The Biden administration and Congress are making cybersecurity and emerging technology top priorities for the State Department.
To keep the department staffed and prepared to handle this expanded cyber diplomacy role, House and Senate Democrats are calling for a $12 billion increase in foreign affairs spending.
The Investing in 21st Century Diplomacy plan introduced this week by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Del.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ami Bera (D-Calif.) would increase current spending for State and the U.S. Agency for International Development by 20%.
The budget plan would help the State Department bring on 1,200 new Foreign Service officers, and would give State and USAID billions of dollars for their international health programs.
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That funding adds to the $10 billion both agencies received for international public health programming under the latest COVID relief package.
Murphy told reporters this week that the COVID-19 pandemic is just the “tip of the iceberg” of non-military threats with diplomatic solutions. Cybersecurity, misinformation and climate change, he added, are just a few of the global issues where increased diplomatic strength is needed.
President Joe Biden hasn’t set a timeline yet for his “skinny” budget proposal for fiscal 2022, but has outlined areas where his administration sees room for growth.
The Interim National Security Strategic Guidance the White House released earlier this month outlined cybersecurity as a top priority that requires both a diplomatic and military response from the federal government.
“There’s much acknowledgment inside the administration that it’s going to be hard for them to win battles abroad without new tools at the State Department and USAID,” Murphy said said Tuesday.
The Defense Department’s budget, however, far exceeds spending on foreign affairs.
“Right now, we’re spending 13 times as much money on the U.S. military and its budget than we are on diplomacy and development — smart power tools … there’s no way that you can make the argument that the military threats to the United States are 13 times more serious,” Murphy said.
The funding would also help counter some of the State Department’s workforce attrition under the Trump administration.
Lawmakers cited the American Foreign Service Association’s estimate that the State Department lost 60% of its career ambassadors in 2017 and 20% of its senior civil servants between September 2016 and September 2018. Lawmakers also said the career workforce in the Foreign Service and Civil Service have declined since 2017.
“We have fewer American diplomats abroad than we have members of U.S. military bands,” Van Hollen said.
Murphy said Chinese investment in international economic development “dwarfs” what the U.S. is spending, and last year China, for the first time, surpassed the U.S. in the number of diplomatic posts across the globe.
At a time when the Biden administration is considering ways to counter the cybersecurity and emerging tech threats posed by nation-state adversaries, Murphy said these investments only go so far without “dramatically plussing up our diplomatic and economic development toolkit around the world.”
Murphy recalled a meeting two years ago at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, where American diplomats discussed how China was dramatically staffing up its embassy in order to support the vendor Huawei in winning a 5G contract.
“Inside the American embassy, we had one military attaché with no specific expertise in technology, who was the sum total of our diplomatic effort to try to convince the Irish government and the Irish telecommunications industry to forsake a purchase of Huawei Chinese-subsidized technology,” Murphy said.
The State Department would lead an international conversation on 5G, under a bill led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-Texas).
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The Promoting U.S. International Leadership in 5G Act would require the department to develop a diplomatic strategy to increase engagement on 5G with allies and international standards organizations.
McCaul said the bill would also counter cybersecurity risks from China. The bill passed the House in the last session of Congress.
Murphy said he discussed the funding proposal with Chris Coons (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on State and foreign operations, as well as with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“We’re putting this document out right now in the hopes of impacting the decisions that the administration makes. I think there’s a lot of sympathetic voices out there, but this is a proposal that we hope will sort of lift their confidence in proposing an increase in their budget they submit to Congress,” Murphy said.
The Biden administration also has an opportunity to finalize the State Department’s work on standing up a Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies.
The State Department, under the Trump administration, told Congress it intended to create the bureau in 2019, but former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo approved the creation of the bureau only in the final days of the Trump presidency.
The Government Accountability Office, in a recent report, found the State Department hasn’t actually created the bureau yet, and that State hasn’t kept other cyber agencies in the loop with its plans for the bureau.
Meanwhile, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Cyber Diplomacy Act, which would require the State Department to stand up an Office of International Cyberspace Policy that would set diplomatic norms in cyberspace.
The committee also passed the State Department Authorization Act, which requires the department to develop a five-year staffing plan and provide detailed workforce data for the civil and foreign service.
Murphy also introduced a bill last week that would increase incentives to have diplomatic posts in vulnerable, dangerous areas.
“We should at least be able to have diplomats that are on the field, in fragile areas. The funding in this bill could certainly be used to reopen facilities in dangerous places. But we also have to have a paradigm shift at the State Department where there’s incentive structure to actually put diplomats in riskier positions,” Murphy said.
Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) introduced the Diplomatic Support and Security Act, a bill that to update the State Department’s review process for attacks on U.S. personnel or properties for the first time in 35 years.
The bill seeks to eliminate duplicate investigations already conducted by federal law enforcement officers at the State Department. Risch said the current process hampers the work of diplomats in conflict-ridden areas.