America is a global leader— here’s how Congress can maintain that status
September 25, 2017
News From Alexandra Toma, Compton Foundation Board Member:
Washington celebrates no shortage of commemorative days – some lighthearted, some solemn. Today, the International Day of Peace, is the latter. Members of Congress should take this reminder to heart by protecting funding for the International Affairs Budget and by partnering with the private sector to get the most bang for their buck around the world. Doing so will maintain American influence abroad, and increase peace and prosperity globally, including in our own backyard.
Last year, Congress recognized the importance of U.S. global leadership by providing $58.8 billion for the International Affairs Budget. Many well-respected, nonpartisan organizations have smartly laid out the myriad national security, economic, and moral arguments for a strong International Affairs Budget. Not surprisingly, what’s good for the country is also good for each individual state. Buried on the State Department’s website, is an interactive map that lays out – state-by-state – some of the direct impact State programs have in American communities. Did you know that flights between Dallas and Madrid, with an estimated impact of $100 million, were made possible by an Open Skies agreement negotiated by State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs? Or that the Peace Carvin V program, managed by State’s Office of Defense Cooperation, brings members of the Singapore Air Force and their families to Idaho each year where they contribute $16 million to the local economy?
Despite these success stories, the Trump administration has proposed cutting these funds by a devastating 32 percent, crippling State’s ability to operate globally and within the United States. Some have responded by asking if the private sector, such as corporations and philanthropy, can’t just make up the difference in Trump’s budget cuts altogether.
Short answer: no.
The private sector, where I work with some of the nation’s leading philanthropic organizations, will do its fair share to shore up U.S. global leadership, peace, and security, but we cannot realistically fill the gaping hole left by these devastating cuts. The numbers just don’t add up.
A recent report found that private giving for international affairs comprised only 6 percent of all philanthropic giving in the U.S. The 2017 Peace and Security Funding Index found that in 2014 (the most recent data), foundations gave $357.1 million on peace and security issues. This pales in comparison to the $41.9 billion that the U.S. Government (USG) plans to distribute across these same issues for FY2017. Even though U.S. foreign assistance is only 1 percent of the federal budget, this still makes the USG one of the largest peace and security funders in the world. Since 80 percent of U.S. assistance goes to providing relief and promoting stability in conflict zones and fragile states, imagine what will happen if the USG pulls out.
Congress must wisely hold the line here. And, moving forward, government can – and should – team up with the private sector to build on recent progress to solve the world’s greatest challenges. Once Congress holds the line on the International Affairs Budget and the critical programs it funds, it can play an important role in helping the USG leverage scarce peace and security dollars. There are already several successful examples of government partnerships with the private sector in foreign policy. They succeed because they are inherently more efficient, more innovative, and less risky than each side striking out on their own. But there’s just not enough of them.
I speak from experience here. My organization, the Peace and Security Funders Group, serves as a touch point for the private philanthropic sector in this space, while the State Department’s Office of Global Partnerships is open for business to help policymakers find appropriate external partners to achieve common goals. But Congress needs to turn the volume way up.
In an era where the U.S. role in the world is questioned on a daily basis, Congress must use its power of the purse to protect our nation and maintain America’s greatness globally. It starts with protecting critical State Department programs from a dangerous and devastating budget axe. But the job won’t be finished until they’ve done their part to ensure that the government engages strategically with the private sector.
Alexandra I. Toma is Executive Director of the Peace and Security Funders Group, a Term Member with the Council on Foreign Relations, and a Truman National Security Fellow.