Information and stories on foreign aid.

female democratic policyThe Democratic 2020 Presidential candidate race is well and truly underway. The Democratic Party recently announced that the Democratic National Convention will be held in July 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Currently, the number of declared candidacies for the Democratic Party stands at more than 200 with Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar being some of the critical players in this field. Here are brief summaries of what has defined these female democratic presidential candidates’ foreign policy agendas so far in their career, and what they have identified as key parts of their presidential campaigns.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren has been a long time supporter of foreign aid with a platform on trade that focuses primarily on re-investing power in the American Middle Class. Subsequently, she is an advocate for anti-corruption measures and cracking down on multinational corporations that prioritize profits over workers.

Furthermore, she has expressed caution about the U.S.’ trade position with China due to the alleged human rights abuses, contending that China upholds no pretense of democracy regardless of its seemingly capitalist motives. She argues that the domestic agenda should not be considered “as separate from our foreign policy” and that creating strong alliances will help ordinary Americans. Foreign policy must be used to address humanitarian crises and boost democracies worldwide.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris’ foreign policy approach has been shaped by her career as a federal prosecutor. She has identified ending human trafficking, fighting climate change and reducing terrorism among her key foreign policy stances. She is a supporter of ‘smart diplomacy,’ which includes the cracking down on international criminal organizations.

She favors creating a multilateral approach to address global climate change and, subsequently, opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership on account of it ‘invalidating’ California’s landmark environmental laws. Although she holds a similar stance to Warren on many issues, she has does not support tariffs on China due to the impact on California’s technology industry. She has not joined her colleagues Gillibrand and Warren in condemning cuts to Palestinian; however, she did join them in condemning the funding cuts to refugee programs.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Kirsten Gillibrand is a longtime fighter for both women in developing countries and women in the U.S., which has become a key part of her presidential platform. She co-sponsored the Women, Peace and Security Act of 2013, supporting the integration of gender into U.S. Foreign Policy.

She initially co-sponsored the Anti-Israel Boycott Act but withdrew her support several months later in 2017. Similar to Warren, she has supported using U.S. trade authority to discipline nations over the use of military force and, subsequently, she opposes U.S. collaboration with Saudi Arabia due to its role in the Yemen Humanitarian Crisis.

Gillibrand’s foreign policy statements outside of gender have focused on the protection of U.S. industries against unfair competition. Specifically, she has led the fight for U.S. steel manufacturers and fought back against cheap imports that harm U.S. producers of both primary and secondary products.

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar has identified a long list of campaign issues on foreign policy centered around advancing American National Security. She is a supporter of foreign aid and the tradition of the U.S. in providing humanitarian assistance, helping to “address refugee crises, preventing radicalization, and promoting stability around the world.”

She has supported sanctions against Iran and North Korea and voted in favor of the Anti-Israel Boycott Bill, which is against the U.N. resolution requesting that states refuse to do business with contractors that engage in business with Israel. She has specifically outlined support for strengthening trade links within North America and with Cuba as part of her foreign policy outlook with the aim of advancing regional interests and investment and strengthening the U.S. position in the global economy. She has favored maintaining a strong military presence more so than several of her female democratic contenders.

Although these candidates, the leading four female Democrats in the race, hold largely similar positions on foreign policy and global trade, there are subtle differences demonstrated by the range of issues they have vocally discussed and highlighted. They are all supporters of foreign aid and all sit largely within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. However, it is likely that as the race gets further underway, these female democratic presidential candidates’ foreign policy agendas will become more distinct.

Holly Barsham

Photo: Flickr

Department of State
The Department of State (DOS) is an executive office that is responsible for international relations. It serves as an advisory role to the President and represents the United States at the United Nations. But, there’s much more to it than just negotiating foreign treaties and running embassies. Here are 10 cool facts about the State Department.

