“Wrong Bang For The Buck”

The federal budget “process”-that sausage making you don’t want to see up close-is well underway. Providing for the common defense is job one, both constitutionally speaking and in the security-conscious minds of post-9/11 Americans. So when in the process did the broad discussion take place on how best to do that job? The answer is, it didn’t.

Last year Congress did commission others to have that conversation. The 9/11 Commission thought long, broadly and productively about increasing U.S. security. One of their main contributions was to expand conventional notions of the tools necessary to do the job. Making Americans safer, they concluded, depends not only on military forces but also on increasing investments in such non-military tools as diplomacy and international economic development.

Congress accepted the report, and then went back to doing budgeting the way they’ve always done it: thinking about military spending in one committee and international affairs-which includes diplomacy and nonproliferation and economic development-in another, with homeland security somewhere else. Their budget resolution follows the administration’s plans for spending on each of these security categories nearly to a T.

Congress never bothers to pull the big picture of security spending together. If you do, you find that the budget we are likely to get will allocate seven times as many resources to military forces as to all non-military security tools-including nonproliferation, diplomacy and homeland security put together. If you add in the spending for the war we are actually fighting, the imbalance gets worse-it’s 9 to 1.

Back in December, at President Bush’s first post-election address on foreign policy, an aide reported to the press that the gains made in the Global War on Terror by military force in Afghanistan and Iraq would now be “secured” by a greater emphasis on diplomacy in the second term. The new secretary of state has been declaring over and over that “the time of diplomacy is now.”

If you follow the money, you get a different picture. The president’s budget for diplomacy actually gets less money this year-the year of diplomacy-than it got in 2004.

In his foreign policy debate with his Democratic challenger, the president agreed that the United States’ top foreign policy priority should be containing the spread of weapons of mass destruction around the world. Having spent upwards of $200 billion seeking WMDs in Iraq that turned out not to exist, his budget proposes spending less than $2 billion in 2006 in total on WMD nonproliferation. In a discretionary budget of $800+ billion, about $440 billion of which will go to the military, $2 billion is hardly spending commensurate with the label “top priority.”

A budget process worthy of the name would begin by looking at the security task whole, and deciding on what the broad priorities should be. It would take to heart the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation for increasing investment in non-military security tools. It would take a security budget that is militarized by a factor of 7 to 1 and rebalance it.

I have been working with a team of security experts to come up with an outline for how that could be done. It’s called A Unified Security Budget for the United States, 2006 . It identifies and justifies $53 billion in cuts to unnecessary military programs. These include savings on major weapons systems like the F/A 22 fighter jet, the Virginia-class submarine and the DD(X) destroyer, the nuclear weapons complex and the missile defense program, and on military personnel. It redirects a little over $40 billion to such neglected non-military security tools as contributions to international peacekeeping, a new conflict response fund, and key homeland security priorities like chemical plant security and public health infrastructure. This modest shift would change a 7-to-1 imbalance into a better balance of 4 to 1.

Bill Clinton has a good line he’s using these days that sums up why this shift is necessary: “If you live in a world where you cannot kill, occupy or imprison all your actual or potential adversaries,” he says, “you have to try to build a world with more friends and fewer terrorists.” Doing so will require, among other things, a budget process that looks at the big picture before getting down into the weeds.