I come to you as a deeply troubled ambassador. I am troubled by the lack of understanding in our country today about our foreign policy priorities and the vital role of our embassies in implementing them. I sometimes think that what our ambassadors and embassies do is one of our country's best kept secrets.
During the Cold War there was also confusion and ignorance, but at least there was bipartisan consensus on the need for American leadership in defending freedom in the world against Soviet aggression and the spread of totalitarian communism.
Much of my work as ambassador to Italy was dominated by this overriding priority. At a time when some Italian leaders were flirting with the compromesso storico--a government alliance between Christian Democrats and an Italian Communist Party still largely oriented toward Moscow--I was able to play a modest role in making sure the Italians understood why the United States opposed the entry of Communist parties into the governments of NATO allies.
When the Soviet Union began threatening Europe by deploying its SS-20 missiles, it was vitally important for NATO to respond by deploying the Pershing 2 and cruise missiles. It soon became clear that the deployment could not occur without a favorable decision by Italy. Our embassy in Rome was able to persuade an Italian Socialist Party with a history of hostility to NATO to do an about-face and vote for the cruise missile deployment in the Italian Parliament along with the Christian Democrats and the small non-communist lay parties.
Some years later Mikhail Gorbachev said it was the NATO decision to deploy the Pershing and cruise missiles--not the Strategic Defense Initiative as some have claimed--that helped bring him to the realization that his country had to move from a policy based on military threats to one of accommodation with the West.
So at the height of the Cold War, it did not take a genius to understand the need for strong U.S. leadership in the world and for effective ambassadors and embassies in support of that leadership.
On the second priority: confronting the new transnational threat:
Having worked successfully with our host governments for the unconditional and indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty--a major diplomatic achievement--we are focusing now on building support for a Comprehensive Test Ban Agreement, on keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of countries like Iran, Iraq and Libya, and on securing needed European financial contributions for the Korean Energy Development Organization, an essential vehicle for terminating North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
We are working to strengthen bilateral and multilateral arrangements to assure the identification, extradition and prosecution of persons engaged in drug trafficking, organized crime, terrorism and alien smuggling, and we are building European support for new institutions to train law enforcement officers in former Communist countries, such as the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest.
And we are giving a new priority in our diplomacy to the protection of the global environment, coordinating our negotiating positions and assistance programs on such issues as population, climate change, ozone depletion, desertification, and marine pollution. For we have learned that environmental initiatives can be vitally important to our goals of prosperity and security: negotiations on water resources are central to the Middle East peace process, and a Haiti denuded of its forests will have a hard time supporting a stable democracy and keeping its people from flooding our shores.
On the third priority: promoting open markets and prosperity:
Having worked with our host countries to bring a successful conclusion to the Uruguay Round, we are now busily engaged in discussing left-over questions like market access for audiovisuals, telecommunications, and bio-engineered foods, and new issues like trade and labor standards, trade and environment, and trade and competition policy.
We are also encouraging the enlargement of the European Union to Central and Eastern Europe and we are reporting carefully on the prospects of the European Monetary Union by the target date of 1999 and on the implications of an EMU for U.S. interests.
In carrying out this rich global foreign policy agenda we will be greatly assisted by the agreement that was reached in Madrid last December between President Clinton, Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and President Jacques Santer of the European Commission on the `New Transatlantic Agenda' and its accompanying `U.S.-EU Action Plan.'
Of the $250 billion of civilian discretionary spending, about $20 billion used to be devoted on the average of years to international affairs--the so-called 150 account. This account includes our assessed and voluntary payments to the UN, our bilateral aid and contributions to the international financial institutions, the U.S. Information Agency's broadcasting and educational exchange programs, and the State Department budget.
Congressional spending cuts have now brought the international affairs account down to about $17 billion annually--about 1 percent of our total budget. Taking inflation into account, this $17 billion is nearly a 50 percent reduction in real terms from the level of a decade ago. For Fiscal Year 1997, the Congressional leadership proposes a cut to $15.7 billion. Its 7-year plan to balance the budget would bring international affairs spending down to $12.5 billion a year by 2002.
Keep in mind that about $5 billion of the 150 account, goes to Israel and Egypt--rightly so, in my opinion, because of the priority we accord to Middle East peace. So under the Congressional balanced budget scenario only $7.5 billion would be left four years from now for all of our other international spending.
These actual and prospective cuts in our international affairs account are devastating. Among other things, they mean:
that we cannot pay our legally owing dues to the United Nations system, thus severely undermining the world organization's work for peace and compromising our efforts for UN reform.
that we cannot pay our fair share of voluntary contributions to UN agencies and international financial institutions to assist the world's poor and promote free markets, economic growth, environmental protection and population stabilization;
that we must drastically cut back the reach of the Voice of America and the size of our Fullbright and International Visitor programs, all of them important vehicles for influencing foreign opinion about the United States;
that we will have insufficient funds to respond to aid requirements in Bosnia, Haiti, the Middle East, the former Communist countries and in any new crisis where our national interests are at stake.
Why did they do these things?
Because they understood the growing interdependence between conditions in our country and conditions in our global neighborhood.
Because they understood that our best chance to shape the world environment to promote our national security and welfare was to share costs and risks and other nations in international institutions.
And because they understood that our national interest in the long run would best be served by realizing the benefits of reciprocity and stability only achievable through the development of international law.
Listening to much of our public debate, I sometimes think that all this history has been forgotten, that we are suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. I submit that the basic case for American world leadership today is essentially the same as it was before the Cold War began. It is a very different world, of course, but the fact of our interdependence remains. Obviously, in every major respect, it has grown.