10 Cool Facts About the State Department

  1. The Department of State is the keeper of the Great Seal of the United States. The seal is kept securely under lock and key in a glass enclosure in the Department’s Exhibit Hall. It can be used only with the permission of the Secretary of State. Over the years, the DOS has placed the Great Seal on display for the public, the first time being in 1955.
  2. The DOS has its own Diplomatic Motor Vehicle Office for foreign missions. This office works under the 1978 Diplomatic Relations Act and can issue registrations for foreign diplomats who have immunity in the United States. It also issues license plates, insurance and driver’s licenses.
  3. The State Department sponsors the Fulbright Program. Fulbright was established in 1946 and has had more than 250,000 participants since. The program’s mission is to create opportunities for better interactions and understanding between Americans and people of other nations. This is achieved by providing scholarships to American scholars who are seeking to study, teach or conduct research abroad and to foreign scholars who want to do the same in the United States.
  4. The Department of State as a top entry-level employer. With 1,000 job openings in 2019, the Department of State also offers remote internships called eInternships through the Virtual Student Federal Service program. The positions are open to part-time and full-time undergraduate and graduate students. All majors and backgrounds are encouraged to apply. In 2019, there have already been more than 125 internships offered through many different departments of the DOS, bringing new projects each year for students to participate in. The jobs vary from data visualization and infographic design to English-Spanish translations for the National Archives. The eInternships run from September through May; they are unpaid, part-time and some offer college credit as well as a variety of other benefits.
  5. The Department of State gives Linguist of the Year awards. The recipient of this award is an employee of the Foreign or Civil Service who has achieved a high level of knowledge of one or more foreign languages and who has demonstrated the ability to use that language to further U.S. diplomacy. The award comes with a $10,000 cash prize.
  6. The Department of State houses the Diplomatic Reception Rooms in Washington, D.C. In those rooms, the Secretary of State receives important guests. One historically important and cool fact is that the John Quincy Adams State Drawing Room is home to the desk upon which the Treaty of Paris 1783 was signed, ending the Revolutionary War. The rooms also contain one of the United States’ most rare collections of fine and decorative arts, which have a value of more than $100 million.
  7. The State Department collaborates with USAID. Even though USAID is not part of the government, the DOS has provided USAID with guidance on foreign policy since 1961. The DOS makes sure that foreign aid is distributed according to U.S. policy standards.
  8. The Department of State employs diplomatic couriers. This job requires nearly constant travel in order to escort and deliver diplomatic pouches with classified material between the Department of State and its foreign missions. Diplomatic couriers are covered under the Vienna Convention as they work under international treaties. They spend more than 75 percent of their work time in international or domestic travel. Peter Parker was the first man to be commissioned as a diplomatic courier in 1776. However, it wasn’t until World War I that the DOS started hiring couriers regularly. Today it employs approximately 100 diplomatic couriers.
  9. The Department of State is leading the Global Connect Initiative. Announced at the United Nations in 2015, the initiative aims to provide 1.5 billion people with internet access by 2020. Global Connect stresses the importance of internet access in economic development because it facilitates investment and creates jobs.
  10. The Department of State provides travel advisories with the possibility to sign up for travel alerts. The Bureau of Consular Affairs monitors safety around the world and issues warnings about security levels. Upon registration, people can receive notifications via e-mail or on an app on their phones. The website offers travel advice for people from all walks of life to ensure safety and well-being.

The State Department is responsible for the United States’ foreign policy and international relations. It operates in the United States and in its missions based in other countries. Despite its serious and global role, the State Department does some cool things. These 10 cool facts about the State Department show that it is about more than just policies; it offers adventurous careers, scholarships and awards and even lessons on the United State’s art history.

– Ewa Devaux
Photo: Google

U.S. Benefits From Foreign Aid to Gabon
As the United States faces potential cuts to its foreign aid budget, it is important to recognize that the relationship between the United States and any country receiving aid is not a one-way transaction. The benefits reaped by both countries outweigh any costs. The many ways the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Gabon is one such example. With a diplomatic friendship stretching back 58 years, the U.S. assists Gabon with funds that power humanitarian programs. These programs fight poverty, human trafficking and disease in Gabon. In return, the U.S. has gained a stable trading partner and international ally.   

The Partnership Between the U.S. and Gabon

When Gabon gained independence from France in 1960, U.S.-Gabon relations grew quickly. During the cold war era, Gabon was an ally of the West and has always sought to remain close with U.S. leaders, no matter who occupies the Oval Office. Gabon’s large oil reserves have received investments from U.S. presidential administrations, starting with Nixon and going all the way to the Obama administration. Gabon’s oil industry has been key to the development of strong trade partnerships with the U.S.

As reported in 2018, the U.S. had been importing about 30,000 barrels of crude oil from Gabon daily.  However, it isn’t all about oil; Gabon is ranked 134 as the U.S.’ largest goods trading partner. In 2016, there was a total of $192 million in goods traded. The U.S. exported a total of $89 million in goods to Gabon, and in return, imported $199 million in Gabonese products, clearly showing that the trading benefits alone outweigh any foreign aid costs.

