- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2011

As we write this, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction in Congress has just ended its efforts to eliminate more than a trillion dollars from the federal budget, without success. This has been an important and difficult task: No nation remains strong with a weak economy. For this reason, we urge Americans to uphold a crucial rule for reducing our deficit while ensuring our nation’s strength. Do not lose sight of Congress‘ vision, which finally placed diplomacy and development in our national security budget alongside defense, homeland security and intelligence. Defunding diplomacy and development would save pennies today and cost millions tomorrow in lost economic opportunities and new security threats.

I have served as a secretary of defense and the chairman and chief executive officer of an Indiana-based Fortune 250 company that is 40,000 strong. Our experience in war and business has taught us that sound strategy must drive our budgetary choices, never the other way round. Simply put, we must not allow short-term political debates to dictate our strategy for protecting America and ensuring our economic strength in a new and challenging century. Our strategy must instead depend on a clear-eyed assessment of the world we face, the challenges and opportunities before us and the tools we will need to control our future.

America confronts a hyperconnected world. The threats we face, from terrorist networks to the economic contagion that has slowed our economic recovery, are born of this hyperconnectivity. We learned on Sept. 11, 2001, that a plot created in the poverty-stricken villages of Afghanistan could kill thousands of innocent people in America.

Yet we cannot simply unplug from the world. Our greatest opportunities and our path back to prosperity flow from the same interconnection. Our nation’s CEO’s know that small investments in stability abroad yield significant returns to the bottom lines of America’s job-producing companies. The jobs that will end this recession will be built in a global economy - an economy in which half the world’s consumers living in China and India buy quality goods made here in America.

Our roots as a nation of builders, business owners, explorers and inventors demand that we embrace the challenge of this new, interconnected globe. This is a time to lead and to build - not a time to withdraw from the world and cede the future to other countries.

Today, we need our diplomats and development workers more than ever. The “Arab Spring” has ushered in a new era of challenge and opportunity, as a new generation seizes control of its own destiny. If they are to succeed in their effort to create a newly free and stable Middle East, they will need support that only the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) can provide. Meanwhile, only 310 million of the world’s nearly 7 billion citizens live in the United States. If our economy is to grow again, we need people around the globe to have stability and prosperity so that they can buy American products. Our development aid and State Department efforts are crucial to creating a world in which such growth and opportunity can thrive, to the benefit of America and the world.

Foreign aid and development programs account for less than 1 percent of the federal budget, yet they are vital to our national and economic security. Unfortunately, these essential programs are also politically vulnerable. Last year, Congress drastically cut programs that develop and strengthen our democratic allies. Congress also slashed nearly 20 percent from the budget of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a Bush administration program that builds global stability. This year, Congress is considering legislation to cut these crucial security accounts by yet another 10 percent to 20 percent. Cutting tens of millions of dollars from accounts that stop the spread of nuclear materials and train governments to identify and confront terrorists will leave America less secure.

As we prepare for future challenges and opportunities, we must remember the hard-won lessons that made us a great nation. Our predecessors understood what we, too, have learned: Building and defending a great nation requires warriors and businessmen, diplomats and development aid. Our businesses have circled the world, but only when the world welcomed America. We have won battles through force of arms, but many of our greatest victories have been wars ended or averted at the diplomatic table. Our armed forces have liberated continents and freed captive nations, but our Peace Corps and USAID have unshackled countless millions from disease, poverty and despair. Their brave work was more than charity. It was the bedrock of an international stability based on hope, opportunity and freedom in which America prospered.

Now more than ever, we must remember the lessons of our past and apply those lessons as we face the future. We call on our elected leaders to embrace a broad vision of national and economic security for this new century - one that recognizes our diplomacy and development efforts as the vital tools they are for ensuring American strength.

William J. Perry served as the nation’s 19th secretary of defense and is now senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Tim Solso is chairman and chief executive officer of Cummins Inc.