Building a Better, Safer World Starting on Capitol Hill

A Guest Post by Mary Deering

Advocacy Program Manager, Truman National Security Project

Two weeks ago representatives from NGO’s, the private sector, and retired military service members convened on Capitol Hill to meet face-to-face with close to two thirds of freshman legislators and their staffs. The day, orchestrated by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, was focused on educating these new lawmakers on the importance of the International Affairs budget to our national security and economic prosperity. At a time when budgets are tight, it is more important than ever that our members of Congress  see how a strong and effective International Affairs budget is a wise investment for the American people.

Broad, bipartisan groups of constituents criss-crossed the Hill, traveling from meeting to meeting throughout the morning to make the case for  a strong and effective International Affairs Budget. We also shared with the new Members that groundbreaking reforms to make foreign assistance programs work more efficiently and effectively are already underway. Thanks to a lot of hard work by, Secretary of State Clinton, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, and Millennium Challenge Corporation CEO Daniel Yohannes  and others, new plans for making programs more transparent and accountable are already in place.

Our message to the members tnspof Congress was simple. Even in tough economic times, a strong and effective International Affairs Budget is worth every dime. Investing in democracy, development, and diplomacy serves our economic interests here at home as well and our national security. As I accompanied Truman National Security Project veteran Lt. General Norm Seip (US Air Force, Retired) and his group to meetings with several new US Senators, the national security and economic arguments for continuing our development work abroad had the most resounding impact. One thing is clear: development is not charity — it is part and parcel of our national security and it has very real impacts on the global economy.

Foreign assistance programs and military strategies both have the ability to build a better, safer world. Our military cannot be everywhere all at once and military efforts are much more costly than foreign assistance efforts in terms of blood and treasure. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.” Conflicts abroad are becoming harder to contain by military action alone as they become transnational and carried out by non-state actors. Thwarting these conflicts with stable, economically viable states, rather than reacting with military intervention once conflict ensues, is critical.

We must seize this opportunity to educate Americans about foreign assistance spending and the crucial role it plays. As budget discussions ramp up, it will become a target. This is especially important at a time when we will rely heavily on development efforts in strategically important states such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. As we transfer from a military to civilian operation in Iraq, maintaining stability in the region will hinge on the success – and the existence – of development programs.

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