By: Harry C. Blaney III and Allison Gerns

The State and Foreign Operations Bill as well as the Defense Appropriations Bill have been moving through Congress this summer. Both bills have been heavily debated between the Democrats and Republicans, given the Republicans push to add more money to the military spending despite a mandated (largely by the Republicans) spending decrease the last five years under the sequester. The Republican-controlled House has tried to destroy programs to prevent and end conflicts, provide humanitarian assistance and target climate change. This has included cutting support for the vital work of international organizations, the Peace Corps, and limiting development aid. This year, a big issue is the budget caps, which were established in 2011.

Regarding the DOD appropriations bill the Republicans are now trying to work around those restrictions by allocating billions into the Defense Overseas Contingency Operations fund. The OCO is exempt from budget caps and was established for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but now Republicans are creating a slush fund under the guise that it will be used to help in Ukraine and against ISIL.  

The State and Foreign Ops bill, which focuses on diplomacy, Foreign Service Embassy security, humanitarian assistance, public diplomacy, and other programs has made its way through the House and Senate committees.  The House proposed a State and Foreign Ops budget totaling 47.9 billion dollars. 7.3 billion dollars of the budget was allocated for its Overseas Contingency Operations fund. This is 1.4 billion dollars below the 2015 budget and 6.1 billion dollars below what the President has requested. 7.3 billion dollars was allocated for the Global War on Terror, which is 1.9 billion dollars less than 2015. You can see just how much “preventive diplomacy” programs and capability has been cut to what are dangerous levels. 

The Senate for the State and Foreign Ops bill has proposed a budget totaling 49 billion dollars. The budget is 2.8 billion dollars less than 2015 and 4.9 billion less than the President’s request. 39 billion dollars in base funding, 9.26 billion dollars was allocated for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, and 759 million dollars was for emergency spending. Highlights from this budget request include new measures to counter violent extremism.  

Both the House and the Senate focused on Global Health, humanitarian assistance, diplomatic security, and major cuts from international organization funding. The bills have different approaches to UN peacekeeping, development assistance, family planning, and International Monetary Fund reform.

The Defense Appropriations Bill was also passed through the House and Senate committees. The House bill proposed a budget of 578.6 billion dollars. The budget is 24.4 billion dollars more than the budget in 2015 and 800 million dollars more than the President proposed. 88.4 billion dollars was earmarked for the Global War on Terrorism. The Senate’s budget totals 489.1 billion dollars with 86.8 billion dollars for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund. 36.5 billion dollars was moved from the base budget to the OCO to overcome the budget caps. The Senate budget made cuts to 486 programs but added money for other programs.

While the President and DOD is attempting to limit  some budget increases for unneeded military programs which they feel are not directed to real needs, Congress’ budgets ask for more while overall military spending is increasing dramatically compared to the last five years. The biggest spending increases is the OCO fund which is turning into more of a slush fund for expensive and not needed high cost systems not related to OCO itself.

Both bills continue to be up for debate with the Democrats and the Republicans so far unwilling to negotiate a solution. This may lead to a government shutdown in the fall but not likely, as the DOD funding is a “must do” element and it is likely we might end again in a comprehensive budget bill which covers much of government or a “continuing resolution” for an unspecified period. 

With the national election coming soon, members of Congress are using military contracts as political fodder to spend more on their districts and states. These contracts don’t respond to real-world threats but rather profit from “the military industrial sector,” as Ike called them. On the other hand the effort on the State Foreign Ops bill is just the opposite, the effort is to cut the capacity of American diplomacy including our payments to international organization that we ask to carry major burdens to deal with global and regional problems and crises in place of often inadequate individual national efforts. 

Congress often criticizes international organizations that do not, in their eyes, carry out their mission to their liking, like the World Food Program, UNHCR, World Health Organization, IAEA, UNDP, UNEP, World Bank, IMF, and the other UN Agencies that, for example, carry out peacekeeping, crisis intervention etc. But the hypocrisy is that these Members deliberately eviscerate key institutions that keep the world secure and prosperous, just as they also cut aid to “the least among us” at home. But that does not stop them from saying that under President Obama we are withdrawing from leadership in world affairs, even as the administration has gone from one diplomatic success and bold action after the next, to make us safe and prosperous in a high risk world complex world.

