Albright is a former Secretary of State; Coons is a Senator for Delaware in the U.S. Congress.
Now that Congress has reconvened to continue work on urgent foreign policy challenges — from the North Korean nuclear threat to our continued role in Afghanistan to the challenge of a rising China — we hope Republicans and Democrats will support funding for diplomacy and development as vital tools of national security.
More than 70 years ago, in the wake of the horrors of World War II, President Harry Truman addressed a United Nations Conference in San Francisco. He challenged Americans and our international partners “to rise above personal interests, and adhere to those lofty principles, which benefit all mankind.”
After witnessing the destruction of two world wars, the rise of fascism and the horrors of genocide, Truman and the country sought a new world order rooted in international institutions and fashioned by rules shared across nations. He considered this necessary to promote global stability, foster shared prosperity and uphold individual dignity — and to avoid another major conflict that would ultimately “crush all civilization.”
Since the Second World War, the American people and both parties in Congress have fought to shape and uphold this international system and the fundamental democratic principles underlying it: human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the rule of law. The United States recognized that disagreements between nations are better resolved through diplomacy and by international bodies such as the U.N., rather than military conflict; that a world in which commerce, movement of people and diplomacy are conducted through established rules and norms is more prosperous and more peaceful; that building dependable, durable alliances with other nations who share our values makes us safer and more secure. The world has long looked to the United States for leadership because of — not in spite of — our commitment to these principles.
In recent years, the American people and some in Washington have come to question these foundations of modern U.S. foreign policy. Their belief is manifested in the Trump Administration’s budget, which proposes cutting funding for the State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) by nearly a third. His budget would cut humanitarian assistance by more than 30% and global health programs by 25%, and completely eliminates funding for climate initiatives.
The Administration’s proposed increase in defense spending is not entirely unmerited. But as a former Secretary of State and a Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, we understand that diplomacy, development and democracy are also integral to our national security.
The disparity between funding for the Defense Department on one hand, and State and USAID on the other, has always been stark. Last year, the base Pentagon budget was $551 billion — more than nine times that of the State Department and USAID. Even so, this year, President Trump requested a 10% increase to the Defense Department budget and a 37% reduction for State and USAID.
We must provide adequate funding for our military and, most importantly, our service members and their families. A strong military is vital to protect the American people and our national interests, and to foster the global security from which billions around the world benefit.
Yet we must also invest in diplomacy to resolve political disputes that often lead to conflict and to build upon the hard-won gains of our military. We must promote development to provide economic opportunity, prevent global pandemics and build effective institutions that foster greater stability. We support democracy and development not out of charity but because they advance our values and make the American people safer and more prosperous.
To that end, in a unanimous bipartisan vote, a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee recently firmly rejected President’s Trump’s budget proposal. The subcommittee sent a $51.35 billion bill to the Senate floor that funds the State Department and USAID. Among other things, this bill provides critical assistance to key allies, including Israel, Jordan and Tunisia; it funds democracy, governance and development abroad; and it supports the Foreign Service and other personnel serving overseas.
The bill provides life-saving humanitarian assistance to address the needs of refugees, internally displaced persons, victims of famine and others suffering from manmade and natural disasters around the globe. It funds significant resources for global health programs to support some of the world’s poorest populations, and it promotes international religious freedom and protects persecuted religious minorities, particularly in the Middle East. It is a bill that makes long-term investments to strengthen American security and promote our values.
There are some who believe these practices undermine the pursuit of American interests. Yet our wisest leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, have always understood that American foreign policy must be shaped not solely on the basis of what we are against, but also what we are for. Our interests dictate that we should be for a world in which democracy is defended, universal values upheld and economic opportunity advanced.
The State Department and our development programs are not partisan initiatives but rather a united, national effort to ensure peace abroad and project American beliefs to the world. All Americans benefit from this greater stability and prosperity.
In his speech to the U.N. Conference, President Truman noted, “Man has learned long ago that it is impossible to live unto himself. This same basic principle applies today to nations. We were not isolated during the war. We dare not now become isolated in peace.”
Americans again are facing challenging times, but we must avoid the temptation to turn away from the world. If we’re to succeed in a challenging global environment at inspiring others through the power of our example, we have to provide robust funding for the State Department and USAID. Without the tools of diplomacy and development, we run the risk of ceding the moral high ground that generations of Americans have fought so hard to secure.