Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama's top cabinet members stressed Tuesday that devoting money and resources to overseas diplomacy and development is essential to U.S. national security.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner agreed that in addition to a military approach, a strong focus on development would reap many benefits for the U.S.
Clinton said that President Barak Obama's development policy depends on a three-pronged approach to meet national security objectives, including non-military tools.
"Development is an integral part of America's national security policy, and it is part of an integrated approach that includes development, diplomacy and defense," said Clinton.
Gates said that investment in overseas development could help create conditions that might require fewer U.S. troops abroad.
"Development produces stability and contributes to better governance," Gates said.
If U.S. foreign aid policies are crafted and executed "in a focused and sustainable way," Gates said, "then it may be unnecessary for us to send soldiers. Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers."
Geithner agreed with Clinton and Gates, and said U.S. officials need to do a better job of making the case to the American people why their taxpayer money should be sent overseas, given 10 percent unemployment and one in eight Americans is on food stamps.
"We have no credible strategy for making a case this is a reasonably effective use of scarce resources unless we can explain that they are going to be going to things that make a difference for this cause," Geithner said.
Geithner stressed global development is cost-effective, and that helping developing nations grow "makes an enormous difference" in helping the U.S. economy.
The secretaries made their remarks while participating in a round-table discussion organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.
Critics claim that the U.S. has provided nearly $2 trillion in foreign aid over 50 years, with mixed results due to instances of corruption, mismanagement, and investment in projects bearing minimal fruit.
Clinton admitted the U.S. has a "less than perfect track record," and that "accountability starts at home."
"We spend a lot of money doing things that are not rooted in evidence," she said.
"We are ramping up monitoring and evaluation to make sure that we can be very clear in telling the Congress and the American taxpayers that these investments are in America's interest," said Clinton.