Since Cameroon, Harmattan has gone through an identity crisis that mirrors changes in my personal, academic and professional life. I’ve given much thought on how to reflect the current “Vanessa-lens”: a fiesty 26-year old Washingtonian female with keen international awareness. Well, I thought for so long that I stopped writing. Upon friendly encouragement, I’m over that. I’m digging right back in and we’ll see where this all takes us.
Budget discussions strike an emotional cord for many Americans. Age old debates on cutting programs to create room for economic growth encircle media outlets, dinner tables and policy meetings. For the moment, I won’t take a stand on healthcare, the deficit, education or jobs. Not that I don’t care about these extremely important issues, but would instead like to focus on a topic that I have more experience on - Foreign Aid.
A NYT article today draws attention to the massive budget cut proposed for U.S. foriegn assistance. The slash in funds could have a debilitating impact on State, USAID and other respective agencies programmatic ability to affect change abroad.
There has been for too long an assumption that American assistance abroad severely impedes our government’s ability to deliver services and emergency relief at home. A recent poll by the University of Maryland suggests that an overwhelming number of Americans believe that foriegn assistance accounts for 25% of the budget. In reality, foreign assistance comprises 1% of the US budget. One percent. As Mercy Corps Director Of Policy explains, “The budget impact is negligible. The impact around the world is enormous.” Operationally speaking, budget money earmarked for foreign aid does not have a sizeable impact on domestic government functionability. To what purpose does cutting the foreign aid budget serve then?
Well it is certainly not for ensuring national security. Let’s look at the World Bank World Development Report for 2011. In a telling sign, this year the WDR focuses on Conflict, Stability and Development. Main point: Fragility and liklihood of violent conflict in a country directly correlates with poverty. States with violent conflict contain a host of security risks — terrorism, drug and weapon trafficking to name a few — for the United States. Foriegn assistance is one of our only vehicles to encourage development abroad through programs that both target instability (security sector reform, conflict resolution, governance) and poverty (education, development, reconstruction).
In the words of former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, “Where possible, what the military calls kinetic operations should be subordinated to measures aimed at promoting better governance, economic programs that spur development, and efforts to address the grievances among the discontented, from whom the terrorists recruit.” -2009