- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

In light of the president’s recentlysubmitted budget for fiscal year 2006, a review of the wisdom of investments in international-affairs programs is timely. With respect to the enormity of global challenges America faces today, that same analysis is vital.

The Asian tsunami crisis and the related rescue and recovery efforts provided an extraordinary window into the important role played by the U.S. international-affairs budget. Not only will this federal account support critical rebuilding efforts now occurring in the region, but it enabled our immediate response through supporting U.S. personnel and infrastructure on the ground long before the disaster.

Since September 11, there has been a growing recognition among national-security experts, foreign policy specialists, business leaders and humanitarian groups that the international-affairs budget — also known as the 150 Account — plays an increasingly critical role in national security and global stability. Though it remains a mere 1.3 percent of our budget overall, the administration has secured increases over the last several years. We applaud the president’s recent request, as it continues restoration of the international-affairs budget to necessary levels after a decade of dangerous underfunding.

This small investment — about one cent of every federal dollar — belies the massive work embodied by the international-affairs budget, a budget tasked with jobs as crucial as protecting Americans, ensuring the safety of our overseas workforce, opening and stabilizing markets for America’s exports, creating jobs here at home, supporting the work of U.S. diplomats, fostering civil societies and fighting disease and global poverty. It also includes peacekeeping operations, conflict-prevention efforts, micro-enterprise and economic-development projects, HIV/AIDS prevention, educational and cultural exchanges, democratization programs and basic education.

In Southeast Asia alone, our prior investments supported the American embassy, non-governmental organizations and business personnel and infrastructure already on the ground that truly made a difference in saving lives: Mercy Corps’ long-term development program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Sumatra enabled a near-immediate response. Forty-eight hours after the disaster, when the border was opened up for the first time in a year, Mercy Corps staff — Indonesians and Americans — deployed with essentially a portable office: computers, experienced personnel, vehicles and phones.

Procter & Gamble donated 15 million sachets and made another 13 million available at cost for its water-purification system. Because of its prior involvement in Indonesia, Procter & Gamble easily made the transition to partnering with several NGOs to pursue additional USAID funds for safe drinking water in the affected areas.

One month after the disaster, when health experts feared sufficient time had elapsed for epidemics of cholera and the measles to break out, UNICEF reported that, remarkably, not a single child had died from these preventable illnesses. Prior investments made in the establishment of a good public-health infrastructure and childhood-immunization programs had already served to inoculate the surviving children.

Humanitarian assistance and diplomacy, two essential functions of our foreign policy, are, as former Secretary of State Colin Powell termed them, tools of “soft power.” As we reflect on the global challenges confronting us, Americans must be increasingly aware that yielding this soft power makes us more secure and prosperous at home over the long term. Indeed, the programs in the international-affairs budget encompass the nonmilitary tools of foreign policy that are required to win peace and create a more economically prosperous and democratic world.

In light of current global realities such as ongoing terrorist recruitment, fragile democracies, major political transitions, humanitarian crises, emerging economic and trade opportunities and a pandemic of infectious diseases, continuing to invest in these international-affairs programs is simply the wisest course of action.

The Bush administration, with its Millennium Challenge Account, has implemented a bold aid initiative that rewards countries with strong governance, sound economic policies and respect for the rule of law. While we applaud this effort, the MCA does not address the many developing countries where development simply is not taking place. We know that states that face chronic economic and political crises run the risk of becoming dangerously fractious and unstable.

Small investments in these fragile states through the international-affairs budget — the kind recommended by a recent report of the Commission on Weak States and U.S. National Security — could contribute to their development, and ultimately to a more stable international community.

A strong international-affairs budget enables quick and effective U.S. responses to acute crises such as the tsunami and contributes to long-term global stability by reducing the risks posed by fragile and failed states. At a time when U.S. policy-makers are being called on to tighten the fiscal belt, we urge them to remember the undisputable bottom line: Investments in a strong international-affairs budget give us the tools to simultaneously demonstrate our humanitarian values and strengthen our national security. The global challenges facing us today call for no less.

John Edward Porter and Steve Solarz are former members of Congress. Mr. Porter, who served on the House Appropriations Committee, co-chaired the Commission on Weak States and National Security. Mr. Solarz served on the House International Relations Committee. Both now serve on the Advisory Council to the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign.

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