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Ambassador to Finland on 'First Line of Defense'

November 29, 1986

Last August, Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead warned that we face a national security crisis because of what were then proposed cuts by Congress in the foreign affairs budget. These cuts have now come to pass, and I fear that we may soon be entering that period of crisis.

We must, of course, reduce government expenditures to get the federal budget deficit under control. But this, it seems to us, should not be done at a heavy expense of the foreign affairs budget. We have too much at stake in the world to be able to afford to do that.

Take the case of Finland, the country in which I represent the United States. Here the Soviet Union maintains a very large and very prominent presence of 800 people. They have a well-staffed embassy, a great many trade representatives, a cultural center, and even a corps of "journalists." They are active and sophisticated. Their private and public diplomacy is increasingly effective.

I have seen firsthand just how effective it can be. In my work I frequently meet journalists, politicians, and even businessmen who express doubts about the U.S. commitment to peace and to a safer world, and who see our policies as more threatening to peace than the Soviet Union. This is a disturbing experience. It also suggests that there are fundamental misunderstandings of our country and its foreign policy.

As an open society in the electronic age, the United States is a large and visible actor in a small and volatile world these days. People everywhere closely watch what we say and do. If we are to survive and prosper as a free people among like-minded friends, we cannot afford to let misperceptions and misunderstandings come between us. We face, however, an adversary intent on encouraging just such misunderstandings, on separating us from our friends and allies, and this battle we must fight.

We are not, I hasten to add, threatened with loss of Finland to the Eastern camp. The ties and common values that bind us together are too strong to be easily dissolved. However, in Finland, as in other countries around the world, we are being challenged in many ways and on many fronts. If we are to overcome this challenge, it is essential that we have the capacity and the ability to understand what governments and people are thinking in other countries and be able to inform others about our country and its points of view.

When we force our foreign affairs agencies to function with fewer resources, we can no longer perform such tasks as well as we should--and must. We are hurting ourselves and, ultimately, our friends and allies as well. The consequences of these actions over the long term could be quite severe.

Even at the best of times, the foreign affairs budget, including foreign assistance, forms a minute percentage--something like 2%--of the overall federal budget. The actual operating costs of the State Department are only a fraction of this amount. It has been thus for many years; our Foreign Service has not grown in 20 years while the demands placed upon it keep increasing. Still, we are the leader of the free world. The conduct of our foreign relations is vitally important to the health and well-being of our nation.

It is, in fact, an integral part of a strong national defense. Secretary Whitehead has rightly called the programs of the foreign affairs agencies "our first line of defense in protecting American freedoms." If we reduce them, we will gravely impair our abilities to achieve our foreign policy goals at a time when the values for which we stand, values such as freedom, democracy, and self-determination, are on the march around the world.

It is often said that we now live in an interdependent world. The United States cannot isolate itself from this world. For all our sakes, the State Department and other agencies of the U.S. government that conduct our foreign relations deserve to be adequately funded.



Schnabel is U.S. ambassador to Finland.

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