Economic Development Budget Needed

WASHINGTON, DC -- As a former Pentagon official working the Ukraine desk in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I never imagined Russia would invade and succeed in taking territory.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

We had a robust military-to-military professional development program, and Ukraine was committed to being NATO’s partner.

The Ukrainians swore that they would "never again" succumb to Russian domination.

But over the next decade, our military support for Ukraine was not enough to withstand a Soviet legacy of weak institutions, corruption that compromised Ukraine’s independence from Russia, particularly in the industrial and energy sectors, and a low rate of economic development.

The result was Ukraine’s inability to join the European Union and a loss of sovereign territory to Russia.

If we want strong allies to stand up to our nemesis in the international system, we need a development budget as much, or more, than a defense budget.

However, the Trump administration put forth a budget proposal to add $54 billion to the Department of Defense — largely by demanding that the money come from other areas of the federal government, including up to 30 percent of the Department of State's budget.

Funding a robust national security apparatus is, in fact, about more than buying planes and bombs.

Our service members need the best tools, but they also need the support of diplomatic, development and democracy-building institutions in the State Department to compound their good work and reduce the need to send them into harm's way.

President Donald Trump's own Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, has in the past even been a vocal supporter of State Department funding.

Mattis has argued for the national security value of funding the State Department.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee like Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, are warning against the cuts to State, too.

And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., says the budget "cannot pass the Senate" in its current form.

All this, to say nothing of the drastic cuts to other essential government programs across the board, clearly demonstrates that there is a serious amount of work to do so that more countries do not face futures like Ukraine’s. 

If we had more effective and better funded state building tools for the post-Soviet states — similar to the Marshall Plan under President Harry Truman to strengthen European institutions and infrastructure destroyed during World War II — then we would have a more stable, more economically prosperous Ukraine today.

Europe as a whole would be stronger and markets would be open for Western goods.

Instead, the former Soviet states are increasingly under the thumb of an authoritarian Russian government.

At the end of the day, this radical budget proposal is damaging to our national security and broader foreign policy capabilities.

The Trump administration must listen to the military officials and career diplomats who have seen firsthand the links between State and DoD's work, and revise their budget request so that the U.S. government can plan for the full range of threats and opportunities we face.

Source: Bismarck Tribune