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U.S.: Task Force Sees U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives In Jeopardy

Washington, 14 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- An independent task force, co-chaired by two former U.S. congressmen, says that America's ability to pursue its foreign policy objectives is in serious jeopardy as a result of deep cuts in the international affairs budget.

Former congressmen, Stephen Solarz (D-New York) and Mickey Edwards (R-Oklahoma) held a press conference today in Washington to announce the findings of the task force.

Solarz said in order for the U.S. to meet its economic, diplomatic and strategic responsibilities overseas, discretionary spending for foreign affairs must be increased from $19 billion for the current financial year 1997 to $21billion for fiscal year 1998.

U.S. President Bill Clinton will send his budget request to the U.S. Congress early next month. Last year when Congress passed the budget for the 1997 fiscal year, it envisioned spending on foreign affairs next year to be reduced to $16.1 billion. Some experts say this decrease is necessary to help balance the federal budget by the year 2002.

But Solarz and Edwards said the task force disagrees and stressed that the increase in funding would be in "no way incompatible" with the attempts by President Clinton and the U.S. Congress to balance the federal budget. According to the task force, the proposed increase would account for just over one penny of each federal dollar spent.

U.S. spending on international affairs has decreased nearly 20 percent since the early 1990's. Solarz said that cuts in the international affairs budget have already forced painful trade-offs between critical U.S. foreign policy objectives, including the diversion of funds into the West Bank and Gaza that were intended for the Central American peace agreement, and cuts in foreign assistance to Turkey in order to finance U.S. action in Haiti.

The task force said increased funding is critical to permit the U.S. to effectively combat ethnic strife, regional instability, crime, terrorism, narcotics, famine, environmental degradation and rogue regimes with mass destruction capabilities.

Some of the task force's key recommendations:

  1. A $600 million account to be available for the President to draw upon in the need of an unexpected international crisis. This includes conflict prevention and resolution, counterterrorism activities, democratic institution-building, non-proliferation, and economic and security support.

    In order to pay off U.S. debts to the United Nations, $200 million should be budgeted annually for five years, pursuant to an executive-congressional agreement on much-needed U.N. reforms.

    The amount of $700 million should be made available to international financial institutions -- $200 million to make good on U.S. debts, and $500 million to replenish multilateral banks and for catch-up funding of the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA).

    A two-year reorganization account of $200 million to facilitate the consolidation and downsizing of administrative overhead and duplicative programming among U.S. foreign affairs agencies. Savings generated by the reorganization are expected to be seen as early as the year 2000.

    A $150 million fund to upgrade and modernize the State Department and other U.S. agencies abroad.

The task force said that it is critical for President Clinton to step forward and explain to Congress and the American public the urgent need for an increase for funding in foreign affairs.

The task force wrote: "The President, more than any other individual or institution of our system, bears the responsibility for the success or failure of American foreign policy. Better than anyone else, he can make clear what it means not to have the resources required to protect and promote American values and interests."

Convincing the public of this appears to be no easy task. Just yesterday an American newspaper, The Los Angeles Times, cited opinion polls that indicate Americans mistakenly believe the government spends about 20 percent of the national budget on foreign affairs. In fact, it is currently only 1.2 percent.

Also, according to the newspaper, the same polls indicate that most Americans are convinced the U.S. is the most generous country in the world in providing foreign assistance. In reality, the U.S. ranks last among the world's 21 richest donor-nations in percentage of national income.

However, the task force may have a strong ally in Secretary of State-designate Madeleine Albright. During her Senate confirmation hearings, she stressed the connection between U.S. economic leadership in the global market and the protection of American jobs.

In addition, the State Department has intensified attempts to persuade the public that an increase in foreign affairs spending is necessary. Department officials have been dispatched around the country to hold town meetings and answer questions about foreign policy and the need for America's leadership in the world.

Whether these efforts will result in congressional approval for a increased budget for foreign affairs spending in fiscal year 1998, which begins next October 1st, is unknown. But the task force concluded: "The American people do not want to swap a budget deficit for a security deficit. We suspect most Americans would be alarmed if these proposed budget cuts go through only to discover that America faces an influence gap in world affairs as we enter the 21st century."

The task force's findings were endorsed by a prominent bipartisan group of Americans, including Zbigniew Brzezinksi, former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter; Alexander Haig, former Secretary of State to President Ronald Reagan; Bob Michel, former House Minority leader; Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor to President George Bush; Cyrus Vance, former Secretary of State in the Carter administration; Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve chairman; and Dante Fascell, former chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

The task force was jointly sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations. Both are nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research organizations.