Missouri shares a border with eight other U.S. states and no foreign countries, but our economic well-being is intricately tied to foreign trade and robust engagement with the world.
As the U.S. State Department and foreign assistance face funding cuts, it is important for Missourians to appreciate that our state, like the rest of the country, can’t prosper on its own.
In fact, some 827,000 jobs in Missouri — or 23 percent of the total — are supported by international trade, according to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. More than 6,000 Missouri companies export goods to the rest of the world, 85 percent of them small and medium enterprises.
Last year alone, Missouri exported an astonishing $14 billion worth of goods to foreign markets. That’s the equivalent of someone cutting a check worth $1.6 million to Missouri every hour of every day for an entire year. It’s a cash infusion that wouldn’t be possible without Missouri standing on the shoulders of strong American foreign diplomacy and engagement.
Our state’s international engagement, however, doesn’t happen on its own. We rely heavily on the hard work of U.S. diplomats and trade facilitation officials stationed around the world. America’s State Department and Agency for International Development help open up business opportunities, create economic opportunity in states like ours, and promote our state’s and country’s vital interests abroad.
The proposed cuts would mean fewer diplomats forging personal ties with leaders, businesses and citizens in foreign countries, fewer health programs to deliver medicine to communities in need and contain diseases like Ebola at their points of origin, fewer advisers to help countries run free and fair elections and to promote independent media, crucial platforms that set the table for business stability and fair trade. The list goes on.
The vast majority of Americans mistakenly believe that more than a quarter of our entire federal budget goes to foreign aid. Many would be shocked to know the real number is less than 1 percent.
Opposing these harmful cuts isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue. Leaders from both sides of the aisle recognize that America’s diplomats and aid workers play a critical role in enhancing our national security and economic well-being. That’s why Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham called the proposed budget cuts “radical and reckless when it comes to soft power.” It’s why former Secretary of State Colin Powell said in May that these proposed cuts would “effectively lower our flag at our outposts around the world and make us less safe.”
And Gen. James Mattis, the current Secretary of Defense, famously said in 2013: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”
Missourians will, however, get a vote in this critical issue. Sen. Roy Blunt, who sits on the key Senate subcommittee that impacts foreign aid, stated in a 2015 national security speech in Fulton, Mo.: “Leading from behind doesn’t work. President Truman understood that, Winston Churchill understood that when he spoke here in 1946, and world leader after world leader have verified the importance of American leadership, speaking here for seven decades now. It is not a question of whether America should lead, but how it should lead.”
Our state benefits enormously when America engages with the world and would suffer if we were to shrink from it. Missouri jobs and income are at stake.
Bob Bennett is a West Point graduate and 25-year veteran of the U.S. Army. He co-authored this piece with Kansas City native Jamie Metzl, who has worked for the U.S. National Security Council, State Department and Senate Foreign Relations Committee