Secretary of State Clinton appeared before a Congressional appropriations subcommittee today to provide her view of the budget needs of her department.
She covered the globe with five major areas of interest:
- Sustainment of national security missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan;
- A new focus on the Asia-Pacific region;
- Moving forward from the events of the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa;
- Use of economic statescraft — using diplomacy and development to create jobs in the U.S.; and
- The elevation of development alongside diplomacy and defense to help build strategic depth in vulnerable areas.
In every sense, the State Department’s $51.6 billion budget request for Fiscal Year 2013, and the five priorities it’s centered on, value the development, maintenance and growth of relationships. Investment in strengthening existing relationships and building new ones is vital to our country’s ability to engage and lead abroad.
The U.S. seemed slow to respond to the opportunities presented by the events of the Arab Spring. Our efforts to engage and assist seemed uncoordinated and incomplete in the wake of sweeping changes across the region. Secretary Clinton seems to recognize this, too, since her department’s FY13 budget request includes a $770 million incentive fund for the Middle East and North Africa. The fund will enable the U.S. to be more flexible and speedy in its efforts to build relationships and assist in the region. Unfortunately, the funds are needed now for such an effort, not at the end of this year.
Similarly, in the Pacific region, the landscape change brought by North Korea’s leadership shift and China’s growing influence calls for a concerted focus on building relationships that endure current challenges and create strength for the future. Traditional partners like Japan and South Korea will be key to the diplomatic efforts. Untraditional or new partners like Vietnam will play an increasingly important role. The efforts of the Defense Department will clearly be important complements through programs such as joint, combined exercises and the military-to-military contact programs in the quest to build meaningful relationships that can help affect the future.
Clinton also testified to the importance of development and said her budget request would elevate that type of engagement to the equivalent level of defense and diplomacy. The focus on development is a wise one and will help to ensure there are actions to back up the diplomatic words about the need to stabilize areas hindered by disease, poverty and hunger — destabilizing factors that provide fertile ground for violent extremism and conflict.
While many will argue against investment outside the U.S. while so many domestic demands face the country, only the U.S. has the reach, resources and existing relationships to help secure a more peaceful and prosperous world. While relationships always have mattered in the realm of diplomacy, the dynamic nature of the modern geopolitical and economic landscape make these associations even more important. Simply put, investing now in our country’s ability to grow and maintain key, international relationships will help to underwrite the future of stability at home and abroad.