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The case for divorcing foreign aid from military support

Bill Easterly

Development expert and economist Bill Easterly, writing in The Guardian, argues that A firewall should be built between U.S. foreign aid and national security. Says Easterly:

US foreign aid programs should be for poverty relief and should not be taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building.

Easterly said the foreign aid budget was significantly increased under President George W. Bush and enjoyed wide bipartisan support in Congress until recently. So what happened to turn foreign aid into Congress’ favorite punching bag in the budget battle these days?

The answer is that the US aid program was taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) wound up in the most self-destructive position – the unsuccessful cover-up…. The resultant failures overshadowed notable successes in more traditional aid programmes like health. These disasters and the neglect of more feasible poverty relief failed to sustain the compassionate constituency evident earlier in the decade.

I’ve written about this issue several times before, when the Arab Spring came to Egypt and many of us learned how much of our “aid” to Egypt had been actually going for military equipment in support of the Mubarak dictatorship. Here was a story the next day in The Guardian noting the risk of mixing up defense and aid.

For comparison purposes, here’s a chart from GOOD comparing how much we spend on aid vs. the military.

Easterly says it’s clear most Americans want to help the poor overseas. He contends the only way we can rescue foreign aid is to disentangle it from our national security interests:

Compassionate American taxpayers continue to make private donations at a rate higher than any other nationality in the world. The bipartisan coalition that came together to increase aid in 2002 may be nearly extinct, but it could be resurrected by redirecting aid to where it has a decent chance of working. Aid will not get too many more chances.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.