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Central/Eastern Europe: Clinton Proposes To Spend More On Transition Countries

  • Sonia Winter

Washington, 3 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- President Bill Clinton has asked the U.S. Congress for more money to spend on Central Europe and the newly independent states in the East next year. But that does not mean he will get it.

Political battles between the executive and legislative branches over proposed national spending are an essential and traditional part of the governing process in the United States. And they tend to continue right up to the last moment-- midnight on September 30 when the current fiscal year ends and the new 1999 fiscal year begins on October 1.

President Clinton has the opening move, submitting his idea of what spending should look like over the next 12-month period in many volumes and thousands of pages of his 1999 budget proposal.

He has asked for $20 billion for foreign affairs, an increase of more than $1 billion over the current budget.

This may sound like a lot of money but it is a crumb off the whole cake of the U.S. national budget.

The State Department's Director of the Office of Resources, Craig Johnstone, pointed out at a press conference Monday that foreign affairs will account for roughly one percent of the total proposed expenditures of $1.73 trillion, and even the requested increase is well below spending levels of the early 1990s.

But it provides for an astonishing range of international programs and projects run by more than a dozen Federal departments and agencies in addition to the State Department, the principal actor in the play of U.S. foreign policy.

Thus the new budget proposal includes a modest $2 million for a NATO summit to be held in Washington in April 1999 to mark the formal accession of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO.

There is also a request to maintain current levels of spending on military training of defense forces in the former communist countries but to decrease total funds for Partnership for Peace activities.

Countries in southern Europe get more money for Partnership programs with NATO, as do most Central Asians, but everyone else in the former communist bloc is to get less bringing the total in this category down from $94.3 million in the current year to $80 million in 1999.

In other multi-national programs, there are proposed increases -- for de-mining programs that would benefit among others Bosnia, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

There is to be more money for nuclear scientists in Russia and Ukraine to stop a possible brain drain to Iran and elsewhere; more money for the Peace Corps to add 10,000 volunteers, and more money for international war crimes tribunals, working for justice in the Balkans and in Africa.

A new program is to be launched to help victims of the Holocaust. Johnstone said the money will be given to non-governmental organizations to be channeled to individuals. He said most beneficiaries would likely be surviving Jews in Central and Eastern Europe.

The budget proposes more money for international broadcasting to expand radio services to China, Iran and parts of Africa, as well as introduce a U.S. Russian-language television service.

Many legislators in the Republican-controlled Congress agree in principle that funding for international affairs should be increased to advance U.S. interests in the world but they differ in the budget details with the Democratic executive branch.

In recent years, citing Russocentrist tendencies in the State Department, legislators have slashed proposed spending on Russia and significantly increased amounts for Ukraine and Armenia among others.

Partly with that in mind, the proposed budget for programs promoting democracy and free market development in Russia in the next fiscal year is two thirds higher than current levels. If approved, it would jump from roughly $129 million to $225 million.

Under the U.S. system, spending on foreign affairs is itemized by function and program, making it difficult to calculate what the U.S. is spending altogether on any single country.

But the proposed assistance increase, if approved, would be certain to rank Russia, along with African countries (which are to get massive new aid infusions) and Bosnia, among the biggest single beneficiaries of a 1999 foreign affairs budget raise.

Johnstone explained that, in his words "our request has always been substantially higher for Russia than what we have been allowed to spend in Russia, as a result of congressional earmarks that...relate to other countries."

He added that "when the Congress has imposed requirements that we fund other countries at specific levels, they have left only a residual amount for Russia that we have considered consistently to be inadequate."

The White House last year asked for a big increase for assistance to Russia to fund a new economic program to promote private enterprise. Since it got significantly less than it wanted from Congress, it seems to be repeating the budget play this year.

Spending on this and other democracy-oriented programs is to increase for all the former Soviet republics except for Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine, all countries favored by U.S. legislators in previous budget battles.

Ukraine is slated to lose only two million from current levels, dropping to second place after Russia with $223.5 billion in proposed assistance.

Armenia and Georgia could in the future rank third, declining by a larger margin from present levels to a proposed $80 million and $80.7 million respectively in the next fiscal period.

Direct aid to the government of Azerbaijan is prohibited under U.S. law because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but permissible U.S. aid is to rise substantially by $10 million to a new high of $31.5 million for Azerbaijanis.

The White House proposes to increase assistance for the Central Asian and other newly independent states by similar levels. The total request for the so-called "Freedom Support" programs for fiscal 1999 is $925 million, compared to $770.8 million in the current year.

But even in the highly unlikely case that Congress would approve the proposed allocations without change, many of the 12 countries will not get the full amount, especially not Russia.

Under a new regulation the U.S. is required to withhold from each country what it owes the city of Washington in parking fines.

Russian diplomats are among the biggest offenders and for years have ignored the city's citations, letting the fines accumulate. For all 12 countries, the total in parking fines is now well over one million dollars and city officials want the revenue.

A section in the proposed budget on a sister program of assistance for free market and democracy development in Central and Eastern Europe shows a shift from North to South with a proposed overall decline of $20 million down to $464.5 million in fiscal 1999 -- or about half the amount for similar programs in the former Soviet Union.

Aid for Hungary, as well as Latvia, is to be phased out completely, leaving Lithuania the only Baltic country still on the program but with only $2.2 million in 1999 -- less than half what it is getting now.

U.S. officials have said about Central Europe and the Baltics that their economies and societies are approaching normal conditions and they can "graduate" from U.S. assistance.

But next year, assistance for Slovakia would also fall drastically from $8 million this year to only $2 million in 1999.

Croatia would be another big loser, going from $19 million in the current fiscal year to $10 million in fiscal 1999.

Under the proposed budget Bulgaria is to lose one million going to $30 million in assistance, and assistance for Romania is to rise by one million to $36 million.

Other southern countries, including Bosnia, Serbia and Albania, are to get significant increases in aid next year.

The administration is requesting $10 million more for Bosnia to a total of $225 million next year. Johnstone said the amount includes $200 million for economic reconstruction and democratic reform, and $25 million for restructuring and training a local police force.

He said the budget numbers reflect prevailing conditions in a given country, its needs and U.S. expectations of the country's reform program.

Johnstone said "the expectation is that substantial progress would be made in meeting the kind of reforms we are trying to advance...and are prepared to assist...but if reforms are not met, the U.S. reserves the right to change allocations of funds later on."