Recent events around the globe demonstrate the tumultuous nature of today’s world. Events taking place in areas such as the Middle East, Africa, Central America, or Southeast Asia may seem far away irrelevant to us here in Maine, but what happens there directly affects our security and economy here at home. That is why America has to remain a strong and engaged international leader. For the United States and Maine to be secure and competitive in today’s global marketplace, we need to use all available foreign policy tools — development and diplomatic programs alongside defense.
One might think a naval aviator and businessman-turned-diplomat may have some differing perspectives on U.S. foreign policy. However, we both understand and have personally witnessed how much America’s economy and security depend on active engagement in the world. And given our current fiscal climate, we must do so in a cost-effective manner. That’s why our international affairs budget, at just 1 percent of our federal budget, is a small and critical investment that can be leveraged into a substantive return on investment to the residents of Maine.
While Maine is known for producing the best lobsters and blueberries in the world, it also produces a great many other manufactured goods such as electronics, paper products, and transportation equipment sold to customers around the world. Exports today support one in every five Maine jobs, and that number is growing. In 2010 alone, Maine set a new state record by exporting more than $3.1 billion in goods and services globally, a 41 percent ncrease from the previous year.
As we look for ways to support our local businesses and get Mainers back to work, we have to look beyond our shores. Ninety-five percent of the world’s potential consumers of Maine’s products live outside of the United States, and the fastest-growing markets are in developing nations. It is through our economic development and commercial diplomacy programs that we cultivate these markets and open them for our exports. We have to reach these overseas consumers in order to create demand for our exports, create jobs and grow Maine’s economy.
Much of the world’s unrest today does not result as much from the intervention of other nation states as it did in the past during the Cold War, but is increasingly spawned by grinding poverty, disease and a lack of hope. These factors contribute to global instability and become a breeding ground for supporters of terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida and Hezbollah. The strategic use of our international affairs programs can help mitigate these conditions. By encouraging sustainable agricultural practices so people can provide for themselves and their families, ensuring access to clean potable water, and providing hope where there once was none, we can help mitigate the very conditions that lead to unrest and conflict around the world. As their well-being and productivity increases, it fosters a virtuous cycle of improvement that will eventually create new consumers of our exports.
Our military is second to none, but the complex challenges we face today require a more comprehensive and nuanced national security strategy. That’s why our top national security leadership, including both former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and current Secretary Leon Panetta and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen and current Chairman General Martin E. Dempsey, have been vocal and proactive advocates of a strategy that utilizes and enhances our civilian operations. They recognize our development experts and diplomats work to preserve the military gains our troops have made, and more importantly prevent conflict before it has the opportunity to begin, which keeps our brave men and women out of harm’s way.
Our experiences in the business community, national security affairs and diplomacy have made us acutely aware of the efficacy of a strong and effective international affairs budget. We have seen firsthand how it pays dividends for our economy, enhances our security and demonstrates the finest values of our nation. It’s not only the smart thing to do, but the right thing.
We share the concerns of so many Americans about how our tax dollars are being spent in Washington, and it’s important for us to ensure that every federal program is efficient, effective and provides a solid return on investment. Maine’s congressional delegation has shown a deep understanding of these issues, and it is our fervent hope all candidates seeking election locally as well as nationally fully appreciate that a better, safer, more prosperous world is good for Maine and for the nation.
Ambassador Peter Cianchette, vice president of business development at Cianbro, was the U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica (2008-2009). Adm. Gregory Johnson, U.S. Navy (Ret.), had a 36-year career in the Navy serving as a “sailor-statesman” throughout the world. His last assignment was commander U.S. Naval Forces Europe and commander in chief Allied Forces Southern Europe (2001-2004). Both are members of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Maine Advisory Committee.