New Ryan Plan Hurts U.S. Foreign Policy

Budget Increases Defense Spending While Reducing Development and Diplomacy Spending

The new House Republican budget doesn’t strike a good balance between spending for defense, development, and diplomacy, write Lawrence J. Korb and Max Hoffman.

The latest House Republican budget plan asks low-income and middle-class Americans to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while simultaneously delivering massive tax breaks to the richest 1 percent and preserving huge giveaways to Big Oil. It’s a recipe for repeating the mistakes of the Bush administration, during which middle-class incomes stagnated and only the privileged few enjoyed enormous gains.

Each component of the new House Republican budget threatens the middle class while doing nothing to add jobs or grow our economy. It ends the guarantee of decent insurance for senior citizens, breaking Medicare’s bedrock promise. It slashes investments in education, infrastructure, and basic research, all of which are key drivers of economic growth and mobility. And it cuts taxes for those at the top, asking the middle class to pick up the tab. It’s a budget designed to benefit the top 1 percent at everyone else’s expense.

When House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) put together his “Path to Prosperity,” he should have remembered the advice that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen gave Congress and the country about the balance between spending for defense, development, and diplomacy.

In 2007 when the defense budget, excluding war costs, was slightly less than $500 billion, and the development and diplomacy budget was only $36 billion—a ratio of about 13-to-1—Gates called for an increase in the State Department budget. Gates’s reasoning was that the country needed to focus its energies beyond “the guns and steel of the military.”

About three years later, Mullen argued that “U.S. foreign policy is still too dominated by the military.” In May 2010 when the Senate Budget Committee reduced the State Department FY 2011 budget request by $4 billion, Mullen criticized the reduction in two separate letters to the speaker and majority leader. Mullen wrote, “Diplomatic programs are critical to our long-term security.”

Partly as a result of Gates’s and Mullen’s efforts, the Obama administration reduced the ratio of defense spending to development and diplomacy spending to 11-to-1 by FY 2012. But according to Josh Rogin of The Cable, Rep. Ryan’s new budget slashes the international affairs budget from $47.8 billion in FY 2012 to $38.3 billion by FY 2015, a reduction of $9.5 billion or about 20 percent in nominal terms over the next three years. Rogin points out that under Rep. Ryan’s proposal, development and diplomacy would not return to current budget levels for more than a decade.

On the other hand, Rep. Ryan’s plan undoes much of the reductions in projected defense spending mandated by the Budget Control Act—reductions for which he voted, and which were supported by all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The new Ryan proposal would add $203 billion to the Pentagon’s proposed spending levels over the next decade and would result in a defense budget of $603 billion in 2022, nearly 13 times larger than the international affairs budget—the ratio Gates complained about some five years ago.

As the United States has learned over more than a decade of war, military power is just one tool among many at our disposal. It must only be used in concert with diplomatic and political efforts, and cannot become an end in and of itself. While we must maintain a highly capable military, diplomacy and development can often be more cost-effective investments to craft new opportunities, prevent crises before military force is required, and better manage our shared challenges.

Lawrence J. Korb is a Senior Fellow and Max Hoffman is a Special Assistant at the Center for American Progress.

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Lawrence J. Korb

Senior Fellow

Max Hoffman

Former Senior Director