Skip to content

Questions about “Unified Security Budget” for Bridget Moix

August 12, 2010

Questions about “Unified Security Budget,” the “Whole of Government,” and Peaceful Prevention


Bridget Moix, FCNL’s Lobbyist for Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict

Joe:  Bridget, before I ask you why we at FCNL don’t like the proposal for a so-called unified security budget, let’s try to understand what it is.  Who is proposing the unified security budget and what problem are they trying to solve?

Bridget:  The unified security budget has been advocated for some years by a number of organizations with which FCNL actively collaborates, including the Institute for Policy Studies, the Center for American Progress, and Taxpayers for Common Sense.  FCNL has been part of this conversation, and our own Dan Smith even served on the Unified Security Budget Task Force in recent years.

More recently high-level officials in the Obama Administration have also begun advocating some form of a unified security budget.  Secretary of State Clinton has testified before Congress on numerous occasions in the past year that she supports it, and we’ve heard Jack Lew, who is set to become the new head of OMB also supports it.  The problem all these groups and people are trying to solve – a problem that FCNL whole heartedly agrees is real and needs solving – is the massive imbalance in resources that go to military forms of engagement with the world, while the civilian tools of diplomacy, development, and international cooperation are severely underfunded.

Joe:  You’ll recall that, when we began working with our architects to design a new building, one of them said, “There is no elegant solution to a poorly defined problem.”  Have the proponents of a unified security budget defined the problem well?  If not, how would you amend their problem definition?

Bridget:  We agree with the part of their problem definition that says: There’s this massive imbalance in spending between military and nonmilitary global engagement, and it is not making us or the world safer.  Where we differ is our concept of what will make us safer and how we shift the resources.

Proponents of a unified security budget propose to combine both military and nonmilitary tools of engagement into one single “security” budget.  They believe that, once the imbalance was revealed so clearly by looking at these tools together in one budget, logic would prevail among policymakers, and resources would be distributed in a more balanced way across the government to pay for the tools that can actually be more effective in preventing war and building peace.

We at FCNL think that would be a huge mistake because the system is already so massively in favor of the military that logic cannot prevail over the power and money of the military-industrial-congressional-complex.  We see the problem as one of a blind faith among policy makers in the use of military force as an effective tool to build global security.  That blind faith in military muscle has resulted in the massive imbalance of funding between military and civilian functions.  Put the military giant and the civilian mouse in the same budget box, and who do you think will win the money?  The military giant, of course.  We have to structure the budget to challenge that blind faith in military muscle, not make civilian programs even more vulnerable to the allure and power of the military.

Joe:  What is the “whole of government” concept and is it related to the proposal for a unified security budget?

Bridget:  “Whole of government” is a new fad in Washington.  It’s essentially the idea that U.S. government agencies all need to work together better toward a common end.  Sounds sensible, but it’s really a smokescreen that has little practical meaning and, given the already heavily militarized nature of U.S. policy, the whole of government approach threatens to destroy the very important safeguards established between civilian and military agencies in the conduct of foreign policy.  I’d go as far as to say it’s a threat to our core democratic principle of civilian-led government.

“Whole of government” and “unified security budget” differ in the details and substance, but at a broad level they reinforce each other and both blur the lines between military and civilian roles.

Joe:  You studied international conflict and peacebuilding at Columbia University’s graduate school.  You convene a national working group on peaceful Prevention and Civilian Protection here on Capitol Hill.  You know these issues well and you are familiar with the relevant laws.  What principles move us at FCNL to take issue with these two concepts, the unified security budget and the whole of government?

Bridget:   FCNL does not believe security comes through the barrel of a gun, so, from the start, we have questions about the way these concepts frame security.  We would approach the definition of security from an understanding of “human security” and a belief that preventing – not fighting – wars is the way to build peace in the world.  Also, we do not believe development should be simply undertaken for U.S. national security purposes and that defining development in terms of military security or national security will undermine the core purpose of development.

“Speak Truth to Power”, an American Friends Service Committee pamphlet published in 1955 during the era of McCarthyism and the build up of the Cold War’s nuclear arms race – explains eloquently the myth that the U.S. can somehow put up a military wall around a problem and then do good works behind it.  It didn’t work then, nor later in Vietnam, and it won’t work now.

FCNL’s experience with Congress also tells us that logic alone rarely prevails in policy decisions.  The military is so big and so powerful that it inevitably overwhelms other agencies it works with.  We need to reduce that influence directly while we build up civilian agencies, not throw them together in the same pot and imagine that a more balanced system will emerge.  It won’t.  We’ll just end up with more militarized policy.

Joe:  What got you into this work for peaceful prevention of deadly conflict and why do you think it is important?

Bridget:  After the experience of the Kosovo war, British Friends called together a conference of Quaker organizations with the question: How do Friends respond when the bombs are falling?  That gathering was an important turning point for me, and I think for our collective thinking too, because the answer we came up with was: If the bombs are already falling, then we’ve already failed.  We need to be focusing much more on understanding how and investing in ways to peacefully prevent wars, mass atrocities, and genocide.

I think  focusing on peaceful prevention is important, because, instead of just opposing war, prevention opens up a new conversation and allows us to engage in some very practical work to build the tools that are needed to address problems before they become violent.  Military intervention once the violence begins is the least effective response; peaceful prevention way ahead of the violence curve, and after it, is the most effective response.  Peaceful prevention could save a lot of lives, not to mention taxpayer dollars, because it is much less expensive than military might.

It’s also a way to practice hope by addressing the world’s problems, and I think we need to work in ways that build hope.

Joe:  Do your family and friends “humor” you or do they like what you’re doing?

Bridget:  My family and friends have always been very supportive.  I come from a family with lots of different political stripes, and not one other Quaker, so we’ve learned to live together and love each other despite – and sometimes because of – our differences.  They also all respect FCNL and its work, even if some of them don’t always agree with our positions.  They understand I’m working for what I believe, and, of course, they also get a kick out of teasing me for being a “Washington lobbyist.”

Joe:  Well,  you are a Washington lobbyist; there’s no denying that.  On the other hand, you are a very different kind of lobbyist. You are a lobbyist for a nonpartisan, nonprofit,  Quaker lobby in public interest.  We’re not motivated by profit, and the bottom line for us is not written in dollar signs.  Thanks for helping me and our readers learn about the unified security budget proposal.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: