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Measure Twice, Cut Once: Prioritizing Diplomatic and Development Missions In A Time of Fiscal Constraints

Authors: Gordon Adams, Henry L. Stimson Center, and Laura A. Hall, International Affairs Fellow, 2009-2010
December 16, 2010
The Will and the Wallet


The newly-released Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) makes a strong case for resources for American diplomacy and development.  While the report is burdened by global realities – somehow every problem seems to require that State and USAID address it – two priorities stand out.  The QDDR pays particular attention to the need to strengthen and build capabilities for the traditional mission of economic development and governance as well as for the newer mission of preventing/resolving conflict and assisting in recovery from conflict in weak states.

The proposed structural changes and reforms will require resources to be effective.  But the QDDR only nods in the direction of the reality the State Department and USAID face today: budget restraint.  Deficit hawks are bearing down on the federal budget.  With even sacrosanct social security, defense, and taxes being discussed, there's no place to hide.  Mathematically, getting the deficit and the debt under control means everything has to be “on the table.”  And politically, a deal – if it comes – is only possible if everything is “on the table.”

Cutting a budget as small as international affairs makes at best a token contribution to lowering the deficit.  That has never stopped the Congress.  Diplomats and “foreign aid” have always been an easy target in the Congress, as the incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has signaled.  And the two major deficit commissions have left the door open to cuts as well.  Simpson/Bowles has some specifics while Rivlin/Domenici simply lumps foreign affairs budgets in with all “non-defense discretionary” spending freezes.

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