The United States is facing unprecedented threats to our national security – simply look at mounting tensions with Iran and North Korea, growing power competition with Russia and China, and rising fears of a new global pandemic. These threats don’t just jeopardize our security — they could disrupt our economy and upset stability around the world.
To confront this wave of threats, America must work to ensure we’re ready to meet them with all capabilities at our disposal — something both of us understand, one as an Iraqi combat veteran and former top Pentagon official, the other as Pennsylvania’s governor in the wake of 9/11, charged with deploying new security measures. While we both attest that the might of the U.S. military is unmatched, the burden of protecting our nation cannot rest solely on the shoulders of the 225,000 American troops stationed worldwide.
That’s where our diplomatic corps and development experts come in. Consider, for example, the overwhelming success of the Marshall Plan, a U.S. effort to rebuild a war-torn Europe after World War II. Through a unique combination of aid, diplomatic efforts, and the American-backed security promise of NATO, Europe transformed into America’s most important trading partner and the largest source of foreign investment.
These successes did not happen overnight. They were made possible by consistent collaboration between America’s military and civilian efforts toward the same goal: fostering the stability necessary for prosperity around the world, to ensure security here at home.
While we’re fortunate to have America’s best and brightest working together to protect our country, they cannot confront the ever-evolving challenges to our national security without the proper resources.
For the fourth straight year, the Trump administration has requested drastic cuts to the international affairs budget – this time by nearly a quarter. This small portion of the federal budget funds agencies like the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that drive American diplomacy and foreign assistance programs.
This would be a mistake, making the United States less equipped to protect the American people and U.S. interests abroad. Worse, our economy would take a hit too – bad news especially for Pennsylvania, which in 2018 exported more than $41 billion in goods and in 2016 saw exports create an estimated 177,000 jobs.
Eliminating some of these efforts would not only shut out U.S. businesses from key markets around the world, particularly emerging economies across Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. It would also undo much of the progress made to establish Pennsylvania as a player in the global marketplace.
Not to mention, it would present opportunities for our adversaries to swoop in and fill the void of our absence. The prime example is China. Increasingly emboldened, China is driving some developing nations into unsustainable debt and then translating those obligations into exclusive access for Chinese interests and Chinese businesses. Just look at Sri Lanka, where in 2018 China leveraged the country’s debt in exchange for a 99-year lease to access a strategic port near Hambantota.
And they’re not backing down. The Chinese are pushing development aid, trade agreements, and investments all over the world, fueled by their ambitious $1 trillion Belt and Road initiative. The Chinese have also doubled their diplomacy spending over the last six years, surpassing the United States in another key measure of global influence: the number of diplomatic outposts. To an outside observer, it looks as if America is falling behind while China races ahead.
Now is not the time for America to step back from the world.
At this crucial budgetary moment, we need leaders who understand the value of these programs — for the safety of our families, the prosperity of our communities, and the future of our country.
As former elected officials for Pennsylvania, we are delighted that so many congressional members in the Philadelphia area have consistently spoken in support of these programs, including Reps. Chrissy Houlahan and Brian Fitzpatrick. We encourage all members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation – from both sides of the aisle – to do the same.