We welcome your comments!!! 





Harry C. Blaney III

Revealed on Monday February 24th was the defense budget for FY 2015, and the headlines were about the cuts to manpower mostly in the army. Yet, the most important questions of what ought to be our major objectives, an examination of the global security landscape, and finally, the right tools to employ has been given too little attention. Continue reading


The Battle Over Strategic Policy, Diplomacy, and World View


Harry C. Blaney III

This last year and much earlier and certainly during this coming election year we have seen and will see a battle royale over the purpose and direction of America’s role in the world such as we have rarely witnessed in the last several decades. The question is not so much “if we should be involved” but that too in some cases. There are those on both the far right and on the far left who, for very different reasons, would like to see America either go back to “fortress America” or treat the rest of the world with what my old boss called, in a highly misunderstood memo, “benign neglect.” Yet that position leads us in any case to a dead end and is truly impossible to maintain in the fast moving 21st century world.

Then the question is what kind of engagement we should have, what challenges should we address, and with what goals and with what tools? To simplify the question, there are two broad groupings of stances or schools on strategic and international issues. The first is an “internationalist”perspective which means fully engaged, with a often liberal stance, towards the risks, problems and opportunities for America. The proponents believe that America can and should be a power for good and initiate efforts to solve problems preferably by diplomacy and other “soft power” tools and use the military as a last resort. It accepts that international organizations like the United Nations, OECD, IAEA, UNDP, and NATO are important and cooperation with friends and allies are key to global problem solving.

The second school dominated by a kind of ideological based perspective is that America is and should be the predominant power of the world and that we can and should use military power to that end when it is seen as in our own interest. It is often seen by proponents as our best option. While this group says it support democracy and human rights, in fact, its support for military and dictatorial governments, both in the past and now, shows that its interests are not with the poor people of the developing world, but rather with oligarchs and authoritarian regimes favoring the rich and ruling classes. It supports a raw form of “capitalism” as a favored solution to almost all problems. It also detains international organizations, especially the U.N., but also treaties like the Law of the Sea, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and generally multilateral engagement to solve global problems like our present efforts to defuse war in the Middle East and our concerns about Iran.

We have seen some of this group’s influence at work in the recent Department of Defense and State and foreign operations (USAID and related programs) appropriations bill for FY 2014 that is before Congress now. It is filled with cuts to our diplomacy and “soft power” and it tries to dictate to the administration on a host of issues like Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and other issues. It cuts funding for the United Nations and UNESCO. On the other hand, the Defense Appropriations part includes added funding that the DOD did not ask for and does not need; it puts unneeded funding into nuclear weapons that are not needed and could indeed  be cut in major ways with no loss to security. It dictates spending on low priority very expensive systems that the military-industrial companies want to enrich their executives but are likely never to see any action or real use. This robs our defense forces from resources that they really need, especially money for our troops, training, and logistics in the post cold-war world.

We are still in a narrow box of our strategic policies and objectives being dictated by Congressional types who in turn are run by the lobbyists, their military industries paymasters out for their own interests rather than that of the nation as a whole. We are going into a period when both the Departments of State and Defense will be undertaking major “rethinking” documents of their policies and their strategy in the coming years. The call for reform of this dysfunctional and dangerous decision-making and indeed of our political system is urgently needed if America is ever to become the nation it aspires to be in its domestic life and reach abroad. We need decision making aimed at real risks and dangers and human needs rather than that which is dictated by crazy selfish ideology and those with money and power, controlling our political life and making profits without any true  social or global benefits.

In the end, in the international sphere, the fundamental question remains what are the objectives and values America is most interested in upholding? Is it, as we have often proclaimed, to provide security, prosperity, protect human rights, fight poverty, deal with climate change and a host of other key goals? Or is it to simply proclaim our dominance, send our troops into harms way willy-nilly to gain some narrow advantage, ignore scientific truth about the danger of climate change and environmental detraction, turn our back on humanitarian crises, ignore the problems of global poor health care and its costs to the poorest, and not least, not support international efforts against nuclear weapons or peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts as a key objective rather than choose “war-war” as our first tool in almost any upheaval.