What are the specific foreign policy priorities in the Clinton Administration? In a recent speech at Harvard's Kennedy School, Secretary of State Warren Christopher identified three to which we are giving special emphasis--pursuing peace in regions of vital interest, confronting the new transnational security threats, and promoting open markets and prosperity.
The broad lines of American policy in these three priority areas are necessarily hammered out in Washington. But our embassies constitute an essential part of the delivery system through which those policies are implemented in particular regions and countries.
This includes not only such vital multilateral embassies as our missions to the UN in New York, Geneva and Vienna, and to NATO and the European Union in Brussels, but also our embassies in the more than 180 countries with which we maintain diplomatic relations.
Americans have fallen into the habit of thinking that ambassadors and embassies have become irrelevant luxuries, obsolete frills in an age of instant communications. We make the mistake of thinking that if a sound foreign policy decision is approved at the State Department or the White House, it does not much matter how it is carried out in the field.
This is a dangerous illusion indulged in by no other major country. Things don't happen just because we say so. Discussion and persuasion are necessary. Diplomacy by fax simply doesn't work.
Ambassadors today need to perform multiple roles. They should be the `eyes and ears' of the President and Secretary of State; advocates of our country's foreign policy in the upper reaches of the host government.
They need to build personal relationships of mutual trust with key overseas decision-makers in government and the private sector. They should also radiate American values as intellectual, educational and cultural emissaries, communicating what our country stands for to interest groups and intellectual leaders as well as to the public at large.
In a previous age of diplomacy, U.S. ambassadors spent most of their time dealing with bilateral issues between the United States and the host country. Bilateral issues are still important--assuring access to host country military bases, promoting sales of U.S. products, stimulating educational and cultural exchanges are some notable examples. And every embassy has the obligation to report on and analyze political and economic developments in the host country that may impact on U.S. interests.
But most of the work of our ambassadors and embassies today is devoted to regional and global issues--indeed, to acting upon the three key priorities identified by Secretary Christopher in his Kennedy School speech. Let me give you some examples based on my experience in Madrid and with my fellow ambassadors in Europe:
On the first priority: pursuing peace in regions of vital interest:
We are working with our host countries to fashion common policies on the continued transformation of NATO, Partnership for Peace, NATO enlargement, and NATO-Russia relations.
After having secured host country support for the military and diplomatic measures that brought an end to the fighting in Bosnia, we are now working to assure the implementation of the civilian side of the Dayton Agreement, notably economic reconstruction, free elections, the resettlement of refugees, and the prosecution of war crimes.
That we will have fewer and smaller offices to respond to the 2 million requests we receive each year for assistance to Americans overseas and to safeguard our borders through the visa process.
And that we will be unable to maintain a world-class diplomatic establishment as the delivery vehicle for our foreign policy.
A final word on this critical last point. The money which Congress makes available to maintain the State Department and our overseas embassies and consulates is now down to about $2.5 billion a year. As the international affairs account continues to go down, we face the prospect of further cuts. The budget crunch has been exacerbated by the need to find money to pay for our new embassies in the newly independent countries of the former Soviet Union.
In our major European embassies, we have already reduced State Department positions by 25 percent since Fiscal Year 1995. We have been told to prepare for cuts of 40 percent or more from the 1995 base over the next two or three years.
In our Madrid embassy, to take an example, this will leave us with something like three political and three economic officers besides the ambassador and deputy chief of mission to perform our essential daily diplomatic work of advocacy, representation and reporting in the broad range of vitally important areas I have enumerated. Our other embassies face similarly devastating reductions.
I have to tell you that cuts of this magnitude will gravely undermine our ability to influence foreign governments and will severely diminish our leadership role in world affairs. They will also have detrimental consequences for our intelligence capabilities since embassy reporting is the critical overt component of U.S. intelligence collection. In expressing these concerns I believe I am representing the views of the overwhelming majority of our career and non-career ambassadors.
Under the pressure of Congressional budget cuts, the State Department is eliminating 13 diplomatic posts, including consulates in such important European cities as Stuttgart, Zurich, Bilbao and Bordeaux. The Bordeaux Consulate dated back to the time of George Washington. Try explaining to the French that we cannot afford a consulate there now when we were able to afford one then when we were a nation of 3 million people.
The consulates I have mentioned not only provided important services to American residents and tourists, they were political lookout posts, export promotion platforms, and centers for interaction with regional leaders in a Europe where regions are assuming growing importance. Now they will be all gone.
Closing the 13 posts is estimated to save about $9 million a year, one quarter of the cost of an F-16 fighter plane. Bilbao, for example, cost $200,000 a year. A B-2 bomber costs about $2,000 million. I remind you that $2 billion pays nearly all the salaries and expenses of running the State Department--including our foreign embassies--for a year.
Let us be clear about what is going on. The commendable desire to balance our national budget, the acute allergy of the American people to tax increases (indeed, their desire for tax reductions), the explosion of entitlement costs with our aging population, and the need to maintain a strong national defense, all combine to force a drastic curtailment of the civilian discretionary spending which is the principal public vehicle for domestic and international investments essential to our country's future.
Having no effective constituency, spending on international affairs is taking a particularly severe hit within the civilian discretionary account and with it the money needed for our diplomatic establishment. The President and the Secretary of State are doing their best to correct this state of affairs, but they will need greater support from the Congress and the general public than has been manifest so far if this problem is to be properly resolved.
I submit that it will not be resolved, until there is a recognition that the international affairs budget is in a very real sense a national security budget--because diplomacy is our first line of national defense. The failure to build solid international relationships and treat the causes of conflict today will surely mean costly military interventions tomorrow.