Another Attempt to Cut Funds for Peace
By Cassidy Regan on 05/27/2011 @ 04:00 PM
Yesterday, the House passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would repeal the establishment of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). Though the amendment has yet to reach the Senate – where it will hopefully fail to pass – its success in the House still draws concern from those working to increase U.S. capacity for peaceful prevention.
When the House’s initial Continuing Resolution attempted to cut USIP’s funding entirely, efforts to support the institute succeeded in securing it a spot in the final budget for 2011. Unfortunately, that triumph alone could not guarantee USIP free from further fiscal threat.
The author of yesterday’s amendment – Representative Cravaack of Minnesota – cited concerns of redundancy and misplaced priorities during the debate on the House floor that morning. Feeling that other institutions within the U.S. government already pursue peace, he deemed a specialized program fiscally unjustifiable. And in a repeat of the budgeting buzz-phrase, he emphasized that no agency is exempt from spending cuts.
But if lessening our nation’s debt is the aim, cutting USIP truly isn’t the means. Funding for USIP is no more than a small fraction of international affairs appropriations, which in turn amount to about 1% of the entire budget. As USIP President Richard Solomon has testified, “the cost of the first week of enforcing the no-fly zone in Libya would more than fund the next ten years of USIP’s operations. The savings that arise from preventing one war would fund USIP for centuries.” During a time when all are concerned about the mounting cost of conflict, Rep. Cravaack’s sentiment – reflected in his stating that “the United States Institute of Peace is a program our children and grandchildren should not be funding at the sake of their futures” – seems to ignore that investment in peaceful prevention is precisely what could save that collective future.
In truth, this amendment does not only propose a spending cut – it revokes the authorization of the only U.S. government organization dedicated entirely to conflict prevention and resolution, with a mission statement that explicitly seeks “to increase the nation's capacity to manage international conflict without violence.” Given this unique congressional mandate, the amendment would not eliminate an actor that renders the activities of the State Department or USAID redundant; rather, it would eliminate one that provides specific capacity where other federal actors often cannot.
USIP is an institution that, in its authorization, is bi-partisan and intended to engage actors from local community leaders to U.S. generals. Being separate from both the State and Defense Department – and being independent of donations from private groups outside the U.S. government – it is not subject to the politics of any of those actors, but can act across interests to find comprehensive, cohesive solutions to problems that require true collaboration.
Moreover, its solutions cannot be defined as those that Representative Chaffetz of Utah, who also spoke in favor of the amendment, implied in referring to it as a think tank. While USIP experts do conduct innovative research and public education with the goal of better preventing and responding to conflict, its programs also operate on the ground in areas of emerging tension and in those recovering from violence. Its efforts range from mediation to training, and its initiatives have included increased engagement of women and youth in the peacebuilding process.
If nothing else, those who voted in favor of today’s amendment should consider the contributions USIP makes to national security, having operated in countries including Iraq and Afghanistan. If, as representatives stated yesterday, the entire U.S. government desires peace, then USIP must be recognized for its role as a complement to troop withdrawals and transitions away from war. Peace is an elusive end that must be built with as much intention as a government or a diplomatic relationship, and there is no other U.S.-mandated actor currently tasked with that and that entirely.
Take Action now! As disappointing as the 226-194 vote was, it also presents an opportunity to further champion this truly unique – and truly essential – U.S. institution. Though FCNL is not always 100% in agreement with USIP, its loss would be a major one for the cause of peaceful prevention.
Contact your representative to provide feedback on what vote was cast in the recent decision, and make your voice heard when it comes to cutting funds for peace.