As a professional “policy planner” in the Department of State and much of my “think tank” positions, I had to also wonder of how little thought, experience, study, and wisdom went into past disastrous decisions by the civilian (including in the White House where I once served), the military that I often worked with, and sometimes in the DOS. We all had to acknowledge that most of the decisions we faced were not easy and the consequences of action or inaction were often horrendous — in short, we do need to do better within our government and the quality of our civil servants. But we need less myopic perspective, narrow self serving partisan values, and more understanding of the costs of poor judgment.

We welcome your comments!

The U.K. and the E.U. and the U.S.

Much of the noise about possible British departure from the European Union has died down in the wake of strong ridicule from many quarters and the apparent softening of the British threat.  In addition, it was clear from the beginning that Prime Minister David Cameron’s chest-thumping was not unrelated to British electoral politics.  (One wonders whether Cameron, when proclaiming that “we can no more change …British sensibility than we can drain the English Channel”, had not been advised that this body of water, whatever its formal name in the English tongue, consists partly of French sovereign waters.)  In any case, little more need be written of the reckless, foolish, suicidal, mindless, etc. British stance, well pilloried by Harry Blaney in his January 28 post, as we give Cameron and his like-minded isolationists time to remodel their remarks into negotiating tactics as they begin to realize in private who will be the real losers in the case of a British break with the E.U., particularly with talk of a U.S.-E.U. free trade pact picking up steam.

Georgetown University professor Charles Kupchan, writing in the November 20, 2012 edition of the International Herald Tribune (and, presumably, the New York Times), is clear in his understanding of the economic, financial and geopolitical damage that Britain’s withdrawal, even if only partial, from the E.U. would inflict on its own future.  But Kupchan seriously overstates the consequences of such a development in terms of western defense and U.S. – European relations, writing that “Britain has long served as a bridge between the United States and Europe” and that a diminished British role in the E.U. would weaken the latter and “Europe’s tether to the United States.”

The suggestion that America’s relations with Western Europe or any of its members were ever, or are now, mainly dependent upon the policies or good offices of London is fanciful.  While one must acknowledge both Churchill’s encouragement and the importance of the British launching pad for American forces sent to rescue Europe and the world from the Nazi menace, can anyone truly believe that the crucial U.S. entry into WWII and the subsequent American protection of the West from the Soviet threat were motivated by a “special relationship” between Washington and London?  Yet Kupchan wants us (and his Georgetown students, presumably) to fear the worst from a British-European split, to wit:  “An irrelevant Britain and an enfeebled E.U. do not augur well for a trans-Atlantic bond central to the defense of Western values and interests.  As America’s own defense budget shrinks and those of China and other emerging powers rise, Washington sorely needs capable allies.  Britain’s departure from Europe would mean that the U.K., as well as Europe as a whole, (would) gradually slip off America’s radar screen.”  Moreover, lectures the professor, “London cannot remain an important partner on matters of European defense should it become a bit player within the E.U.”.

A few words in reply are in order.  First, shrinkage of America’s defense budget for whatever reason cannot by any real measure reduce its relative global military and strategic superiority.  Secondly, should Britain risk insignificance, if not suicide, by seriously distancing itself from the E.U., neither the latter nor the U.S. will suffer mortal pains.  And finally, with respect to that radar screen, is the professor not aware of NATO, the American- led defense organization, twenty-one of whose twenty-eight members – including Britain for now – are also members of the E.U.?

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!

Sequestration: It’s Not Only Defense Cuts

An editorial in the NY Times was published on August 1st titled, “The Truth About Military Cuts”. This editorial pointed out the disparity between Republicans’ words and their actions. Around Washington, looming sequestration has become a blame game and it seems that President Obama is the scapegoat for the Republican Party. What many Republican Senators, including Sen. John McCain, forget to mention is that they voted yes for these across-the-board cuts – as is pointed out in the editorial. In town meetings across America, Republican Senators have been scaring citizens over the layoffs that will ensue if Congress cannot make a deal. The Editorial points out that “their goal is partly to drum up opposition to the $500 billion across-the-board defense cuts that begins in January, but it also is to get voters to blame Mr. Obama for those cuts. To do so, they have had to be less than forthright about their role in creating one of the worst examples of governance in many years”.