The main products being imported from Gabon include mineral fuels, wood products and rubber while the U.S. mainly exports poultry products, beef products, cotton and sweeteners. While there is a certain amount of trade occurring between both nations, the number of goods being exchanged could be improved substantially by an increase in the amount of aid that Gabon is receiving from America. As more trading occurs as a result of Gabon’s ongoing development, the more the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Gabon.    

The Rainforest

The two countries also cooperate to spearhead conservation efforts that seek to protect the country’s rainforest from deforestation and poaching. As a central African nation, Gabon part of the second largest rainforest in the world: the Congo Basin. The Congo Basin’s many natural resources provide food and shelter to more than 60 million of its inhabitants. Land in this area creates many viable, renewable products that have long reinforced a strong trading partnership with the U.S.

The United States Agency for International Development, (USAID), has employed an initiative called the Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) in Gabon and six other nations in the Congo Basin: the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Republic of the Congo.

The program seeks to bolster conservation efforts in these six countries as they battle poaching and deforestation while, at the same time, trying to improve responsible land management in the Congo Basin. CARPE works with communities and governments and nonprofits in these central African nations to speed up the transition from developing states to financially and politically secure democracies. It provides funding to ensure that the region’s rich, biodiverse habitat is preserved and that the transition from developing nation to developed nation is accompanied by low emissions and environmentally conscious economic strategies.  

Looking Ahead

Looking to the future, it is clear that the relationship between the U.S. and Gabon is beneficial for both countries. The ways that the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Gabon will only be strengthened as Gabon continues to develop, bolstered by USAID through programs such as CARPE. The 58-year relationship between the two countries serves as an example of the mutually beneficial results of foreign aid. 

Jason Crosby
Photo: Flickr

New U.S. Africa Strategy
The National Security Advisor for the Trump Administration, John Bolton, unveiled the new strategy for the U.S. aid and investment in Africa in a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. During the speech, Bolton outlined what the new U.S. Africa strategy will look like. It has three main focuses: advancing U.S. trade and commercial ties, countering Islamic terrorism and making sure that U.S. dollars are used efficiently and effectively. In the text below, the three main objectives of the new U.S. Africa Strategy are presented.

Advancing US Trade and Commercial Ties

Bolton stated in his speech that the United States plans on providing assistance to “key countries” and strategic objectives, with U.S. economic interests at the forefront of any aid given, unlike previous administrations, whose objectives in providing aid were focused on sustainable growth for African countries. In order to achieve this goal, the U.S. plans on enacting a new initiative called “Prosper Africa.” This initiative will focus on growing the African middle class, improving the business climate in the region, and supporting U.S. investments. No details on how the initiative will be implemented were given.

Countering Islamic Terrorism

The second objective of the new U.S. Africa strategy is to counter Islamic terrorism in Africa. Bolton highlighted three nations specifically: Mali, Libya and Sudan, where Al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates have taken hold. Rather than giving money or aid directly to fighting the radical groups that have taken hold in these and other nations in Africa, the new plan will focus on strengthening the economies of African nations. This will allow African nations to be more self-sufficient and will make them better prepared to address a range of security threats, including terrorism.

The goal of the Trump administration in the new U.S. Africa strategy is to help African nations become more self-sufficient and better able to take ownership of the security of the region. This strategy is closely aligned with the Department of Defense’s plans to reduce troop presence in Africa by 10 percent.

Efficient and Effective

In his speech, Bolton stated that the new U.S. Africa strategy will revisit the foundational principles of the Marshall Plan. Enacted in 1948 after World War II, The Marshall Plan was an American initiative to give aid to and help rebuild Western Europe. It legitimized U.S. foreign aid programs and opened markets for American goods. One way in which the Trump administration plans on making sure U.S. dollars are being used effectively and sticking to the principles of the Marshall Plan is by bypassing the United Nations. Coincidentally, the government will also reevaluate its support of U.N. peacekeeping missions.

What this Means for Africa

The economic focus of the new strategy has the potential to improve conditions in Africa. Under the new U.S. Africa strategy, United States aid must be invested in health and education, transparent governance and follow the rule of law. If these tenets are followed, the strategy may help African nations to become more self-sufficient and therefore better equipped to handle their own security issues.

