Foreign Policy Blogs

Starved at State

Here's the bad news. The Washington Post reports that the State Department will be cutting 10 percent of diplomatic posts next year.

Veteran diplomatic correspondent Karen DeYoung reports:   "Nearly one-quarter of all diplomatic posts are vacant after hundreds of Foreign Service officers were sent to embassies in Baghdad and Kabul, and Congress has not provided funding for new hires The size of the foreign service, about 6,500 diplomats, increased by approximately 300 positions a year between 2001 and 2004, but since then Congress has rejected requests for additional hiring for all but consular and security positions." 

This is bad news on many levels:  

,First the cuts make painfully apparent the reality that the State Department is starved of resources. At a time when global opinion of theUnited States is at an all time low, the overseas presence of our diplomatic corps is shrinking. The cuts seem especially drastic when one considers that throughout its history the State Department, relative to its mandate, has been chronically under funded.

A rigorous 2003 Task Force report published by an umbrella organization of US diplomatic groups recommends that Congress appropriate a full 30% increase in the State Department budget. That's not a plea for more office supplies. It reminds me of Oliver Twist's weary cry "please sir may I have some more…"  

Let's think about how the effects of these budget cuts might play out. Next year the US Foreign Service will be 10 percent less able to negotiate hot-button issues with other leaders, report on developments from afar, promote US values to unfamiliar audiences, maintain constructive relationships with our allies, monitor and respond to the actions of our enemies, and protect our embassies and traveling countrymen, among many other essential activities. It's a difficult picture to paint because the State Department's activities are embedded in so many foreign interactions essential to our domestic livelihood.   

,But more importantly the budget cuts reflect a continuing emphasis on military capabilities rather than diplomatic capabilities in US federal budgeting priorities. In 2007 the defense budget totaled $439.3 billion for regular department spending, not including money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In 2008 its budget will increase 44 billion to $483 billion. Ironically enough that's a 9% increase in the Defense Department budget  

state dept

Defense's bountiful budget allows it to even take on some activities traditionally left to State. The State Department's office of Public Diplomacy attempts to win the "battle of ideas" by improving the US' image abroad. That office enjoys an annual budget of $900 million. On the other side of the river, Secretary Gates last year created a new position called the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy, to spearhead the military's strategic communications and run their "countering ideological support to terrorism" program.

According to the US National Defense Strategy, part of this program entails: "helping change Muslim misperceptions of the United States and the West; and reinforcing the message that the Global War on Terrorism is not a war against Islam, but rather is an outgrowth of a civil war within Islam between extremists and those who oppose them." 

 The State Department has a large Public Diplomacy bureau that handles those very tasks, along with strategic communications in general. Of course we are all better off for having the largest number of and most effective strategists assigned to this daunting and vital task. Still, "Defense department" and "soft power" don't logically go hand in hand. Furthermore, it would be understandable that a global public weary of American unilateralism might not trust the "spin" coming out of the military establishment. 


In short, when diplomatic activities start being transferred to the military branch, everyone suffers‚ not just the starving State Department.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.