A diverse group of leaders recently came together in Chattanooga to discuss the United States’ International Affairs Budget. The speakers were an unusual combination of representatives of the U.S. military, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce. They mingled with us attendees from corporate, government, education, and nonprofit organizations. Given the tumultuous events around the globe, we were more than curious to hear what they had to say.
The keynoters were Catherine Glover, President of the TN Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Lt. General Norman Seip, Ret. Commander of the 12th Air Force. They highlighted the need for engagement in the global economy, international diplomacy, and widespread economic development. General Seip brought awareness to today’s global threats: pandemic diseases: weak countries, criminality, drug and people trafficking, to name a few.
General Seip also quoted Bob Gates, “We can’t kill or capture out way to victory.” Rather, we must bring the impoverished into the middle class. That would require bolstering the international budget, a key goal of the USGLC. Answering questions about America’s role in the turmoil of the Middle East, Ukraine, and Africa, the general again pointed out the limits of military power. Further, he addressed several misconceptions that the public has concerning the International Affairs Budget:
MYTH #1: We give too much money. REALITY: We give only 1.2% of the national budget to foreign aid.
MYTH #2: We give more aid than other countries. REALITY: The United States is only #13 of 23 countries in the percentage of national budgets devoted to foreign aid.
MYTH #3: It’s just charity spent abroad. REALITY: It’s actually an investment in what the General calls “SMART POWER” and includes Defense, Diplomacy, and Economic Development.
- Defense: Training and equipping means that we can better combat weapons proliferation, develop peace keepers, and stop traffickers.
- Diplomacy: Close cooperation means we get to emphasize our values in challenging situations: promoting the rule of law and good governance.
- Economic Development: Smart investment is a vehicle for health, agricultural, and education advances which can lead to peace and stability, a key reason that past Secretaries of State support the International Affairs Budget as do CEOs, military leaders, NGOs, and faith-based organizations.
As a member of the Tennessee Advisory Board of the USGLC, I was eager to hear how Tennessee fits into the USGLC plan. Reminding us that more than 90% of consumers are outside the United States as is 87% of economic growth, both General Seip and Chamber President Glover held up Tennessee as a “Poster Child” for participating in the global economy. With 7,000 small or medium size TN businesses exporting and 20% of TN jobs depending on exports, the state’s business community has the opportunity to shape our global future.
Promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in TN is a major part of the plan. Encouraging entrepreneurs and businesses to include an export element in their vision, and to achieve the cultural competence to work internationally, is another key piece of the plan. The USGLC cites success in countries such as Vietnam, South Korea, Colombia, India, Ghana, Thailand, and Azerbijan. Finally, supporting our expanding businesses and entrepreneurs is vital to their success. We participants were urged to expand the conversation on how this can be done in our local networks. So noted.
Regardless of your political leanings or possible skepticism about the International Affairs Budget, keep in mind that our competitors are investing in countries around the world at a rapid rate. Many of these competitors provide government support in large amounts. In 2008, China provided export credit support that was more than the United States and the rest of the G-7 countries combined. China’s government-supported economic development programs in Latin America, Asia, and Africa grew by 25 times between 2002-2007. In addition, the Chinese government has offered loans to governments on the condition that certain items be bought only from Chinese companies, a practice most other countries are rejecting.
If the United States is to remain competitive and have the option of commercial diplomacy, it must be able to maintain a global presence. That presence is maintained by assisting businesses to operate locally and globally, facilitating private-public partnerships, and bolstering industries that stabilize governments for future economic development. Each of us would do well to re-assess the impact we can have on the process.