A Budget That Blows Up the Pillars of U.S. Statecraft
Today, the Senate will likely pass a budget deal that will increase defense spending by nearly an entire U.S. State Department. It will bring annual spending to $738 billion for 2020. That is almost 20 times the Trump administration’s 2020 funding request for the State Department and USAID combined.
The 3-D national security framework built on the pillars of defense, diplomacy, and development began long before this administration and the current Congress. Unfortunately, so did the deficit of support to the State Department and USAID, the foundations of the diplomacy and development pillars. The prioritization of defense at the expense of the other two has left the United States poorly equipped to execute its foreign policy and has resulted in a decline in American influence, particularly in emerging markets.
The clearest example of this phenomenon is in Africa. In December 2018, National Security Advisor John Bolton outlined the U.S. priorities for the continent: combatting the activities of militant Islamic groups, increasing trade, and improving the efficiency of aid. Bolton also noted a desire to counter the growing influence of China and Russia. These priorities are better categorized as areas where the U.S. approach has continually failed.
The creation of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008 was welcomed by some as correcting an outdated structure which previously divided up management of U.S. military interests in Africa among the European, Central and Southern Commands. Others criticized it as the “militarization of foreign aid.” Since 2008, the number of military personnel in Africa has increased from 2,600 to 7,000. Overthe last three years, the military has conducted more operations in Africa than any other part of the world. However, this boost in military activity was not buttressed by complementary diplomatic and development initiatives. The combined budget request for the State Department and USAID in Africa went from $5.5 billion in 2008 to $5.2 billion in 2019.
The significant gap between defense, development, and diplomacy has resulted in lopsided policy development and implementation. Military initiatives are better resourced and given more weight in the inter-agency process. This approach has not achieved the desired results in Africa. A recent Pentagon study found "militant Islamist group activity in Africa has doubled since 2012," as well as "a ten-fold increase in violent events" over the last ten years.
In 2006 the United States was the top trading partner for countries in Africa. Now it has fallen behind China and India, who along with Russia, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, and the European Union, have taken notice of the opportunities on the continent. The most significant trade deal of the 21st Century may be the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, or AfCFTA, which will create a common market comprising 1.2 billion people with $1.6 trillion of household spending and six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies.
China has moved aggressively to finance infrastructure projects and hold multiple high-level summits with African partners. Russia has expanded its security cooperation and will hold its first summit in October. India’s trade with Africa grew by 22% last year. They are opening 16 new embassies and seeking a role in the AfCFTA negotiations by funding summits and building the convention centers that hold them. In contrast, senior U.S. officials have had limited interaction with their African counterparts. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was scheduled to present the details of the administration’s signature Africa initiative, Prosper Africa, at a June summit in Mozambique with 12 African Heads of State. He canceled at the last minute to attend an event with the president’s daughter. The United States is absent while other nations are improving diplomatic relations, opening new markets for their companies, and influencing the development of new trade rules that will define commerce in Africa for decades to come.
The shortcomings of military-led engagement in Africa are indicative of America’s global shift away from diplomacy and development as core components of its national security strategy. At home, the administration just allocated another $16 billion in payments to farmers impacted by retaliatory tariffs from three countries, raising the two-year total to $28 billion. That’s 70% of the total 2020 budget request to improve trade and diplomatic relationships with the entire world, precisely to prevent such spats. Allowing these muscles to atrophy is costly.
The creation of the U.S. Development Finance Corporation is a step in the right direction that will improve the competitiveness of American companies, elevate our influence in emerging markets, and create jobs, both at home and abroad. But it needs to be complemented with additional resources and personnel for broader diplomatic and development initiatives. Defense spending is important but far more effective as one part of a comprehensive national security framework that ensures the military is used as a last resort, not the first.
Chris Beatty is the CEO of Greystone Global Strategies, a firm that advises clients on political, economic, and security risk mitigation in emerging markets. He has worked and traveled extensively throughout Africa and is based in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are the author’s own.