WASHINGTON - While the Pentagon's budget has risen to heights not seen since World War II, U.S. diplomatic and foreign aid assets have largely atrophied and must be quickly rebuilt by any new administration that takes office in January, according to a new report released here this week by former senior foreign service officers.
The report by the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD) and the Henry L. Stimson Centre is calling for a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of diplomats and aid and development specialists recruited into the foreign service over the next five years. This would cost about three billion dollars -- or approximately what the Pentagon is currently spending every 10 days on military operations in Iraq -- over current budget estimates.
''Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the diplomatic capacity of the United States has been hollowed out,' according to the 26-page report, 'A Foreign Affairs Budget for the Future'. 'The status quo cannot continue without serious damage to our vital interests.'
The vacuum created by the lack of diplomatic resources -- particularly in comparison to the Pentagon's budget and manpower -- has translated into the militarisation of U.S. foreign policy, warns the report.
''Today, significant portions of the nation's foreign affairs business simply are not accomplished,'' it says. 'The work migrates by default to the military that does have the necessary people and funding but neither sufficient experience nor knowledge. The 'militarisation' of diplomacy exists and is accelerating.'
To that end, the report calls for the State Department to take over control from the Defence Department (DOD) of nearly 800 million dollars a year budgeted for several security assistance programmes, including humanitarian aid, created in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to help friendly militaries prosecute the 'global war on terrorism'.
'Our view is that the Secretary of State has and should have responsibility for assuring that all foreign and security assistance is carried out in accord with U.S. foreign policy, including setting overall policy, approving countries to receive assistance, and setting the budget for such assistance,' the report said.
'DOD's expanded policy responsibility for security assistance programs risks the additional atrophy of the civilian agencies' ability to plan and conduct foreign policy and foreign assistance and raises serious concerns that such programs could conflict with broader U.S. strategic and foreign policy interests.'
'Moreover, these expanded missions are not the core competence of the military and thus may detract from the readiness to perform more central military missions,' it added. 'Finally, it is important for the U.S. to ensure that its non-military international presence and engagement be carried out primarily by civilians, not by the military.'
Indeed, the latest report echoes the views -- albeit in more diplomatic language -- of a growing number of non-governmental organisations and foreign policy experts that the Pentagon, simply by virtue of its enormous budget and its worldwide presence with nearly 800 overseas bases, has become far too dominant in policy making.
Even Pentagon chief Robert Gates a former senior intelligence officer, has complained about the imbalance between U.S. military and diplomatic resources. 'Funding for non-military foreign affairs programmes...remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military,' he declared in a much-discussed speech last November. 'What is clear for me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security.'
'Our diplomatic leaders -- be they in ambassadors' suites or on the State Department's seventh [top] floor -- must have the resources and political support needed to fully exercise their statutory responsibilities in leading American foreign policy,' he said in July.
He has also noted ruefully that there are more people serving in military bands than in the entire State Department.
Despite his support, however, Gates' views have not yet substantially altered the political equation in Congress, which has routinely approved or even increased the Bush administration's budgetary requests for the Pentagon over the last eight years while casting a far more sceptical eye on requests for the State Department, which lacks a comparably broad-based geographic, commercial, or demographic constituency.
The Defence Department is slated to receive well over 527 billion dollars for 2009 -- not including some 15 billion dollars a month for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- or roughly 13 times more than the State Department's budget of less than 40 billion dollars.
Moreover, despite his concerns, Gates has asked -- so far without success -- that substantially more money be allocated to the new discretionary accounts that the Pentagon currently may disburse for allies in the war on terror, a request which, to the dismay of most foreign service officers, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice supported in hearings before Congress earlier this year.
Last week, the Pentagon submitted a new estimate for defence spending that is 450 billion dollars more over the next five years than it had previously announced, according to Congressional Quarterly, beginning with a nearly 10-percent increase in its 2010 budget to nearly 600 billion dollars.
Compared to that request, the recommendation by the AAD-Stimson report to increase the State Department's planned budget by roughly 3.3 billion dollars over the next five years seems paltry, indeed.
According to the report, which was put together by a task force of 14 former senior foreign service officers with the help of an advisory group chaired by former U.N. Amb. Thomas Pickering, the State Department currently suffers serious shortages in personnel in virtually all of its operations, from consular activity to development assistance and public diplomacy.
The report noted the decline in the foreign service and State Department spending began at the end of the Cold War when the international affairs budget was reduced by roughly 30 percent in real terms. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell succeeded in creating more than 1,000 new State Department posts between 2001 and 2004, according to the report, but these increases were quickly absorbed by diplomatic surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving other key areas and global issues with significant staff shortfalls.
It called for total State Department staffing to increase from roughly 10,000 today to nearly 15,000 by 2014.
Jim Lobe's blog on U.S. foreign policy, and particularly the neo-conservative influence in the Bush administration, can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.