Monday, April 18, 2011

"What is Foreign Aid for?"

Paul Miller, one of the contributors to the Shadow Government blog on Foreign Policy’s website, wrote an interesting piece on foreign aid a couple months ago. As aid has come under fire, Miller rejects the argument that aid is merely a handout from rich to poor. In the current economic climate, questions have arisen over the effectiveness of U.S. aid. But what is aid supposed to accomplish?
Miller explains the two general perspectives on aid – national bribery and charity – and proposes a third: strategic investment, in which “foreign aid helps countries whose interests align with our own [to] increase their capacities. The United States gives money to help select countries -- not the entire world -- improve specific abilities, like their ability to provide public security, defend their borders, or buy and sell goods.”
This is a more realistic view of aid, and Miller gives the example of the Marshall Plan, which was in part an act of charity but also a strategic investment to improve European stability and attempt to prevent the spread of communism. The Plan also helped Europe become a strong trading partner.
Miller argues that the strategic investment view of foreign aid would help protect it from major budget cuts proposed by Republicans. He says: “Aid is hard power. It is a weapon the United States uses to strengthen allies and, thus, ourselves.” On the other hand, this realistic view of aid “would also help save it from the kind of limitless, grandiose visions Democrats sometimes seem to have for it.” Miller had hoped this view would be incorporated into Secretary Clinton’s QDDR, but argues that it did not seem to offer a framework of prioritizing among U.S.  aid.  
However, Secretary Clinton does touch on this in the article we're reading for this week. She says “it is important to acknowledge that although the world’s problems are vast, the United States’ resources are not. As stewards of American taxpayer dollars, the State Department and USAID must be strategic in pursuing the most critical needs and in making decisions based on hard evidence to ensure that investments deliver results.” She talks about targeting countries with responsible governments and favorable conditions for development.
Bringing this back to public diplomacy, foreign aid is a hard power resource that can boost the image and soft power of the U.S. abroad. Development can be closely tied to diplomatic efforts to make the two “coordinated, complementary, and mutually reinforcing.” In addition, aid is not just charitable, but strategic as well.

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