On Budget Battles and the US Institute of Peace
March 2, 2011
By Bruce W. Dayton
These are tough times for discretionary spending programs in the US government. Among those looking at the axe is the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) which faces the prospect of closure thanks to a successful US House of Representatives amendment to the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2011. That amendment seeks to eliminate all funding for the US Institute of Peace for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year.
USIP is an independent government-funded institution that analyzes the causes, consequences, and remedies to international violent conflicts. It provides grants to researchers of peace and conflict, publishes books on conflict analysis and management, provides training in conflict management practice such as mediation and post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction, and sponsors a fellowship program for world-class scholars and practitioners of effective conflict management (see http://www.usip.org/). It is without question one of the ‘go-to’ institutes for anyone seeking to better understand and mitigate violent conflicts and enhance global security, both at home and abroad.
PARCC and the Maxwell School in general has fortunate to receive modest funding from USIP over the years to conduct research, hold conferences, and publish articles on the transformation of violent conflicts. I was shocked, therefore, to find out that Syracuse’s own representative, Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY) voted along with 268 of her colleagues to deny further funding to USIP. She, like here colleagues seem to believe that USIP’s budget, which amounts to one tenth of 1 percent of the overall State Department budget (and, as noted by USIP President Richard Solomon, would not even pay for the cost of 40 soldiers in Afghanistan for a year) is a waste of tax-payer money.
I couldn’t disagree more. And over the past two weeks a growing chorus of people involved in the peace and security field, including General David Petraeus, Navy Admiral Gary Roughead, and US Army Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, has voiced their disagreement as well. What do these folks know that my Representative doesn’t?
First, when it comes to trimming the size of the federal deficit we shouldn’t cut programs that end up saving the taxpayers more money than they cost to administer. Here is what I mean: war and violent conflict is costly business. In fiscal year 2010 the overall budget for the US Department of Defense was over $530 billion. And in the same breath that the House of Representatives proposed gutting USIP they also authorized over $150 billion to support on-going military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. USIP is in the business of reducing these costs by identifying the core drivers of violent conflict, training people (including the military) in conflict management techniques that facilitate stability and effective governance, and educating people about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to preventing conflict escalation and violence. As they say, “an ounce of prevention is equal to a pound of cure”.
Second good societies are those that institutionalize principles and values that reflect the best of what they are. It has long been noted that the US from its founding has had a Department of War / Defense, but not a department of Peace. So when USIP was formed under Ronald Reagan in 1984 it immediately served as an important symbol that the US government is committed to the institutionalization of peacebuilding capacity in the heart of Washington. USIP serves as an important reminder that although peace can be won through the deployment of troops, aircraft, tanks, etc., it can also be won by better understanding the conditions that foster large-scale violence and addressing them before they escalate. It represents the best of what we are as well as what we can aspire to be.