The Cable

Foreign-Policy Uber Report Targets State Department Overhaul

Most foreign-policy experts agree the former oilman is doing his job wrong.

The State Department headquarters in Washington on Sept. 12, 2012.
The State Department headquarters in Washington on Sept. 12, 2012. Alex Wong/Getty Images

A new report released Thursday sends a strong message to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just as he begins his top-to-bottom overhaul of Foggy Bottom: To enhance national security, don’t sacrifice aid and diplomacy.

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) survey, which looked at over 60 reports written by think tanks and national security and foreign-policy experts from across the political spectrum, is a signal to Tillerson that there is widespread concern in the foreign assistance community that his plans to redesign the State Department will whack foreign aid, with potentially dire consequences.

First among the report’s findings is a broad consensus that State should “ensure a distinct and independent U.S. development agency.” (The Trump administration wants to emasculate the U.S. Agency for International Development, though recent signs on the Hill suggest plans to absorb USAID and slash its budget are stillborn.)

“Nearly all reports agree that diplomacy and development have different, equally important strategic missions that require a distinct and independent development agency,” the survey adds.

This comes as the Trump administration has sent signals that it hopes to scale back America’s presence in the field of foreign assistance. Trump’s budget proposal outlined plans to fold the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) into the State Department, while also cutting aid to developing countries by over one-third. While the Senate Appropriations committee rejected this proposal earlier in September, a final budget has yet to be passed and the administration’s version left experts concerned that a motion to slash foreign aid would hurt both other countries and U.S. national security.

The report also recommends the use of civilian tools in the fight against terrorism, suggesting concern over President Donald Trump’s preference for military force, especially when it comes to the fight against the Islamic State. In April he became the first president to use a so-called “mother of all bombs” on an Islamic State-affiliate in Afghanistan, and has pushed for ramping up U.S. military spending and power, while de-emphasizing other methods of combatting extremism.

According to USGLC, there is a general consensus that the administration could focus more attention on implementing “policies that promote economic opportunity and education to mitigate the drivers of radicalization especially among young people and women,” while also training civilian officers in conflict zones, to avoid unnecessary U.S. military interventions.

The report says that fighting terrorism and extremism will “require strengthening all of our national security tools – diplomacy and development, alongside defense,” but outlined a robust role for traditional diplomacy and aid.

“While military force will be vital to defeating extremists on the battlefield, diplomacy and development will be critical to ensuring that gains are sustained.”

Photo credit: ALEX WONG/Getty Images

Correction Sept. 14: This article has been updated with the correct name of the organization that conducted the report. It is the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, not the U.S. Global Leadership Council.  

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