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U.S. Budget



The debate about the budget of the US government reminds me of the governance of our universities, where the fights among departments usually involve not ideas but money and power. When the Geography Department was abolished at Stanford, I was the only faculty member to protest publicly, stressing the importance of the language and area programs promoted by the government to equip American leaders with a better knowledge of the world from which the US could no longer isolate itself. The departments which should have defended geography clearly thought that its demise would mean that more money and students would go to them.

The WAIS debate involves the departments and agencies which are involved in international affairs: the State Department, the Pentagon and the intelligences services such as the CIA. We have yet to hear from the taxpayer. The postings which follow should be collected to provide students with some idea of the way the world is run. Paul Simon replies to General Sullivan:

"I can do my math fine, General. (I am an engineer, FYI). You are in error in several points:

  1. The State Department's own operating budget is around 2% of the total military budget. The OPERATING budget is in the 5-6 billion range. Please read what I wrote, that the 20 billion figure includes FOREIGN AID, UN Dues, funds for other agencies operating overseas.
  2. The State Department and other agencies reimburse the Corps for the cost of Marine Security Guards--and they are much appreciated and loved at every post I have served at.
  3. Let's not confuse apples and oranges. The MSG are not commissioned officers and might envy a Foreign Service officer his pay. They might also envy their own officers their higher wages, however. The less than 5000 foreign service officers are just a small fraction of total foreign service personnel, just like Marine officers are a small fraction of Marine personnel. Most foreign service staff overseas are specialists like security personnel, communicators, building specialists, nurses, technicians, etc.
  4. I believe that the Marines' budget of 17 billion doesn't include the money allocated for facilities construction, hardware procurement, and much logistical support. The State Department operating budget does.

Remember, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. We can play with numbers all day but that won't alter the basic point: The Military gets VASTLY more money for overseas operations than diplomacy does. I do not for a second argue that the military doesn't need most of its funds.

I am aware that the military has to make decisions between weapons systems, between procurement and wages, between funds for training and funds for operations. But every corporation and organization has to make such choices daily. The concept that any group could get all the money it felt it needed is unrealistic.

There is no denying that US military forces put themselves in harm's way, but so do diplomats. More Ambassadors have been killed in the line of duty than generals in the last half century. The Iran hostages were foreign service people. Diplomats have been killed in terrorist attacks on several embassies in recent years. Diplomats die from unsafe conditions overseas every year. Diplomats are a favored target of those disaffected with the USA and are often gunned down in the streets. I would argue that Foreign Service Officers serve equally bravely and make many of the same sacrifices as military personnel, but with a fraction of the public recognition.

That aside, my thesis remains: you cant do diplomacy on the cheap. The State Department is a vital part of national security. Let's fund it accordingly!!!I confess that military funding is an easy target for impressive comparisons, but I could equally have picked on any number of other federal budget items that vastly exceed the allocation to the Department of State. The basic point would remain the same".

Ronald Hilton - 10/29/01


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