A Strategy for Funding Peacebuilding
By Ann Vaughan, FCNL Legislative Representative for Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict Many in Congress recognize that the conflicts in the world today in fragile or failing states such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan cannot be solved by military means alone.The collapse of the state in Iraq combined with growing resentment of U.S. power worldwide has also persuaded some within the U.S. military to begin calling on the federal to invest more in efforts to preserve the peace before wars break out and to promote efforts to build peace after wars have ended.
Though policymakers acknowledge that the U.S. needs to put more money into peaceful prevention of deadly conflict, little gets done. The government spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year to pay for current and future wars, but devotes only a very small portion of the budget to diplomacy, development assistance, and support for institutions that could prevent future wars before they break out and halt the spread of armed conflict.
The appropriations bills that fund U.S. international engagement—the DOD and State Department appropriations bills—show how skewed our federal priorities are. Using figures from the White House Office of Management and Budget for fiscal year 200 (FY08), FCNL estimates that 94 percent of funds requested for international engagement are for the military and 6 percent for non-military activities like diplomacy and development.
Is this because people don’t care, or a majority in Congress doesn’t believe that a million dollars spent to prevent a conflict breaking out now could prevent the U.S. from spending billions five years from now when conflicts are raging? I don’t think so.
As a former staff person on Capitol Hill, I can tell you that members of Congress are looking for, even searching for, effective strategies to prevent war and avoid conflicts. But the combination of short-term horizons driven by elections every two years in the House, tight budget priorities, and in many cases a lack of actual experience with successful examples of programs that prevent conflicts has stymied much action.
Long-Term Effort Needed
Changing budget priorities within the cumbersome federal budget will not happen quickly. This is work that might take five or ten years. And I have some friends who think it will take longer than that or that changing the current paradigm is next to impossible and even a bit crazy to try! Yet funding programs that support peace over war, conflict resolution over weapons systems, is a campaign that’s worth pursuing.
When I worked on the Hill, lobbyists from development groups, peace lobbies, and faith-based organizations regularly came into our office to talk about the need to increase funding for conflict resolution programs and development assistance to the world’s poorest people.
“The U.S. is spending $2 billion a week on the war in Iraq. There’s obviously money for war, why can’t there be money for peace?” constituents would ask us. Legislators and staff were supportive of these requests and we knew they would be good investments.
But members of Congress are limited in how much funding they can obtain. Why? Because the budget process is structured in a way that makes it very difficult to move money out of the budget pot devoted to military spending and into the budget pot devoted to diplomacy, foreign assistance, and support for international organizations.
Budget Rules Make Change Difficult
To make a difference, advocates need to understand the process—and the jargon.
The chance for big, strategic adjustment in budget priorities occurs when the House and Senate Budget Committees develop a Congressional Resolution (which doesn’t go to the president for signature, but instead governs how much the House and Senate Committees can spend in different “areas,” like war and peace). It simply lists categories of spending, like defense, international development, Medicare, etc., and gives each category a dollar number—for example, a cap of $514 billion for defense in the coming fiscal year.
Once the House and Senate pass identical versions of the budget resolution, changing the next year’s broad spending priorities is almost impossible. If the resolution says $514 billion for defense and $34 billion for the Department of State and foreign aid, it is pretty much unheard of later in the year to move money from the Defense to the State Department. In other words, the general outline of the budget for the next year is basically set in concrete between mid-February and the end of May.
To make a long-term strategic change in spending, to shift billions from war to peace, we need to do more to work with the Committees early in the year—and that means meeting with the members when they are home in the winter! If we wait to talk to them in the spring, they are often too busy, too hassled, to give us the attention these priorities need.
Once the budget resolution process is done, we need to lobby the Appropriations Committee members to make sure that the money spent in each broad category is spent most effectively. The bill that funds most of the foreign assistance programs and the State Department is called the “Foreign Operations and State Appropriations bill.” This bill for fiscal year 2008 (FY08) totals approximately $34 billion (and includes some military funding). By way of comparison, the bill that funds the Defense Department for FY08 contains $459 billion (not including the vast majority of costs associated with the Iraq war). Within the appropriations process, it is at least possible to take money from the budget for the Peace Corps and invest those funds in international immunization programs (i.e. robbing Peter to pay Paul).
Shifting Funding Priorities
But the budget process is just a part of the problem. Many members of Congress would be willing to provide more financial support for diplomacy and development if they had evidence that these programs had been successful in the past. But even after the spectacular failure of the U.S. military invasion and occupation of Iraq, military force often appears to members of Congress to be the easy answer to controlling any conflict, stopping any genocide, or preventing a conflict from breaking out.
Members of Congress need to learn both from the testimony of others and from first-hand experience that investing in peace can pay bigger dividends than continuing to dump hundreds of billions of dollars into war.
Step 1: Develop Congressional Support. Developing
congressional support for the smaller, successful diplomatic and development projects that demonstrate the benefits of diplomacy and development is a first step.
FCNL has long supported the key elements of a SMARrT (Sensible Multilateral American Response to Terrorism) budget which realigns federal spending priorities in line with a more thoughtful and effective budget. Specifically, the SMART budget recommends cutting about $60 billion of funding from the military that currently goes towards outdated programs and weapons systems that were meant for the Cold War—not the challenges of the 21st century.
Cutting $60 billion out of the military budget will not happen overnight. what the SMART Security budget does is begin to frame the issue in terms of the goal of creating long-term stability for the U.S. and the international community.
Step 2 : Talk to Congress—Especially the Budget Committees. The president’s budget is presented to Congress every year on the first Monday in February, but it’s not too early to begin talking with your representatives’ and senators’ offices to express your concerns about the failure of U.S. budget policy.
The House and Senate Budget Committees are a good place to start. These committees look at the total amount of money available for U.S. government spending and then begin to set funding caps. Lobbying Congressional Committees and requesting that the budget resolution reflect peaceful priorities is a major long-term effort of FCNL.
Lobbying requires knowing one’s audience. Many of the representatives and senators on the Committees are fiscal conservatives and want to know what the costs and benefits are for shifting funding from the military to programs such as international development. We need to work to educate members on the Budget Committees that investing in peace and preventing war is much more cost effective than investing in the tools of war.
Step Three: Work the Appropriations Cycle. While the budget resolution lays out the broad framework of the budget, work still needs to be done every year to make sure that within the specific appropriations bills the programs that support peaceful prevention priorities receive enough funding.
Specifically, FCNL will support programs within the Foreign Operation and State Department appropriations bills that prevent conflict. For example, we’ll try to increase funding for accounts like “Transition Initiatives” that provide funds to community-based groups in countries that are in transition from conflict and help to move countries from instability to peace. We’ll lobby for paying UN dues (see box below) and funding international conflict mitigation and management programs.
FCNL will also work on publishing the success stories of programs that prevent war that are funded within the Foreign Operations bill. Deadly conflict and war sell newspapers, and members of Congress often are not aware of successful conflict prevention programs. Highlighting the benefits and success stories of peaceful prevention of deadly conflict and building a case for investing more in these programs will be a major long-term aspect of our program.
Step Four: Get Candidates on Board. During every campaign cycle, FCNL will be asking candidates to commit to increasing funds for development assistance and diplomacy and following up on candidates’ commitments to these promises.
Working all of these steps concurrently will help build, month by month and year by year, the necessary support for shifting U.S. budget priorities to more accurately reflect the moral values that promote peace and to support long-term goals of international peace.
Here at FCNL we believe that if we make these changes, in the not too distant future when citizen lobbyists comes in to speak to their member of Congress about preventing deadly conflict and war, that representative or senator will be able to say that “yes, we can finally fund peace.”