Foreign Aid:
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 2002


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 attention.

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 explained:

"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."

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