Unfortunately, Bolton provided few details as to how the government plans on making sure the tenets are upheld. More information and examples of how the U.S. Africa strategy is to be enacted are needed to know if the new Africa strategy will be beneficial to all African nations.

– Peter Zimmerman
Photo: Google

government shutdownAs the current government shutdown stretches into day 21, the effects are starting to show. But, the effects of the current shutdown aren’t just being felt at home. The cuts to funding for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been felt around the world. Here is the cost of the government shutdown on foreign aid.

Who is Affected By the Shutdown?

The partial shutdown began on December 22 when Congress and the President were unable to come to an agreement on funding for Trump’s border wall. Since then, it has affected multiple federal departments including Agriculture, Homeland Security, Interior, State and USAID. More than 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or forced to work without pay, and the effects have been far-reaching. National parks have been shut down, airline travel has been strained and immigration courts have been backlogged.

USAID, which was created by President Kennedy in the 1960s, began as a way to lead international development and humanitarian services. Due to the cuts from the shutdown, about half of the agency’s employees have been furloughed, making it hard for the agency to continue operations. Previously funded projects and NGOs will continue to operate, but no new funding will be started or given. Furthermore, interaction and oversight from the department have steeply declined, decreasing the effectiveness of all programs.

Foreign Affairs

U.S. foreign development and affairs are not the only areas being impacted. The State Department has been affected by the shutdown as well. The State Department represents the government in foreign affairs, and many of its 75,000 employees work overseas. Since funding to the State Department has been cut off, most of those employees are not working or are working for no pay, meaning that all foreign relations are “running on fumes.” This is a problem because, without proper funding, the department cannot continue to do the tasks assigned to it, like alleviating tensions in the middle east.

In terms of the world’s poor, the loss of activity at both the USAID and the State Department will have a huge impact. Without any new funding or programs that help struggling nations with water and sanitation, health, education and climate change, the Agency for International Development will not be able to continue its work of providing humanitarian assistance to struggling nations.

The current shutdown, which is tied for the longest shutdown in history, has no end in sight. The continued lack of funding for USAID and the State Department means that the cost of the government shutdown on foreign aid will be huge. Since USAID works in more than 100 countries, the cost of the government shutdown will be felt by millions around the world. Without a fully functioning State Department to conduct diplomacy abroad, the situation will only get worse.

Peter Zimmerman

Photo: Pixabay

Reduction in U.S. Aid to the World’s Least Developed Countries
According to the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) 2018 Human Development Report, 33 of the 38 countries considered to have low human development are in located Africa.  Regardless of this fact, the U.S. may still be cutting aid to Africa. However, they are not the only ones. there have recently been significant reductions in U.S. aid to the world’s least developed countries.

Life Expectancy Rates in the Least Developed Countries

The UNDP determines rankings in its Human Development Index (HDI) by measuring levels of health, education and standard of living. Longevity, expected and mean years of schooling as well as per capita income all figure into the country’s final ranking. Of the world’s 10 least developed countries, the U.S. has reduced its aid to five: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chad, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Niger.

Life expectancies in these countries range from 52.2 years in Sierra Leone to 63 years in Liberia. The CIA World Factbook’s latest data cites fewer than one physician per thousand members of the population in all five countries. In part due to poor sanitation, with anywhere from 78 to 89 percent of people in these countries lacking access to improved sanitation facilities, their populations are extremely vulnerable to major infectious diseases.

School life expectancies range from 5.4 years in Niger to 10 years in Liberia. Mean years of schooling among people over twenty-five are however much lower, with Liberia being the highest at 4.7 years. In Liberia, Sierra Leone and CAR, less than half of the population is literate. In Chad and Niger, these figures are reduced to less than a quarter.

People Below the Poverty Line

Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is measured in international dollars, which account for currency exchange rates and use purchasing power to essentially convert foreign currencies into their equivalent in U.S. dollars. In CAR, Niger and Liberia, these figures are below one thousand international dollars per person. In Chad and Sierra Leone, they are below two thousand.

According to the World Factbook, most recent estimates place 70 percent of people in Sierra Leone below the poverty line, and approximately 50 percent of those in Liberia, Chad, and Niger. The World Factbook has no data regarding the poverty line in CAR.

