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June 22, 2017

Trump’s Budget Will Harm National Security

By Rosalind Faulkner

The White House website proclaims that President Trump’s budget “makes national defense a priority by increasing defense spending by $54 billion,” and “puts Americans’ safety first by providing $2.6 billion in increased funding for border security.”

According to Human Rights First board member Admiral Mike Mullen (ret.) and General James Jones (ret.), these numbers—and others not so visible on the budget web page—are more reason for alarm than they are reason for comfort.

In their recent op-ed in Politico, Mullen and Jones, both former high-ranking military officials, outline what some might find a surprising take on President Trump’s proposed budget: the United States should not rely solely on military action in counterterrorism efforts. Military power alone will not suffice in unstable regions.

So, if our military can’t get the job done, then what can?

The answer, according to Mullen and Jones, is development assistance. In other words, the United States needs to pump more resources into socially, politically, and economically fragile countries.

To a frustrated American reader, this might sound like charity. It’s not. As Mullen and Jones explain, development aid is a tried and proven strategy to boost U.S. national security. Terrorist organizations are most likely to thrive in nations where infrastructure is weak and community morale is low. By improving conditions in struggling countries, the United States deprives terrorist groups of fertile recruiting ground and forgiving host communities. “In short,” Mullen and Jones write, “America’s interests are served by nations that give their people hope for a more prosperous and safe future.”

Development aid, then, can undermine terrorist groups’ formation before they gain power. It also minimizes risk to American service members who might be deployed to combat terrorists. Giving aid even ultimately saves money, because preventative efforts are much less expensive than later military intervention—up to 63 times less expensive.

Clearly, development aid is not charity, but a judicious investment in American security.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Trump Administration does not see it as such. The administration’s proposed budget would cut development assistance funds nearly in half via cuts to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department.

Rather than effectively directing money towards security, these cuts would constitute a disastrous setback in U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Without sufficient development assistance from those who can afford to give it, unstable countries are much more likely to serve as incubators for terrorist organizations.

Last week, Mullen, Jones, and 14 other former four-star generals and admirals gave testimony to Congress that development aid is crucial to U.S. national security, and that the current budget allocations upping military spending while shortchanging development will likely have the opposite of their desired effect. You can join their cause by contacting your members of Congress and expressing concern about Trump’s budget.