Another key point that has seemed to garner little attention is the non-defense programs that will also receive cuts. According to the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), the automatic sequestration would reduce non-defense discretionary programs by 7.8% on January 2, 2013. In a letter by Ellen Murray, Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources for the DHHS, she stated that “the deep discretionary cuts projected by CBO would have profound consequences on the Department’s ability to protect Americans’ health and safety and provide critical services to vulnerable populations”

The projects cuts include:

  • The NIH could potentially eliminate 2,300 new and competing research project grants
  • There would be nearly 300 fewer grants issued by the National Cancer Institute
  • Up to 100,000 children would lose Head Start services
  • 80,000 fewer children would receive child care assistance
  • 12,150 fewer patients would receive benefits from the AIDS Drug Assistance Program
  • 169,000 fewer individuals would be admitted to substance abuse treatment programs
  • 14,200 fewer people who are homeless would receive assistance

Not only would the DHHS be affected but sequestration would additionally lead to the layoffs the New York Times of “tens of thousands of teachers, closings of national parks, reductions in food inspections, and cutbacks at the F.B.I. and the Border Patrol”. As stated in the Editorial, the overall budget deal “reduces domestic spending significantly more than defense”.

President Obama and the Democrats have been clear that no deal can be made without revenue increases for which Republicans, thus far, have refused to find a compromise. Sequestration is something no one wants – and while the Pentagon may be able to absorb these cuts – it cannot do so in the way these cuts are laid out – across-the-board. Within the Department of Defense, there are certain Defense programs that should probably be cut more than they will be under sequestration and other programs that should not be cut as much. Sequestration which was seen as an ultimatum in order for Congress to get its act together is becoming a reality, as partisanship within the Senate and House hinder any sort of resolution on this matter. 

As the editorial put it, “If the Senators are serious about averting a problem they helped create, they can support negotiating a deficit-reduction package that includes tax revenues from the wealthy, or they can urge that both sides of the sequester simply be set aside…Blaming the president for their own mistake is not a solution”

Your comments are welcomed!

The Stupidity Does Not Stop! Wasted Money for Useless Defense Boondoggles at Expense of the Least Among Us!

The Republicans in the House of Representatives  Armed Services Committee on Thursday May 10th voted a  raise of nearly $4 billion over the Administration’s requested funding for defense programs.  As the New York Times editorial today said, the House Republicans “have insisted on preserving bloated military spending and unjustifiably low tax rates for the rich.” That is an understatement! They noted that a million Americans would lose their food stamps and 44 million others would find them reduced. The GOP would gut a host of other programs for the poor, the elderly, youth at risk, and the disabled.  Let me add that these cuts are indeed a frontal attack on American security. These cuts make our nation weaker in its social fabric and poorer. They will instigate a downward spiral in our economy which will make us less efficient, productive, healthy, and able to meet our challenges at home and abroad.

The New York Times estimates that the House bill will prevent $55 billion of automatic cuts imposed on DOD as part of the debt ceiling deal, the so-called “sequester.” What was not said was that the fiscal year (FY) 2013 defense authorization bill includes hundreds of millions of dollars for nuclear weapons and missile defense programs that are largely useless and that the military itself does not want and has no rational national security purpose.

Leading the charge for wasteful spending are House Armed Services Committee chair Buck McKeon (R-Cal.) and Strategic Forces Subcommittee chair Michael Turner (R-Ohio). It seems to all to be about payoffs to the military industrial lobby and has nothing to do with real national security. Some of these Republicans are pressing for increases in nuclear weapons programs, which include $100 million for a new plutonium laboratory, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Facility, to be built at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) did not request any funds for CMRR.

Further Rep. Turner is likely to try to block implementation of the 2010 New START Treaty unless the funding is provided. Blocking U.S. implementation of New START, as Rep. Turner’s bill H.R. 4178 threatens to do, would likely result in Russia acting along the same lines. The treaty would unravel; the result could be Moscow increasing its forces above treaty ceilings with increases in the number of nuclear weapons. Further, the inspection system established under the treaty could collapse. This would deprive the U.S. of critical data exchanges and on-site inspections of Russian forces that the U.S. intelligence community needs.

Further, the Republicans are trying to add funding for a $460 million increase for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program, including $100 million to study a missile defense site on the East Coast. This would be in addition to the two sites already built in California and Alaska at a combined cost of $30 billion. (Yes that is billion!) Again, a program the DOD does not want or need. According to reports, GMD system is largely useless. The GMD system has not had a successful intercept test against a cooperative target since 2008. It had two failures in 2010. A recent National Research Council report said the GMD system “has serious shortcomings, and provides at best a limited, initial defense against a relatively primitive threat.” Moreover, the GMD system has not been tested against a realistic target including decoys.