Conflict to Aid Discrepancies

All five of these countries have suffered some extent from turmoil in the late 1900s and early 2000s, including various rebellions, a coup d’état in Liberia, CAR and Niger and a civil war in Sierra Leone, Chad, and Liberia. Chad, Niger, CAR and Sierra Leone have particularly large numbers of internally displaced people. Conflicts in bordering countries have likewise pushed nearly 10,000 refugees into Liberia, and hundreds of thousands into Chad, Niger and CAR, putting additional strain on these countries.

From 2015 to 2017, CAR and Niger have seen the lowest reductions in aid disbursements, at about $4 million for CAR and $14 million for Niger. U.S. aid to Chad and Sierra Leone was reduced by close to $30 million in both countries. Liberia stands out among the five, having received $224 million less in aid disbursements in 2017 than in 2015.

Over this period, all but Liberia have received well below the average in aid to Sub-Saharan countries despite having lower levels of development. This trend has continued into the first quarter of 2018. To the credit of the United States, the reductions in U.S. aid to the world’s least developed countries have not meant an overall reduction in aid. The average amount of U.S. aid to this region has increased from $179 million in 2015 to $208 million in 2017.

Much of the aid received in Niger and CAR, and nearly all of it in Chad goes toward emergency response. Disparities in aid disbursements could be based on the need for emergency response rather than human development levels, with more money going to countries such as Nigeria, where conflict has killed tens of thousands since 2009.

Long-Term Initiatives Needed for Development

While emergency response takes precedence, initiatives that address such areas as basic health and education are important for fostering long-term progress in development. Niger, CAR, Chad, Liberia and Sierra Leone are among those most in need of these long-term initiatives. This could be difficult considering the reductions in U.S. aid to the world’s least developed countries.

In comparison to the 2015 Human Rights Report, the 2018 report shows that the least developed countries have made slight progress in their development, even if they have not progressed in terms of rank. Reductions in U.S. aid to the world’s least developed countries could have a serious effect on the progress in these countries. The fact that progress has been made does not mean that there is not significant progress still to be made that requires U.S. aid.

Ashley Wagner
Photo: Flickr

The Militarization of U.S. Foreign Aid to Africa
“If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition” – Secretary of Defense Gen. Mattis. This kind of sentiment expressed by Gen. Mattis is shared by military and civilians alike. As the gap between foreign aid and military expenses increases, so does the concern from these officials toward the militarization of U.S. foreign aid to Africa.

The 2019 U.S. Proposed Budget Changes

The proposed 2019 budget from the Trump Administration underscores this worry. In the anticipated budget, the Dept. of Defense would receive an estimated $686 billion, which would be an increase of $80 billion (13 percent) from 2017. In comparison, the Dept. of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development would only see a budget of $25.8 billion; which means a $9 billion decrease (26 percent) from 2017 levels.

Furthermore, 2016 serves as a case study for how these resources are being applied in Africa. Of the $26 billion given to Africa through USAID, the Dept. of Defense was actually the leading implementing agency (beating out even USAID). While USAID carried out $9.5 billion worth of foreign aid operations, the Dept. of Defense oversaw $10 billion worth. Alongside low funding due to Congressional budget approval, civilian agencies don’t have the resources to operate, disperse and oversee foreign aid.

On the ground, the picture is becoming more and more clear. It was the Dept. of Defense, not the Dept. of State, that was the first to conduct high-level meetings and summits in African countries, such as Libya, Malawi, Chad and Djibouti, signifying it as the lead diplomatic agency in Africa.

Concerns with an Increasing U.S. Military Presence in Africa

When looking at the statistics, America’s leading military officials are among some of the most vocal advocates against the militarization of U.S. foreign aid to Africa. They worry that by cutting aid and favoring the military in poverty-stricken parts of the world, the U.S. is creating an environment for even more conflict. More specifically, they claim that by choosing military bases over schools, the U.S. is allowing more openings for militant groups, hurting U.S. interests in the long-run by pushing development aside.

For instance, Gen. Carter Ham, the former commander of Africa Command, sees the favoring of the military over diplomacy as a loss of hope for the people of Africa. Per his example, a young Nigerian man faced with no work, education or healthcare would much sooner turn to a militant group that offers money, prestige and a purpose.

His view is echoed by a 2017 testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee. This testimony was written by a long list of retired U.S. military officials, including Gen. Petraeus, Gen. McChrystal and Adm. Michael Mullen. Here, they stated, “…how much more cost-effective it is to prevent a conflict than to end one.” Their views reinforce the idea that Africa is much better served by civilian agencies than by military ones.

