The FY07 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations is now available on the State Department’s website. The CBJ contains a detailed breakdown of the President’s budget request for foreign aid programs, including programs related to conventional arms threat reduction.
Of particular importance is the $8.6 million request for the State Department’s SA/LW destruction program. This amount is a slight decrease from last year’s budget of $8.663 million, and it falls far short of Congressional expectations. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) hearing on February 9th, Senator Joseph Biden remarked that “$8 million doesn’t even get a blip on the screen,” a sentiment echoed by Senator Barak Obama, who called it “decimal dust.” State Department Undersecretary Robert Joseph acknowledged that his team could do more on conventional weapons reduction if it had more money, but warned against diverting funds from other valuable nonproliferation programs.
Few programs deliver more bang for the buck than small arms/light weapons destruction. Since the program’s founding in 2001, it has destroyed over 800,000 surplus small arms, including 17,000 deadly shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. That’s nearly a million weapons that will never, under any circumstance; end up in the hands of terrorists, criminals, or insurgents. Yet there are millions more weapons in insecure stockpiles that require immediate attention, and additional resources would allow the State Department to identify and address more of these threats, more quickly.
Prospects for expanding U.S. conventional weapons threat reduction efforts improved dramatically when SFRC chairman Richard Lugar embraced the issue last year. As a moderate, respected Republican with a long history of effective work on nonproliferation issues, Senator Lugar is in an excellent champion for this issue. He is co-sponsoring legislation (the Lugar-Obama Initiative) on conventional weapons threat reduction, and has hinted at a possible amendment to the foreign operations appropriations bill that would provide more money for these programs so that the State Department is not forced to rob Peter to pay Paul, as State Department officials like to say.
For more information on the Small Arms/Light Weapons destruction program, go to http://fas.org/asmp/profiles/aid/fy2007/SALWdestruction07.pdf
The text of the Lugar-Obama Initiative (S. 1949) is available at http://fas.org/asmp/resources/govern/109th/S1949is.htm