Global Development vs. War on Terror?
Friends Committee on National
Legislation, March 2004
"Poverty does not make poor people
into terrorists and murderers. Yet poverty, weak institutions,
and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks
and drug cartels within their borders."
U.S. National Security Strategy, September
Since September 11, foreign aid has received
new attention from both the White House and Congress. As the Bush
Administration noted in its 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS),
"The events of September 11, 2001, taught us that weak states,
like Afghanistan, can pose as great a danger to our national interests
as strong states." Many in Congress who have previously opposed
development assistance beyond the view of "welfare for the
world's poor" and weighing the role of nonmilitary international
assistance as a potential instrument for reducing anti-U.S. sentiment
and promoting national security. New White House initiatives calling
for increased funding to address the HIV/AIDS crisis and provide
development assistance to countries that meet criteria for good
governance, open markets, and fiscal discipline have also drawn
This renewed interest in foreign aid is
welcome. For years, humanitarian, development, and religious organizations
have struggled to gain attention and increased resources to address
the enormous unmet human needs worldwide. Despite some major advances
in the developing world over the past three decades-life expectancy
increased by eight years and illiteracy fell by nearly 25%-recent
years have brought serious setbacks. According to the 2003 UN
Human Development Report, 54 countries are poorer now than in
1990; 21 have a larger portion of people going hungry; 14 have
higher infant mortality rates; 12 have seen decreases in primary
school enrollment; and 34 now show falling life expectancy. Worldwide,
one in five people on earth-over 1.2 billion-continue to survive
on less than $1 a day.
Despite its wealth and economic power,
the U.S. has not led in assisting the neediest. While the U.S.
provides significant military and economic aid to key allies (Israel
received $2.7 billion for FY04 and Egypt $2.2 billion), humanitarian
and development aid has seen a steady decline over the years.
The U.S. continues to rank last among developed nations in official
development assistance, giving only 0.12% of GNP.
Unfortunately, the U.S.'s post-September
11 approach to foreign aid may do little to reverse these trends
and could instead exacerbate global tensions. A central feature
of the President's $21.3 billion foreign operations request for
2005 would provide big rewards for countries that have cooperated
in the "war on terror." According to the State Department,
around a quarter of the request-$5.7 billion-is slated for counter-terrorism,
military, and other economic aid to "coalition partners that
have joined us in the war on terrorism."
Other big ticket items include the President's
HIV/AIDS Initiative ($2.8 billion) and the Millennium Challenge
Corporation (MCC) ($2.5 billion). While both these programs are
important steps toward increasing U.S. humanitarian and development
assistance, the White House has yet to match its funding requests
with its stated intentions. The President promised to spend $15
billion over five years on HIV/AIDS programs and to provide $10
billion in new aid for countries that meet U.S. standards of good
governance and free markets through MCC. Thus far, funding requests
for both programs are running significantly behind.
While the U.S. has increased its bilateral
assistance on HIV/AIDS, it has reduced its contributions to the
Global Fund for AIDS, coordinated through the UN. A number of
humanitarian and development organizations also have expressed
concerns that the Bush Administration is pushing abstinence through
its programs to the detriment of implementing effective prevention
and treatment for HIV/AIDS.
Designed on a corporate model, MCC appears
to be more focused on promoting U.S. standards of democracy and
free markets than on meeting the actual development needs of recipient
countries. Restricting aid to only those countries that meet U.S.
criteria will do little to help the poorest countries, those with
corrupt or failing governments, and societies caught in cycles
of conflict. Moreover, with more than half the President's foreign
operations request going to these three areas the "war on
terror," HIV/AIDS, and MCC-little is left for other critical
aid programs. Most relief and development programs, from child
survival and health funding to basic education aid to refugee
assistance, face cuts under the President's FY2005 budget proposal.
Ultimately, the Administration's current
laser focus on terrorism and U.S. national security is a poor
staffing point for providing effective humanitarian and development
aid. The lens of U.S. national security also does not assure adequate
focus on the countries in greatest need or the problems that are
affecting the majority of the world.
Using foreign aid purely as an instrument
for promoting U.S. national security ignores the basic moral responsibility
of the developed world to help reduce poverty. It also ignores
the need to direct assistance in a way that can help prevent violent
conflict locally and globally, not just against the U.S. And it
does nothing to address U.S. policies that continue to undermine
global development, such as trade barriers that cost developing
countries far more than the assistance they receive or continued
military aid to governments that do not respect human rights but
are cooperating in the U.S. "war on terror."
As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has
"Infact, to many people in the world
today, especially in poor countries, the risk of being attacked
by terrorists or with weapons of mass destruction, or even of
falling prey to genocide, must seem relatively remote compared
to the so-called 'soft' threats-the ever-present dangers of extreme
poverty and hunger, unsafe drinking water, environmental degradation
and endemic or infectious disease. Let's not imagine that these
things are unconnected with peace and security, or that we can
afford to ignore them until the 'hard threats' have been sorted
out. We should have learned by now that a world of glaring inequality-
between countries and within them-where many millions of people
endure brutal oppression and extreme misery is never going to
be a fully safe world, even for its most privileged inhabitants."