The Importance of Civilian Agencies in Africa

Not only do U.S. military officials recognize the harm of militarizing aid but also the importance of returning this role back to civilian agencies. Before leaving office, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates highlighted the importance of the Dept. of State in a 2010 speech. In this speech, he emphasized the necessity of keeping the Dept. of State as the main actor for conducting foreign policy because foreign aid and security reinforce one another. In addition, he called for a new foreign policy, requiring all sectors of U.S. foreign policy to form new partnerships and implement U.S. interests for long-term successes.

Now, the militarization of U.S. foreign aid to Africa does not mean that the military is an adversary to foreign aid. All of the examples used in this article critiquing this militarization process have all been expressed by current or retired military officials who are simply recognizing the need for humanitarian aid and the limits of military power.

Preventing conflict certainly makes more sense than instigating it, but it is up to U.S. citizens to decide whether a voter or a 3-star general holds Congress accountable for a better foreign policy towards Africa. Or in the words of Alexander Laskaris, a senior Dept. of State official with African Command: “How do we operate in an environment when we are willing to send peacekeepers, but we’re not willing to take the steps necessary to make peace?”

Tanner Helem
Photo: Flickr

What is USAID
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is often brought up when people talk about spending bills for foreign aid and in policy reports analyzing the government foreign assistance programs. They do not explain what USAID actually is, what its purpose is, who is in charge of it, or what are its responsibilities as an organization.

The text below will go through the history of USAID, its importance to the United States government, and the organization’s responsibilities in the fiscal year 2019.

History of USAID

In the fall of 1961, U.S. Congress passed the Foreign Assitance Act. This act formally separated military and non-military aid since before this point political and military spending was not differentiated from development spending. The bill also mandated for the creation of an agency that will be responsible for managing the new category of economic and development aid. President John F. Kennedy, shortly after the passing of the bill, created USAID by executive order.

The creation of USAID unified several existing programs and operations, including the Food for Peace Program, loans from the Development Loan Fund and the economic assistance from International Cooperation Agency. By unifying these operations, USAID provided a new focus on aiding other countries.  

Who is in charge of USAID and what is USAID responsible for?

USAID largely follows the policy directions of the President, State Department and the National Security Council. It can be stated with the certainty that it is not a completely interdependent agency. USAID is not responsible for military aid whose responsibility falls primarily to the Department of Defense. Instead, USAID is concerned with humanitarian and development aid.

Since its formation, USAID’s scope of humanitarian aid expanded. USAID’s assistance now includes global health, gender equality, water and sanitation, education and many other categories. It also works in several regions all over the world including Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

A good example of what USAID does as an organization is the program called Promoting Gender Equality in National Priority Programs Project (PROMOTE) in Afghanistan. This program aims to increase female participation in the total workforce by offering women internships to build up their resume and network.

It will also help the economic development of Afghanistan by creating a larger workforce. According to an evaluation made by USAID in 2017, 237 women got a job in the first year of the program’s implementation. Also, 98 percent of the women who were helped into internships by USAID reported that they were working in a women-friendly workplace.

What is USAID planning on doing in 2019?

USAID and the State Department will receive $39 billion from the president’s budget. USAID is responsible for managing $16 billion of this amount that is just below half of all the money allocated to foreign aid. USAID hopes to accomplish several objectives in the fiscal year 2019 including providing leadership in response to national disasters and human crises, improving global health by stopping the spreading of diseases and improving transparency of the organization’s activities and its spendings.

To summarize, what is USAID? USAID is an organization that is the primary executor of foreign aid spending of the United States. It oversees billions of dollars every year with the goal of helping developing nations economically, socially and politically. USAID does this through the creation of government programs to help those who need it most.

– Drew Garbe
Photo: Flickr

Belarus
Although much of Europe has changed since the end of the Cold War, Belarus certainly has not. The leadership of this tiny-landlocked country of more than 9.5 million people has forcefully held onto its Soviet-style economy. So much so that Belarus is often described as Europe’s last dictatorship. Despite this, U.S. foreign aid to Belarus could help foster a new economy and a new partnership.

Belarus Holding Russian Standards

Belarus is a relatively new country, gaining independence from The Soviet Union in 1991. In 1994, Belarus’ first president, Alexander Lukashenko, was elected and has subsequently been the nation’s only president so far. His reign has seen a steady consolidation of power and a weakening of a democratic institution. Because of this, the West has experienced tense relations in regards to aiding and working with the Belarusian government.

