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The Stanley Foundation

The Politics of National Security Budgets

The Politics of National Security Budgets
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In a new Stanley Foundation Policy Analysis Brief, former senior White House budget official Gordon Adams gives a sobering assessment of how difficult it will be for the US government to build up its nonmilitary capabilities as a stronger complement to the military, despite the urgency of such a shift.

The military tool in the US national security toolkit is important, Gordon writes, but it is most effective when used in a balanced and synergistic way with the nation's other instruments of foreign policy: economic, diplomatic, political, and cultural capacities. As a matter of resources, however, these nonmilitary instruments are budgeted at a fraction of the spending levels allocated to the Defense Department.

Given the range of international challenges that the United States confronts in the 21st century—extreme poverty; failing states; religious and ethnic conflicts; booming traffic in drugs, people, and weapons, all contributing to terrorism and proliferation—the need for a robust toolkit is critical. None of today's challenges can be handled by the military alone; they demand an integrated use of diplomacy, assistance, and military capabilities.

In order for the United States to execute a coherent and comprehensive national security strategy, it must strengthen its nonmilitary instruments to be a more effective complement to its armed forces. Despite this urgent need, however, generating added resources will itself be a monumental task.

This brief examines several built-in advantages—political, bureaucratic, administrative, congressional—that the military enjoys in the competition for resources.

To read the full brief, visit

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The Stanley Foundation seeks a secure peace with freedom and justice, built on world citizenship and effective global governance. It brings fresh voices, original ideas, and lasting solutions to debates on global and regional problems. The foundation is a nonpartisan, private operating foundation, located in Muscatine, Iowa, that focuses on peace and security issues and advocates principled multilateralism. The foundation frequently collaborates with other organizations. It does not make grants. Online at

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