The Cable

Powell and Condi disagree with GOP candidates on foreign aid

Five former secretaries of state, including four Republicans, wrote to Congress today to defend State Department and foreign aid funding, just as the GOP presidential candidates assailed those programs.

"As former Secretaries of State from both Democratic and Republican administrations, we urge you to support a strong and effective International Affairs Budget. We believe these programs are critical to America's global leadership and represent strategic investments in our nation's security and prosperity," wrote former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and George Shultz, in a letter today, organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC).

"We recognize the gravity of America's fiscal situation and that all programs must contribute their fair share to reducing our nation's debt. Yet, the international affairs budget ?- only 1.4% of the federal budget ?? already received deep and disproportionate cuts this year," they wrote. "Now is not the time for America to retreat from the world, which is why we need a strong and effective international affairs budget. 

At the Nov. 12 GOP presidential debate, several candidates pledged to cut international funding and foreign aid in particular.

"Every country would start at zero," said Rick Perry, explaining that his administration would compel every country to make its case for receiving aid from the United States. Perry said that even Israel would have to start from zero, although he predicted they would still get funding in the end.

"I agree with Governor Perry. Start everything at zero," Mitt Romney said. His staff later clarified that he didn't mean that should go for Israel as well.

Those comments did not go over well in the NGO community. "Eliminating foreign aid makes zero sense," USGLC Executive Director Liz Schrayer told The Cable.

Last week, Perry said he didn't trust the State Department to manage the international affairs budget in the first place.

"I'm not sure our State Department serves us well," Perry said on Bill O'Reilly's radio show. "I'm not talking about the secretary of state here. I'm talking about the career diplomats and the secretary of state, who all too often may not be making decisions or giving advice to the administration that's in this country's best interest."

The State Department's budget is expected to be debated this week when the Senate takes up the State and foreign ops appropriations bill as part of a spending package. But State Department funding is also in danger of cuts from the congressional "supercommittee," which is under the gun to find $1.2 trillion in discretionary savings over ten years by the Nov. 23 deadline.

Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides wrote to members of the supercommittee last week to argue that the international affairs budget is not the right place to find savings to solve the deficit and debt crisis.

"Our budget is not a primary cause of the deficit or the long-term debt, and the proposed cuts would only undermine our position in the world," Nides wrote, referring to the House's version of the international affairs funding bill. "As you know, State and USAID account for only 1 percent of the entire federal budget."

"At a time when civilians are mission-critical in our war zones, when emerging powers are jockeying for influence around the world, and when the Middle East is remaking itself before our eyes, additional cuts to the State Department and USAID budget would harm our national security and our ability to grow our economy," said Nides. "I would ask the committee to consider this as it completes its important work."

Ian Waldie/Getty Images

The Cable

State agrees with Lugar and Kyl on arms control?

It's a special day in foreign policy when Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Richard Lugar (R-IN) and the State Department are all on the same page with regards to an international arms control treaty, but that's what's happened ahead of a major conference dealing with cluster munitions next week in Geneva. Unfortunately, several other countries and the NGO community are reading from a different book altogether.

The United States will join an international conference starting on Nov. 14 to review the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) and the lead item on the U.S. agenda is a push for a protocol dealing with the issue of cluster munitions. Cluster munitions (seen here in an Air Force promotional video) disperse hundreds of bomblets over an area, often leaving behind unexploded ordnance that can later be stumbled upon by innocent civilians -- with deadly consequences.

Ever since Israel dropped more than a million cluster bombs, mostly made in the United States, during its 2006 war in Lebanon, the international movement to ban the weapons has picked up huge steam. 107 countries have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which would do just that, since it was adopted in Dublin in May 2008 -- but not the United States. The State Department's position, which it will push next week in Geneva, is that a draft proposal for a new protocol for the CCW is better than moving forward with the CCM.

"The United States remains committed to concluding a legally binding protocol within the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) on cluster munitions and believes that significant humanitarian benefits can be achieved by such a protocol," a State Department official told The Cable, explaining that the United States has been engaging other countries on the issue in advance of the Geneva conference.

"We fully support a Sixth Protocol on Cluster Munitions within the CCW based on the chair's draft text, and believe that a comprehensive international response to the humanitarian concerns associated with cluster munitions must include action by those states that are not in a position to become parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions," the official continued. "Those states produce and stockpile the vast majority of the world's cluster munitions."

But why can't the United States, which is the world's leading producer of cluster munitions, just sign on to the CCM as well? One reason is that the Senate probably would never ratify it.

Kyl and Lugar -- two Senate GOP foreign policy heavyweights who rarely see eye to eye -- wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Nov. 1 to make that fact clear, and urge the administration to redouble its efforts to push the draft protocol on the CCW forward -- and resist the CCM.

"This draft position would advance global efforts to minimize the risks to civilian populations of modern warfare while simultaneously maintaining the ability of the United States and its allies to utilize munitions that will limit American casualties now and in the future," the senators wrote. "However, strong opposition from non-governmental organizations, as well as reservations expressed by a small number of governments could derail the review conference's efforts to achieve a sixth protocol."

The senators argue that the CCM is crafted to exempt the type of cluster munitions owned by some European countries and therefore unfairly targets U.S. stockpiles. They also point out that the draft protocol to the CCW is largely in agreement with existing U.S. policy, as established by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2008, which stated that cluster munitions "are legitimate weapons with clear military utility in combat.... Blanket elimination of cluster munitions is therefore unacceptable."

"When you have Lugar and Kyl saying that a treaty is good, that's probably the treaty you want to submit to the Senate," one senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable.

So why are other countries and the NGO community against this idea? For one thing, they argue it gives the United States a seven-year window to keep using and selling cluster munitions before cleaning up its act.

"Gates' 2008 memo stated that, after 2018, the use, sale, and transfer of cluster munitions with a failure rate higher than 1 percent would be prohibited. That policy moves us in the right direction, but it means the Pentagon still has authority to use cluster bombs with high failure rates for years to come," wrote Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at the time.

She and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have introduced the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act, "which would impose an immediate ban on the use of cluster bombs with failure rates higher than 1 percent and restrict their use in civilian areas," she wrote. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) has introduced companion legislation in the House.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told The Cable that the current CCW draft protocol would legitimize the use of the most dangerous types of cluster munitions for years to come, allow the indefinite use of cluster munitions that can produce significant harm to non-combatants, and undermine the existing standard against the use and transfer of cluster munitions established by the 2008 Cluster Munitions Convention.

"If adopted, the protocol would give cover to other producers of cluster munitions, such as China and Russia, to resist tougher international standards," Kimball said.

"If the U.S. and others are willing to seriously find ways to address the concerns of the many CCM states, then consensus on a modified protocol at the CCW is possible," Kimball said. "But if the United States believes that it can ram the weak draft CCW protocol on cluster munitions through in its current form, I think it is mistaken."