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. 

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Catherine Skroch

Catherine Skroch is a George Mitchell Scholar pursuing her Masters in International Relations at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She studies mechanisms for healing survivors of trauma and conflict, with a special interest in food, nutrition, and building community around the table. To this end, she is also the founder and director of PeaceMeals, a program which facilitates healing for survivors of trauma through creative cooking classes and dinner parties. Before coming to Northern Ireland, Catherine was a Herbert Scoville Peace Fellow and Policy Associate at the Truman National Security Project, where she specialized in democracy, human rights, development, and nonproliferation policy. Prior to joining Truman, she was a Fulbright Scholar in Morocco, researching transitional justice via the Equity and Reconciliation Commission. While in Morocco, she worked at a medical rehabilitation center for victims of torture and advocated for the Right to Reparation. She has also conducted fieldwork research in Senegal on local resolutions to the civil war in the Casamance region. In addition, Catherine has volunteered with dialogue and reconciliation campagins in Israel/Palestine, and the inner city of Milwaukee. Her writing focuses on human rights, torture, rule of law issues, and foreign affairs. Catherine is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she has vowed to never spend another freezing winter.

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