict prevention and peacebuilding accounts are bearing fruit. Senate legislation to fund diplomacy and development is case in point.

The adage that “where your treasure is, there you heart will be also” applies to America’s role in the world. For the United States much of our tax dollars are spent on wasteful and needless military expenditures while we spend just under two percent on diplomacy and development.

On September 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing, where Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan testified. Mr. Sullivan is leading a process to redesign and restructure U.S. diplomatic and development programs. On its face, efforts to streamline government bureaucracies, cut down on waste and make foreign assistance programs more effective should be supported. Ensuring that efforts to prevent violent conflict and provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance should always adhere to the highest standards of effectiveness and efficiencies.

However, in the Trump administration any effort to reorganize the State Department should be viewed through the context of the administration’s stated intention to bolster military power over diplomacy. In March the White House released its budget blueprint proposing a thirty percent cut to diplomacy and development while proposing a massive increase to the military while declaring that this is a “hard power budget.”

Congress is pushing back against some of the most dangerous policies of the Trump administration. The Senate Appropriations Committee, for example, released its version of the State Department funding measure that clearly rebuked the Trump administration’s efforts to downgrade diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy.

The Senate appropriations committee’s bill report that instructs the administration on how the money should be spent begins by stating the following:

On May 23, 2017, President Donald Trump submitted to the Congress the fiscal year 2018 budget of the United States [U.S.] Government entitled ‘‘A New Foundation for American Greatness’’, and asserted in ‘‘The Budget Message of the President’’ that ‘‘[i]n these dangerous times, our increased attention to public safety and national security sends a clear message to the world—a message of American strength and resolve.”

This message is not reflected in the International Affairs budget request of $40,521,826,000, a 30 percent cut below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The lessons-learned since September 11, 2001, include the reality that defense alone does not provide for American strength and resolve abroad. Battlefield technology and firepower cannot replace diplomacy and development. The administration’s apparent doctrine of retreat, which also includes distancing the United States from collective and multilateral dispute resolution frameworks, serves only to weaken America’s standing in the world.

The Office of Management and Budget [OMB] arbitrarily set the topline funding level for the International Affairs budget without input from the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID], the National Security Council, or any other national security agency. This forced the Department of State and USAID to randomly establish country and program-level allocations that lacked any justification.

Funding for peacebuilding programs in the Senate’s legislation include programs such as the Complex Crises Fund, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and the U.S. Institute of Peace. The chart below reflects the amount of funding for conflict prevention and peacebuilding accounts; while it is still below what they should be, it’s a step in the right direction. We can continue to push Congress to do the right thing and fully fund diplomacy rather than further militarization.

The accounts included in this graph for FY 2018 include the Complex Crises Fund, Conflict Stabilization Operations, Human Rights and Democracy Fund, Reconciliation Programs at USAID, Conflict Mitigation and Management, Transition Initiatives, peacekeeping, U.S. Institute of Peace, and Atrocities Prevention Fund.

The accounts included in this graph include the Complex Crises Fund, Conflict Stabilization Operations, Human Rights and Democracy Fund, Reconciliation Programs at USAID, Conflict Mitigation and Management, Transition Initiatives, peacekeeping, U.S. Institute of Peace, and Atrocities Prevention Fund.

Theo Sitther

  • Legislative Secretary for Peacebuilding Policy

Theo Sitther directs the peacebuilding program at FCNL and oversees the work of the peacebuilding team. Theo lobbies to change and reform militarized counterterrorism policies with a particular focus on military assistance.