Friday, February 13, 2009

The Web of Aid in Relation to U.S. Diplomacy

Speaking about the role that foreign aid and development plays in U.S. diplomacy and how the U.S. is viewed around the world, I would like to highlight an article I recently co-wrote for's online magazine, Perspectives. Here are some excerpts:

 “Governments are one of the primary sources of foreign assistance. Developed countries such as the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, and members of the European Union employ thousands of people in their efforts to plan, coordinate, and sometimes even deliver assistance to communities where it is needed. The United States is the largest provider of aid, spreading some $22 billion around the world in 2007, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But when measured as a percentage of a country's total income, or GNI, every other developed country except Greece provides more foreign assistance than the United States. Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Denmark all commit close to 1 percent of their GNI to foreign assistance. The United States only committed 0.18 percent of its national income in 2007, according to Oxfam, a privately funded, international relief and development organization.”

“Foreign aid has never been a top priority for U.S. budget negotiators, when compared with funding for domestic programs. The foreign assistance budget was approximately $35 billion in 2007, or a little more than 1 percent of the total federal budget, according to the U.S. State Department, which administers foreign aid programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In comparison, the United States military budget for 2008 was more than $700 billion, according to nonprofit advocacy group Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.”

“Traditionally, U.S. foreign assistance is aimed at supporting national security and promoting economic growth, poverty reduction, and humanitarian relief abroad. Foreign assistance is generally considered an aspect of U.S. foreign policy, so resources often target those nations where policymakers believe the resources will be used to strengthen U.S. security. This may not always include the world's neediest nations. (See "Foreign Assistance: Why Countries Help Others" for more on the motivations behind assistance programs.)”

Thinking about this information, one most truly wonder, as Rebecca touched on in her post, why isn’t aid for development provided for development’s sake? Could this not be used as a diplomacy tool to improve the U.S.’s image abroad? Why does development have to be tied solely to U.S. national security?

It is encouraging that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is promising to strengthen USAID and U.S. foreign aid and development programs, as reported in this Reuters report, yet national security still seems to be the only reason for doing so. This is what Secretary Clinton said on her first visit to USAID:

“I wanted to come here today with a very simple message: I believe in development and I believe with all my heart that it truly is an equal partner, along with defense and diplomacy, in the furtherance of America's national security.”

1 comment:

  1. I actually read that some time ago—not the article, but the fact that, while the U.S. provides the most in foreign aid, it is one of the smallest percentages of GNI. It did not surprise me either. Honestly, I do not think that will change soon either. The defense budget is always going to be high in the U.S., and until we can solve the problem or terrorism, which won’t be any time soon, it will continue to be. So, we cannot pull too much money from there to throw into development. Also, with the economy in the shape that it’s in, the U.S. cannot afford to throw too much money overseas without solving its own problems first. This may sound cruel—although I don’t really care because it’s just the way I feel—we have to take care of our own first before we start worrying about the less fortunate in other countries. If we don’t, then in a few years, we definitely won’t be able to give any foreign aid because we won’t even have enough money to run our own country. Even now, the U.S. could provide a lot more in foreign aid, but we spend too much providing for illegal aliens. If the U.S. could find and deport all the people who are in our country illegally, that would free up billions of dollars. Moreover, I also think it is a slightly unfair comparison to say that the U.S. only commits 0.18 percent of its GNI while countries like those mentioned commit close to 1 percent. I respect that, but I have to wonder whether all forms of U.S. foreign aid are factored into that 0.18 percent, or whether it is only money. The U.S. provides more than just money—like military support for instance. In summation, I think that the U.S. should provide more in foreign aid toward development—“To whom much is given, much is expected” (not to mention the piece of wisdom from Spiderman’s uncle, “With great power comes great responsibility”). However, under no circumstance—at least not one that I have thought of as of yet—should the U.S. increase its amount of foreign aid before first dealing with its problems at home.