Can't Buy Me Love- Foreign Aid
We've been asked to comment on foreign aid, and do we love requests! We are going to break this one up into at least two parts, please feel free to comment as the parts are published. Toni asked:
"Why are we (US) giving aid to any of these countries in the first place? ... I don't 'get it' as to why the US should be providing my tax dollars to foreign countries. Especially when I read about the anti American sentiment in some of these countries."
The short answer is that we give foreign aid in effort to buy goodwill, most of the time, or to support a regime that is balancing or causing trouble for another regime. Of course we also give genuine aid to alleviate human suffering, but clearly those cases are not our first priorities.
The longer answer starts with a memory of mine. When I was still in training for the Foreign Service a retired Ambassador gave my class the best advice I've received in this job. He said "always remember a country exists to serve it's own best interests." I know that sounds like it should be common sense, but sometimes you just have to stop and remind your self of that, even when it is your own country.
In pure dollars the U.S. is the largest donor of foreign aid in the world. In 2003 the U.S. gave over $15 billion as measured by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). As a percentage of GNP, however, the U.S. ranks far down in the list of donors at number 21. That same $15 billion was .14% of the GNP in 2003. Norway, giving just over $2 billion in aid was the leading donor by percentage of GNP at .92% in 2003. This has prompted many (especially outside the U.S.) to say that the America should do more. A large number of polls, however, (search Foreign Aid here) indicate many Americans both overestimate the amount of aid we give as a percentage of GNP and feel that the amount is too large.
For the best possible overview of current Foreign aid spending we suggest reading Foreign Aid: An Introductory Overview of U.S. Programs and Policy by the Congressional Research Service, the Library of Congress. This is an excellent, up to date (Fiscal Year 2004) document that will answer many of your questions. It is not overly long (35 pages) and not too technical/dry. This paper breaks down who receives the most (Israel, historically) and how the monies are divided, dispursed and spent
Now for the real question- what do we get out of this, and should we give to countries that exhibit flagrant anti-Americanism? Opinions on this are predictably varied. We are all too aware of the aid monies or goods that end up in the hands of tyrants or warlords (see Somalia or Haiti). But what about when the aid gets through? We'll tackle this in part two, but here is a hint. I (Dr. Demarche) am not convinced that the aid we give is having the effect we want.