Foreign aid vital to US security
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the U.S. economy hard, with an estimated 3.5% decline in real GDP for 2020 (BEA, 2020). To mitigate some of the economic hardships, Congress enacted a $2.3 trillion spending package combining the Fiscal Year 2021 Omnibus Appropriations bill with approximately $900 billion in pandemic-related relief. Public frustrations have grown after delayed implementation and lower than expected relief.
One resonating question has been, why are we spending taxpayer funds on foreign assistance while we struggle economically at home? Foreign assistance is often viewed as government waste; however, in the bigger picture, foreign assistance is vital to U.S. economic and national security interests.
Fragile states pose a challenge to U.S. national security because of the potential growth of terrorism, rises in international crime, regional instability and the possibility of nuclear proliferation (Wyler, 2008). A purpose of foreign assistance is to create stable governance and development in fragile states to prevent the growth of terrorist organizations. Oxford economist Paul Collier found that typical low-income nations had a 14% chance a civil war developing over any five-year period (Collier, 2007). The threats from fragile states were brought to the forefront of U.S. policy after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when Al Qaeda was able to plan and operate in the failed state of Afghanistan.
Mass migration waves to the United States from Central America have resulted from socioeconomic and security concerns, exacerbated by natural disaster and poor governance (Meyer and Taft-Morales, 2019). Providing foreign assistance to fragile states can assist in mitigating conflicts that would have global implications.
Development abroad creates new markets for U.S. goods and services, expanding the overall economy. USAID found that over the past 10 years, about two-thirds of export growth from the United States was to nations that were major recipients of foreign assistance (USAID, 2018). In 2019, the United States appropriated just over $47 billion in foreign assistance with $33 billion in economic development and $14 billion for military assistance (USAID, 2020). That same year, the federal budget was about $4.4 trillion (CBO, 2020); foreign assistance was just over 1% of the federal budget. Negative public perceptions of foreign assistance have been linked to an overall belief that foreign assistance is a greater portion of the federal budget (Williamson, 2019).
During these difficult times, discretionary budgets have become more constrained and the population is struggling. While one can point to the funds being allocated to foreign assistance as potentially wasteful, these funds invest in U.S. economic and national security interests around the globe.
Foreign assistance invests in developing new markets for U.S. goods and services, stabilizing fragile states from becoming safe havens for terrorist organizations or mitigating mass migrations, and provide for the greater good of humanity. Benjamin Franklin coined the phrase, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” (Franklin, 1734); this proverb from one of our most famous founding fathers is applicable to foreign assistance. Supporting fragile states may prevent future security challenges for the United States while developing economic partners around the world.
Shawn Aaron Cagle
Shawn Cagle is a student at the National Defense University in Washington D.C.