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Criticism, Concern Over Deep Cuts In U.S. Diplomacy, Foreign Aid

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned against "abrupt funding cuts."

U.S. President Donald Trump's proposal to slash funding for the U.S. State Department and foreign aid by about one-third has sparked criticism and concern at home and abroad on March 16.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned against "abrupt funding cuts" that could "undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts" at the world governing institution, where Trump proposed to reduce the U.S. share of funding for peacekeeping operations to 25 percent from 28 percent -- or $7.9 billion -- today.

France's ambassador to the United Nations, Francois Delattre, said that the world more than ever needs "a strong UN and an America that stays committed to world affairs."

"America's retreat and unilateralization or even the perception of it" creates risks and could lead to greater global "instability," he said.

But the U.S. envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, said "the UN spends more money than it should, and in many ways it places a much larger financial burden on the United States than on other countries."

Besides footing the lion's share of peacekeeping costs, the United States also funds nearly one-quarter of the overall UN budget and UN agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

China and Japan make the next largest contributions to peacekeeping, at 10 percent each, followed by Germany and France at 6 percent each.

Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal said the proposed $10.9 billion cut in funding for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) -- about 28 percent -- would be "destabilizing and irresponsible."

"Impact would be enormous across domestic and international programs," she wrote on Twitter. "The hardest hit would be the poor in the U.S. and abroad." She added that Congress should "just start from scratch" in writing the foreign aid budget.

The deep foreign and domestic cuts in the president's $3.8 trillion budget plan, which were intended to offset a 10 percent or $54 billion increase in military spending, drew near unanimous opposition from Democrats in Congress -- and opposition from several prominent Republicans.

Two U.S. senators who vied with Trump last year for the Republican presidential nomination came out strongly against the massive shift of funds from diplomacy to defense.

"Foreign aid is not charity," said Senator Marco Rubio, while Senator Lindsey Graham said that "these increases in defense come at the expense of national security."

Protecting national interests requires a comprehensive approach, "including not just military engagement but also the full and responsible use of all diplomatic tools at our disposal," said Republican Representative Hal Rogers, who chairs a a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees State Department and foreign aid spending.

The Democratic members on the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan to express their concern, saying it's short-sighted to cut diplomacy while beefing up defense.

"Our diplomats settle disputes so that they do not have to be settled with bombs and bullets," they wrote.

"If we slash our investment in diplomacy and development, we are telling our service members -- and the American people -- that we will take our chances down the road, even if that comes at a much higher cost in blood and treasure."

Even some high-ranking former defense officials expressed reservations.

"We learned in both Iraq and Afghanistan that our military needs an effective civilian partner if victories on the battlefields are going to be converted into a sustainable peace," Stephen Hadley, national security adviser to former President George W. Bush, told The New York Times.

"And only a sustainable peace ensures that postconflict states do not return again to becoming safe havens for terrorists."

But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended the downsizing of diplomacy, which he would oversee if Congress were to accept all the cuts.

"We are going to construct a way forward that allows us to be much more effective, much more efficient, and be able to do a lot with fewer dollars," he said.

Tillerson criticized his predecessor, John Kerry, for spending too much, "in part driven by the level of conflicts that the U.S. has been engaged in around the world, as well as disaster assistance that's been needed."

"Clearly, the level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking in the past -- and particularly in this past year -- is simply not sustainable," he said.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters
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