Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began this year claiming, “The United States seeks a safer, more prosperous, more democratic and more equitable world.” Her words reflect the State Department’s emphasis on cooperation and diplomacy as a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. The 2011 foreign aid budget is nominally based on a “3D” approach to U.S. international engagement, comprising defense, diplomacy, and development—a trio that was present even in the Bush administration. The recently issued National Security Strategy describes the three Ds and the interrelationships among them in detail. Diplomacy is “the first line of engagement,” using engagement to build partnerships. Through defense, the administration seeks to win wars and deter threats to the United States. Development is vital, according to Secretary Clinton, because: “We cannot reach that goal when one-third of humankind live in conditions that offer them little chance of building better lives for themselves or their children.”
In theory, these three Ds mutually reinforce one another in this approach to foreign affairs. In practice, however, our foreign aid spending emphasizes defense at the expense of diplomacy and development, raising serious questions about the effectiveness of U.S. aid.
U.S. foreign affairs spending, classified in the budget as Function 150, includes funding for a wide variety of U.S. international activities, such as military assistance to allies, aid to developing nations, and contributions to international peacekeeping efforts. While foreign aid is a popular target of public concern about excessive federal spending, Function 150 and other international programs constitute only about one percent of the U.S. federal budget. Despite this already small percentage, President Obama’s proposed budget for foreign aid actually decreased from $67.39 billion in 2010 to $65.32 billion, but that was not the largest change.
The fuss over foreign aid spending belies the fact that the US foreign aid budget is overwhelmingly militarized, and apparently becoming more so under the Obama administration. Approximately one-fourth of next year’s proposed Function 150 budget is related to military spending. Non-proliferation, anti-terrorism, demining programs, and foreign military grants are some of the few international programs whose budget has increased. Foreign military grants are expected to increase a hefty 28.6% from last year, from $4.26 in 2010 to a high of $5.47 billion.
Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, traditional U.S. aid recipients, are cases in point. In 2010, Israel received $2.8 billion, Egypt $1.6 billion, and Jordan $692,950. Despite not being particularly impoverished, the countries are U.S. military allies, and this aid is largely spent for military purposes. Laura Freschi, Associate Director of New York University’s Development Research Institute, points out in an interview with the HPR that this reflects a pattern of “essentially ‘development’ spending on defense-driven priorities.” Because of this imbalance, she argues, “it is implausible to claim that the three Ds are equal, or that development is going to be ‘elevated’ to the same level as defense and diplomacy.”
The proposed 2011 budget applies this approach of using development and diplomacy to advance America’s military and economic interests in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The Economic Support Fund had a budget of $6.5 billion in 2010, of which 12.7% was designated for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. That trend is magnified in the 2011 budget request, in which Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq account for 73% of the funding increase and will receive 64% of the total budget.
Although the ESF’s stated purpose is to promote economic and political development, a large proportion of this funding supports military purposes. For example, most of the $2.5 billion earmarked for Iraq is aimed towards police training and transitioning from a military to a civilian framework. The Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, which funds counterterrorism training for the Pakistani military, was established this year with $1.2 billion. Funding for these three countries alone is one-fifth of the total Department of State and USAID budget.
By comparison, the State Department requested $1.3 billion in development assistance for all of Africa, which hosts most of the world’s poorest countries. Despite the State Department’s claim that diplomacy and development are the first lines of engagement, in 2010 it allocated $2.7 billion for development assistance altogether, compared to $5.3 billion for foreign military financing. Refugee assistance, contributions to international organizations, and diplomatic programs all took a funding cut. According to Freschi, in 2008, over 40% of U.S. official development assistance, which is nominally targeted at impoverished countries to promote economic development and poverty alleviation, was spent in six countries, of which only two were among the world’s very least developed countries.
The evident militarization in aid is partly due to a lack of clear development goals within the administration. This allows military and economic priorities that are more clearly defined to exert a stronger force on spending decisions. Greg Adams, the Director of Aid Effectiveness at Oxfam America, told the HPR that aid is not distributed to those who most need it because there is no clear, unified development goal from the Obama administration. “Without a plan, what are we trying to accomplish with development?” he asks. “No one knows the mission. We need the president to clarify.”
To this, Lawrence Garber, Acting Assistant to the Administrator for the Policy, Planning and Learning Bureau at State at USAID, responds that “USAID has existing structures that provide a basis for planning…We are reinforcing planning as an agency priority.” Moreover, he warns, “Dollar amounts should not be translated into a conclusion that one of the Ds is more or less important than the others.” But aid groups point not only to dollar figures, but also to the way development aid has been distributed. They argue that many State Department programs for the upcoming fiscal year are similar to Department of Defense programs, only under different oversight.
Eight non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan, including Oxfam, accused the U.S. in an open letter of using aid like a weapon. “Efforts to address the underlying causes of poverty and repair the destruction wrought by three decades of conflict and disorder are being sidelined. Development projects implemented… through military-dominated structures …are often poorly executed, inappropriate and do not have sufficient community involvement,” the organizations wrote. Garber defended this militarization of aid, asserting that “our military is playing a critical role in creating security conditions in which development can take place in both countries.”
The $65.32 billion question seems to be, are we compromising development and diplomacy for our clearly defined and heavily weighted defense goals? Even if, as Garber contends, we cannot translate them into a conclusion, the dollar amounts do strongly suggest that we are not spending a proportionate amount of our Function 150 budget on the world’s least developed countries.
The current administration seeks to move forward with its 3D strategy, but the distinction, connection, overlap, and conflicts between the three pillars of defense, diplomacy, and development need to be assessed. The emphasis on defense at the expense of development and diplomacy raises serious questions about whether American foreign aid can achieve its stated goals and whether America is most effectively promoting peace and stability throughout the world.