The news that President Trump’s former national security advisor lied about discussions with the Russians was the latest sign of dishonesty in the highest ranks of the administration. Far more lasting for our national security, however, will be the legacy of our potentially soon to be departing Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who has enthusiastically dismantled our diplomatic corps at a time when we face growing foreign policy threats.

With a rogue North Korean dictator launching missiles, wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and an emboldened Russia that seeks to dismantle NATO and interfere in western elections, one would think that the U.S. needs both hard and soft power tools to combat these strategic challenges. Yet, rather than try to complement military use with effective diplomacy, the Trump administration has instead sought to increase military spending by an amount greater than the entire budget of the State Department. Simultaneously Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson have encouraged the departure of hundreds of seasoned foreign hands, leaving key positions unfilled, and diminishing morale among State Department employees.

Particularly concerning are cuts to State Department programs responsible for humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and economic development, which total about $6.6 billion. The Trump administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget—released earlier this year—requested a 29 percent cut to State Department funding, with climate change initiatives, foreign aid spending, and United Nations contributions among the most severe budgetary reductions. The proposed budget called for slashing funding for the World Bank, which sponsors crucial anti-poverty initiatives, as well as for critical cultural exchange programs such as the Fulbright Program, which enables recent college graduates to study, teach, and conduct research abroad.

While a number of these cuts were rejected by Republicans and Democrats in Congress, they represent a troubling lack of interest in confronting pressing challenges. Cuts to climate change programs reveal a denial of science; slashing foreign aid spending impedes effective responses to refugee crises and global pandemics; and reductions in U.N. contributions hinder global peacekeeping, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism efforts.

Equally troubling is the absence of many senior level State Department officials. Only ten of the top 44 State Department political appointees have been confirmed, and for most of these vacancies, the president has not nominated anyone. The number of officials with the department’s top two ranks of career ambassador and career minister—equivalent to three and four star generals—were cut in half last Friday from 39 to 19. Of the 431 minister-counselors who have two-star equivalent ranks, only 369 remain, which is an 18 percent drop.

Such vacancies are particularly alarming in light of current events. Despite the civil war in Syria and increasing concerns over a possible conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, there is no confirmed assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs or ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, or Qatar. While Zimbabwe confronts an uncertain future following Robert Mugabe’s departure, the department lacks a confirmed assistant secretary for African affairs, as well as an ambassador to neighboring South Africa. And even with the ongoing North Korean threat, Mr. Trump has yet to formally appoint an ambassador to South Korea.  

Draconian budget cuts and unwillingness to fill critical State Department positions have led to the dismantling of the Foreign Service, whose officers in nearly 300 embassies and consulates aid American citizens abroad, help American companies navigate barriers to trade and investment, coordinate counterterrorism programs, and manage development and humanitarian aid to countries in conflict zones. Mr. Tillerson’s recent decision to downsize the Foreign Service by eight percent is misguided. Given that the Foreign Service is a fraction of the military’s size, and that officers are already strained in tackling the myriad global challenges the U.S. faces, such a reduction makes little sense.

Proponents of the State Department’s evisceration might claim that the U.S. is combating challenges more effectively than over the previous eight years. In a statement last month, Vice-President Mike Pence said, “President Trump is achieving real results on the international stage,” citing the fact that “ISIS is on the run” and “North Korea is isolated like never before.”

Yet, ISIS’ defeat is largely due to strategic and military successes from the Obama administration, and if the U.S. hopes to prevent marginalization and corruption from radicalizing youth and creating a power vacuum that can be filled by terrorists, then a well-funded State Department is essential. Additionally, North Korean sanctions were due in large part to Nikki Haley’s tireless work as U.N. ambassador and cooperation from fellow U.N. Security Council members, all the more reason to adequately fund the U.N.

Even members of Trump’s administration have endorsed the need for a strong State Department. As his Secretary of Defense and former four-star general James Mattis famously said, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

A strong military is necessary for a superpower like the U.S. and can provide crucial leverage at the negotiating table. Yet military might alone cannot compel competing actors to forge durable political solutions to end bloody wars, or enable partners to strengthen institutions to prevent corruption and ensure adherence to the rule of law.

From the formation of NATO and valuable economic institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Richard Nixon’s historic 1972 opening with China, and Jimmy Carter’s deft management of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty that ended a 40-year conflict, many of America’s greatest foreign policy successes have been won at the negotiating table. The impressive negotiations that facilitated the collapse of the Soviet Union and reunification of Germany, as well as the negotiation of the Iran Nuclear Agreement show the transformative results of American diplomacy.

It is a welcome sign to see bipartisan Congressional opposition to the marginalization of the State Department. With upcoming battles over funding the government, Congress must continue to urge the administration to adequately fund diplomatic resources that critically complement America’s military strength. Only with a fully-utilized diplomatic corps can the U.S. continue to play a vigorous global leadership role and promote a rules-based international order that has maintained global stability for over 70 years.

Max Labaton is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.