Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides addressed the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) March 15th to discuss the current state of the State Department after last year’s ‘hellacious’ budget battle. Nides told the AFSA audience:
For the first time we have a national security budget, which is really interesting, and one of the things that meant was to keep everything talked about national security. That has been our theme for a long time. You can’t just talk about the State Department or USAID as a development budget or a diplomacy budget. It’s got to be about national security in an environment where money is tight….We have no choice if we want to sustain gains in which we achieved.
Nides’ perspective on the utility of lumping international affairs into the security budget is interesting but can’t be taken for granted. Tempting though it is to include international affairs in a national security budget, that could jeopardize State and USAID accounts more than it protects them. Also, it’s important to remember that the administration “requested” a national security budget but we don’t yet “have” one. A review of the Budget Control Act will show that international affairs was included in the national security cap only until the super-committee failed, after which it defaulted back to its long-standing non-defense discretionary standing, at least until Congress acts on the President’s request.
None of this affects the merits of a unified security budget idea as Nides’ framed it, of course. Indeed, our own Gordon Adams has recommended it. And in the words of the Unified Security Budget Task Force, of which he is a signatory, it’s by this process that we can “improve the balance of our security spending portfolio while also cutting the deficit.”