Diplomacy on the Cheap

by Steven R. Corman

On Thursday the American Academy of Diplomacy released a new report on the dismal state of funding for U.S. diplomacy and public diplomacy efforts, compiled by a Task Force of 14 former senior foreign service officers.  They reckon that the diplomatic capacity of the United States has been “hollowed out” since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The problem is that we cashed-in the peace dividend, resulting in a “roughly 30% real dollar reduction in U.S. international affairs spending.”  But worse, this came at a time when the Soviet Union collapsed, creating the need for new diplomatic missions to the disaggregated countries, triggering staffing shortage of 20%.  Today “core diplomatic staffing deficits have, in effect, returned to 2000 levels,” resulting in a shortfall of 2400 personnel in core functions at State, training lags, and reduced public diplomacy efforts.

They also decry the “militarization of diplomacy.”  I can verify that even people at DoD are concerned about this.  One staffer told me that they have all of the budget while State has all the authority, resulting in a sub-optimal situation for everyone.

With respect to public diplomacy, the report concludes that

reduced budgets and staff devoted to explaining America abroad after the end of the Cold War contributed to a decline in understanding of and respect for the United States in many parts of the world. Increased resources, including larger numbers of skilled personnel, are required in this area. For example, for almost a decade public diplomacy missed opportunities to develop a vigorous global internet programming capability to reach millions due to insufficient funding and a lack of trained career personnel, particularly in program management skills.

As a solution, the report recommends an increase in funding of over $1.8 billion for various diplomatic activities by FY 2014.   Signaling the importance of the function and the direness of need, Public Diplomacy  would get about a third of the total to

  • Increase staff by 487
  • Increase exchanges and visitor grants
  • Significantly expand new media capacity
  • Establish new American cultural centers
  • Re-engage the Binational Center network in Latin America
  • Expand overseas staff and operations

The report makes amply clear how for that last 18 years, and particularly the last eight, we have attempted to conduct diplomacy on the cheap.  Fixing that problem is going to cost Big Bucks, and at a time when there are not a lot of spare resources to throw at the problem.

Some will claim that we can’t solve our public diplomacy problems by throwing money at them.  I would agree:  We have to throw money at them and also make changes in the policies the prevent them from working.  $1.8 billion sounds like a lot of money until you consider that it’s one-fifth the cost of a single month of the Iraq war (according to conservative CBO estimates).  From that perspective, properly funding our diplomatic activities seem like a bargain.

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  1. [...] The emphasis on this issue is spot-on, though I might bump it up a notch or two on the priority list.  I also endorse the concern about human capital challenges, which are in no small measure related to budget challenges. [...]