Influential government and business leaders, concerned that the foreign aid budget could be reduced as Congress deals with fallout from sequester and the possibility of more budget cuts, say there are benefits from using “smart power.”
Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., and Steven Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, on Wednesday stressed the importance of U.S. foreign aid and trade at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition breakfast at the Four Seasons.
Ridge and Bryan brought attention to the connections between foreign assistance, economic prosperity and national security, saying investing overseas makes the world a “safer, better place.”
“About 1 percent of the national budget is spent on foreign aid,” Bryan said. “The challenges we face today are different. Foreign aid is terribly important.”
President Barack Obama’s proposed $3.8 trillion budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, allocates $58 billion for foreign aid.
In a speech to about 150 attendees, Ridge said that the country certainly needs a strong military, but that the military isn’t the only option. He said the U.S. also needs diplomacy and foreign assistance — also known as smart power — to advance its national interests around the world.
“There will always be some resistance to foreign aid,” Ridge said.
He said there are some people known as political protectionists who want to withdraw from the world, while other opponents, described as economic protectionists, cite costs. The former Pennsylvania governor emphasized that both sides argue it is in America’s best interest to withdraw from the world.
“How can it be in (our) best interest to be less engaged?” Ridge said. “It is in our interest to be more engaged, not less engaged. The world expects us to lead whether we like it or not.”
Bryan cautioned that an absence of being involved around the world “does have consequences for our national security.”
Access to foreign markets also is crucial to Nevada’s economic recovery, with one in five jobs statewide dependent on trade. Nevada’s export shipments of merchandise last year totaled $10.2 billion.
Ramon Torres, a board member with the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce, noted that San Diego alone accounted for $17 billion in exports last year.
“There is tremendous potential for Las Vegas,” he said. “We can only go up.”
Torres, along with Hill, Ridge and Bryan, participated in a discussion moderated by political commentator Jon Ralston. Torres said it was about aiding “mom and pop shops” that need help finding connections to new markets.
He said U.S. leadership in the world and foreign trade also are about connecting Nevada to new markets.
The state’s export efforts received help from Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who recently led a trade mission to South Korea and China. Nevada officials and business owners will leave in three weeks for another visit to China.
“Nevada’s re-engagement is noticeable,” Hill said. “We have four people in our office. With four people, we are trying to seize any opportunities we can.”
Hill said he has a staff member in Brazil and one in Mexico. He said he is confident that these efforts will produce jobs in Nevada.
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