WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 16:  U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference announcing Alexander Acosta as the new Labor Secretary nominee in the East Room at the White House on February 16, 2017 in Washington, DC. The announcement comes a day after Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Report: Massive cuts at State Department
02:20 - Source: CNN

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Letter signers include retired Gen. David Petraeus and retired Gen. James Stavridis

Generals say funding diplomacy and development is critical to keeping US safe

Washington CNN  — 

More than 120 retired generals and admirals signed a letter Monday pushing back on the White House’s proposal to make major cuts to diplomacy and development.

Retired Gen. David Petraeus, a former CIA director, and retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former NATO supreme allied commander, are among the former three- and four-star generals who wrote that State Department funding is “critical to keeping America safe.” They sent the letter to congressional leaders, two Cabinet officials and the White House national security adviser.

President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal would increase military spending by about $54 billion dollars, with administration officials telling CNN they would cut funding elsewhere by a similar amount this year, in large part by targeting the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department.

“The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way,” the generals wrote.

RELATED: Trump proposes $54 billion in cuts to ‘most federal agencies’

They went on to quote a 2013 remark by Defense Secretary James Mattis while commander of US Central Command: “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Foreign aid makes up about 1% of the federal budget and is seen by most military and foreign policy experts as an excellent investment in US national security interests.

“We know from our service in uniform that many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone – from confronting violent extremist groups like ISIS in the Middle East and North Africa to preventing pandemics like Ebola,” the generals wrote.

Congress is not mandated to follow Trump’s budget plan, and in the coming weeks committees are expected to call administration officials to Capitol Hill to explain their proposal. The generals are likely to make appearances as well, arguing against the dramatic cuts. 

The letter was organized by the Global Leadership Coalition, which backs investments in development and diplomacy alongside defense.

Correction: This story has been updated with the correct title for Adm. James Stavridis.