Washington, 17 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- President Bill Clinton says strong U.S. diplomatic institutions are as important to national security as a strong military.
Clinton used the 100th anniversary of the U.S. veterans organization known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to warn that threatened foreign affairs budget cuts by the U.S. Congress could jeopardize peace.
In a speech Monday to the VFW centennial convention in the midwestern state of Missouri, Clinton said that, "underfunding our arsenal of peace is as risky as underfunding our arsenal for war, for if we continue to underfund diplomacy, we will end up overusing our military."
Clinton said that problems that might have been resolved peacefully, "will turn into crises that we can only resolve at a cost of life and treasure. If this trend continues, there will be real consequences for important American interests. "
The president said both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have trimmed hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department's proposed international affairs budget.
The House passed legislation two weeks ago setting aside $12.6 billion for all U.S. foreign operations -- including economic, military and humanitarian aid. The Senate passed its version of the foreign aid measure on June 30.
The House and Senate now must come to a compromise agreement on a final sum for the foreign operations measure. The compromise legislation will then be sent back to each chamber for another vote before the bill can be sent to Clinton for his signature. The Congress is in recess until September 7. Clinton has promised to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk in its current form.
Clinton conceded that diplomacy costs money, but he said, "the costliest peace is far cheaper than the cheapest war." He said the government's international affairs programs amount to less than one percent of the federal budget and less than 1/15th of the defense budget. Clinton said the proposed reductions in international affairs spending will eliminate, "the very programs designed to keep our soldiers out of war in the first place."
The president thanked the VFW for its support of the NATO alliance air campaign against Yugoslavia that led to the withdrawal of most Yugoslav military and paramilitary forces from the predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo. He called NATO's victory a powerful statement.
"The century ends with a powerful statement by NATO's 19 democracies reaffirming human life and human dignity, giving us the chance after two world wars, the cold war and the Balkan conflicts, for the first time ever to have an undivided, democratic and peaceful Europe that shares our values, strengthens our economy, helps us meet our common aspirations and will not call young Americans to go there to fight and die in the 21st century."
Clinton said the alliance was victorious in Kosovo because its cause was just.
"We prevailed in Kosovo because our cause was just, our goals were clear, our alliance was strong and our strategy worked, thanks to the performance of our men and women in uniform. In 78 days they flew more than 37,000 support and strike sorties, in the face of constant danger -- including surface-to-air missiles. Many times our pilots risked their lives because they would not fire back at the Serb gunners who were positioned in heavily populated areas and they didn't want to kill innocent civilians. In the end, thank God, we had zero combat fatalities and only two planes shot down. That is an astonishing record and a tribute to the professionalism we see every day from our military forces the world over. They are good people."
Finally, Clinton said that it would cost relatively little to secure the peace in the Balkans.
"Today, after the victory in Kosovo, and in Bosnia, we have an opportunity to invest in peace, so that future wars do not occur there. The people of the Balkans have been crippled by conflict, really, since the end of the Cold War. Today we have a chance to integrate them with each other and into the mainstream of Europe, where they will have strong incentives to maintain democracy and good behavior, and avoid conflict.
"To do this, we don't need anything as ambitious as the Marshall Plan. And whatever is done, we must insist that our European partners carry most of the load and that the Balkan leaders themselves take responsibility for changing their policies.
"Still, the United States should be a part of this process. If we don't, and the effort fails, make no mistake; there will be another bloody war that starts in the Balkans and spreads throughout Southeastern Europe, and someday more young Americans may be asked to risk their lives, at far greater cost than our part of the rebuilding of the region."