Finally, Rep. McKeon’s bill also includes an increase of up to $347 million for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine replacement program, known as the SSBNX. The Navy did not request this money, and wants to delay the program by two years. Just one U.S. Ohio-class submarine, currently armed with 96 nuclear warheads, could kill millions. Experts believe a change to eight strategic submarines would provide a more than adequate nuclear deterrent. Under New START, the Pentagon plans to deploy approximately 1,000 nuclear warheads on strategic submarines. Enough is enough! But not for those who are mindless and have no concept of real national security.

The hope is that the senate will kill these provisions and the president would in any case veto any bill with these “crazy” proposals from a security, budget, and economic perspective. We must wonder why the inmates are in charge of the asylum.

We welcome your comments.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

Europe’s Global Security Reach or Sad Failure?

An all day conference on April 26th, “EU’s Common Security & Defense Policy” (CSDP), was an EU effort to inform the American security and defense experts and diplomatic residents of Washington on the accomplishments and hopes for the EU’s hopeful capabilities in the security arena.

The good news is that some progress is being made, and the bad news is that the existing structure of this effort is largely still counterproductive for effective action. And there was no real sign that either the necessary resources or political will are likely to be seen in the foreseeable future. This is said with much sadness since I have long supported the concept of European Union integration and worked for decades in this field both as a diplomat and scholar.

What can be said, with respect, is that there was a large, if somewhat subtle, acknowledgment of this weakness among the EU speakers, and a strong desire to put on a good face and provide some hope. But the reality is that defense budgets in Europe are already very low, except until now for the UK which is now in the process of cutting its defense funding. The background is the economic crisis is forcing even more cuts in this area, including in foreign assistance. The possibility of independent action by the EU in the security sector is frankly diminishing rather than increasing. The EU decision structure is not underpinned by real capabilities, a fact highlighted by the recent NATO analysis of the Libya operations. 

Most acknowledge the difficulty of getting 27-28 nations to agree on any action, thus the pride among them that they were able to do anything. Good work has been done by the EU in some key places, especially in the Balkans and Horn of Africa. Yet the reality is that when the tough decisions were needed along with the necessary capabilities in key crisis situations, Europe in the guise of the EU was not there by-and-large.  

There was a good showing of U.S. officials at the meeting who diplomatically urged Europe to get their act together and make a greater contribution. Amb. Rick Barton, Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, a new and needed State bureau, focused on oncoming crises. He noted that we will not likely go to places like Iraq and Afghanistan again, and the focus will be on places that are most significant, like Syria, Burma, Asia/China, Honduras, and Salvador. A key point he made was the need to focus on and deal with “thematic crises” rather than purely national ones. He said we have more “micro successes” than “macro successes.”   He also cited the need for internal coherence within the U.S. government, the United Nations, and coordination with other actors. He hoped now that America will be a more effective partner and believes we need to work together, including with the EU.  

At the meeting was also Amb. Phil Reeker, the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the European Bureau. He also covers South-Central European affairs and his focus was the continued need to cooperate with the nations of the former Yugoslavia, with the EU still playing a major role in the stability of the region and eventually integrating fully these nations into the European and Transatlantic community. 

There was rightly discussion and a number of questions about how to “do more with less.” Some considerable skepticism was voiced of this concept, yet others said this was possible with better cooperation and focus on priorities. Clearly the U.S. can do this with less in the military area, given its already inordinately high DOD budget levels, but there are serious questions if the EU nations can do this and be capable of any major action on their own or perhaps even under NATO. Further, the State Department’s budget is under attack by the House of Representatives, which may seriously restrict our role of peacemaker and our ability to intervene with what we call “preventive diplomacy,” meaning a trajectory towards a big crisis and major conflict rather than acting early when less risky options are useful and effective.  

What was not explicitly addressed was the possibility of a divergence of goals, interests, and perspectives between the U.S. and Europe. There was need for more frankness and a better intellectual discussion of this issue and how to maintain unity of goals and purpose as well as action.

By Harry C. Blaney III.