This past week, the White House released its final proposed budget, which aims to slash funding for the State Department and USAID, causing great concern among many Americans.
In military parlance, a “missing man” formation is an aerial tribute to a fallen comrade. A group of jets come flying toward the crowd, and suddenly one of them shears off, leaving a symbolic empty spot in the formation.
Under this proposed budget, the State Department is in danger of becoming a missing man in the interagency formation, weakening a vital element of our national security. In terms of danger, I cannot think of a higher risk for the U.S. than to have widely perceived weakness emanating from the State Department. Our security is based on three key elements of engagement with the world: defense, diplomacy and development.
Defense, where hard power is housed, is the largest and best funded by far. While I do think there is a case to be made for increased defense spending, especially regarding the readiness of American troops, this certainly cannot be done at the expense of the State Department. The elements of soft power like diplomacy and development, housed at State and USAID, are crucial factors to keeping our nation safe.
I spoke with BBC Radio about this, and you can listen to that conversation here.
In my opinion, five things need to happen immediately to ensure stability at State:
- Secretary Rex Tillerson must be given an unlimited ability to build his senior team.
- State should raise the public profile of the Secretary. Tillerson, if pushed into the spotlight, could be a huge force for good.
- Avoid these cuts to the State Department, even if the Department of Defense has to bear them.
- The leaders of State, Defense, USAID and Homeland Security should hold a strategic summit to begin laying out a coherent, interagency security strategy, including intelligent integration of Homeland Security.
- The President must make clear that he puts full faith in his Secretary of State.
I explored this issue in-depth in TIME Magazine, and you can read the piece here.
As always, diplomacy is a two-way street. We have great partners across the world, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Chancellor Merkel met with President Trump on Friday and discussed the Syrian refugee crisis and NATO spending, among other things.
As I explained to The Cipher Brief, the U.S.-German relationship is absolutely critical. Germany has been a leader in dealing with Russia, specifically in Ukraine, where it has led the sanctions regime. Another area of cooperation could be cyber security, where both nations have opportunities and vulnerabilities. I’m hopeful that the overarching national interests of their countries will push these two very different leaders together. America needs to remain friends with Germany.
Speaking of world leaders, I’m excited to announce the release of my latest book, The Leader’s Bookshelf. For the last several years, I’ve been working with R. Manning Ancell to survey more than 200 active and retired four-star military officers about their reading habits and favorite books, focusing on which titles strongly influenced their leadership skills. The Leader’s Bookshelf synthesizes their responses to identify the top 50 books that can help virtually anyone become a better leader. I spoke with Fox News Radio about the new book and you can listen to that conversation here. More to come on this next week!
As always, thanks for reading.
Dean Stavridis with his basset hound, Lilly.
Dean James Stavridis is the 12th leader of The Fletcher School since its founding in 1933. A retired Admiral in the U.S. Navy, he led the NATO Alliance in global operations from 2009 to 2013 as Supreme Allied Commander.
- A Conversation with Maria Kristensen (F02), 2017 Fletcher Women’s Leadership Award Winner April 28, 2017
- What Can You Do With a Fletcher Education? April 21, 2017
- A U.S. Foreign Policy Reset April 14, 2017
- Dealing with Dictatorships April 7, 2017
- Why Fletcher? March 31, 2017
- On Reading and Leading March 24, 2017
- Don’t Make Diplomacy the “Missing Man” in Our Foreign Policy Formation March 20, 2017
- Adapting to Today, Turning Towards Tomorrow March 10, 2017
- Don’t Increase Defense Spending on the Backs of Diplomacy and Development March 6, 2017
- A Guide to Getting U.S. Foreign Policy Back on Track February 24, 2017