Dear Congress: Don't Cut Peace in the New Budget War

Here in Washington, the Budget War has begun, and humanity is the first victim.

In addition to cuts in spending on programs that develop human security, such as Head Start, nutrition programs for women, infants, and children, and development block grants, the House Appropriations Committee has also proposed a $121 million cut in foreign aid, which will halt civilian initiatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Civilian Stabilization Initiative, which trains civilians to reconstruct and stabilize war torn countries is to be cut by $103 million. International Disaster Assistance reductions total $415 million, and the Complex Crisis Fund, $50 million. The Food for Peace program (which, contrary to popular belief, has been a State Department venture since the 60's and is NOT run by a bunch of hippies) will be cut by $687 million.

The most disturbing of these reductions, hidden deep within the complex language and economics of the budget's Continuing Resolution, is the House’s proposal to completely eliminate the United States Institute of Peace.

In Washington, expressing concerns about the USIP’s demise is likely to get you labeled as a flower child. When we have men and women dying on battlefields abroad and starving schoolchildren on our own soil, what’s the use of all these tie-dye-wearing, granola-crunching conflict mediators?

The fact is, the USIP accomplishes missions that no one - not even our military or State Department diplomats - can do. The USIP mediates between antagonistic Iraqi tribes. It established a Genocide Prevention Task Force and was tasked by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Congress to offer bipartisan analysis on the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review. The institute works with both militaries and civilians to prevent rape and gender-based violence in the DRC and Haiti. It even supports Arab hip-hop artists with positive messages (and popular Twitter feeds, very important these days). The list of innovative and pragmatic projects goes on and on.

Some think that these programs are superfluous. “If signed into law,” claims Rep. Chip Cravaack (D-MN) who co-sponsored the bill, “this amendment will save the taxpayers $42 million this year.”

Indeed, as President Obama has said, we need to tighten our federal belt if we are to see the light at the end of this economic downturn. However, as Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) argued, "It is a sad day when the House votes to eliminate one of the few programs in the budget which is dedicated to conflict prevention and non-violence, while at the same time, enabling another $158 billion in the same budget for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Last year, 54% of discretionary spending went to the military. "We have spent $1.1 trillion for war in the past decade, and in striking funding for USIP, Congress has demonstrated that it is on the war path,” declared Kuchinich. “Everything in the path of war had better take careful notice."

The USIP’s budget is less than one tenth of 1 percent of the State Department budget, which would not even cover 40 soldiers in Afghanistan for a year, according to USIP President Richard Solomon. What an ironic time to cut funding for an effective peace-building organization, at the moment when we are hoping to wind down our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

USIP’s programs keep our nation safe by building human security abroad, and as Solomon aptly declared, “national security is personal security.” As one of America’s most worthy causes, funding should in fact be expanded. At the very least, a more thorough analysis is needed of the efficacy of these programs, before sending them to the slaughter. 

Photo Creditisafmedia