Moreover, the state’s economy is comparable to the Soviet model of a centralized economy. Around 50 percent of Belarus’ workforce is employed by state-owned entities, which make up 75 percent of the country’s GDP. This has produced an extremely rigid economic structure that is not rational in a highly globalized world.

While poverty had fallen from 60 percent in 2001 to around 1 percent in 2013, Belarus was still not on steady ground. It was able to reduce poverty rapidly because of favorable energy pricing and productivity growth with its largest trading partner, Russia.

Belarus in Crisis

However, these factors are no longer in play for the benefit of Belarus. Productivity in Russia has dropped while energy prices have increased alongside the accumulation of debt to Russia. Hit by a recession in 2014-2016, the economy’s fragile structure was exposed when poverty increased by 3 percent in Belarus overall with 6 percent in rural areas.

On top of this, the Belarusian state has been unable to adapt to national and transnational health and safety issues. First, Belarus is currently experiencing an epidemic of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). The U.N. Development Program reports that 89 percent of all deaths in the country are due to NCDs.

Second, human trafficking has become such a significant problem that The U.S. Dept. of State labeled Belarus as a tier 3 country when it comes to trafficking (the worst tier attainable). Here, Belarus serves as an important ‘gate-keeper’ that buffers The E.U. from, or exposes it to, the spread of human and drug trafficking.

What can be done about this situation? E.U., U.N. and U.S. foreign aid to Belarus have begun to answer this question.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

The first focus of USAID is strengthening the private sector. USAID has implemented numerous projects over the years that have been tasked with helping build a stronger Belarusian economy. One project, called TechMinsk, is a technical and business boot camp for young entrepreneurs and start-ups. As of 2017, $7 million has been invested in 200 entrepreneurs and 90 start-ups newly introduced to Belarus’ economy. Through educational training and international programs, more than 6,000 enterprises have been strengthened and/or created.

The second focus of USAID is to create a stronger civil society in order for a freer form of government to flourish. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are an essential part of this plan. CSOs are meant to increase the involvement of the general public in policy-making decisions. As of 2016, 140 CSOS had been trained and funded, totaling more than 8,000 hours. Each year, more than 60 Belarusian professionals from different sectors (business, law, education, government and civil society) are selected for exchange programs in The U.S. These professionals are exposed to the innovations of U.S. nongovernmental organizations and how to apply these innovations in Belarus.

United Nations Development Program & the European Union

The U.N. has been at the forefront of engaging Belarus with the rest of the world. While free-market businesses only form about 30 percent of the Belarusian economy, the government has invited The U.N. to provide aid and expertise in expanding this percentage. Although Belarus ranks poorly for its control of human trafficking, its government has joined The U.N. Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking. Here, the Belarusian government will receive foreign aid and advice on how to best stop the surge of trafficking through Eastern Europe

The E.U. and Belarus have continued trade relations, although, relations have been strained. However, in 2014, Belarus and The E.U. initiated a new relationship. After years of tense relations and sanctions, 2014 saw the renewed interest on both sides for important talks regarding visa liberalization.

Belarus Working Toward a Better Tomorrow

While Belarus hasn’t let go of its tightly controlled government and economy, foreign aid is changing the narrative. These national and international bodies listed above have all taken steps to open Belarus up to the greater world and expose its people to ideas of different societies and freer economies.

Here, interests overlap on both sides. On the West’s side, it has a vested interest in stopping the spread of human trafficking throughout Europe and The U.S. In comparison, Belarus needs a counterbalance against its dependency on the Russian government and economy. Foreign aid has slowly opened up Belarus to build a sturdier and freer nation. However, more U.S. foreign aid to Belarus will be needed in order to create a strong, new ally in Eastern Europe.

Tanner Helem

Photo: Flickr

Brief History of US Foreign Aid Policy
When hearing the term “foreign aid,” one probably thinks of the U.S. giving money to poor countries for food and water. While this assumption is partially correct, U.S. foreign aid is also a means of economic and political strategic fodder for the U.S. Foreign aid often includes providing money to foreign countries for militarization efforts or providing assistance from the U.S. military itself.

U.S. Foreign Aid

While some oppose the U.S. giving aid to other countries in favor of using the same money to bolster the U.S. economy and provide national security, they usually do so under the false pre-tense that around 25 percent of our national budget is geared toward foreign aid; the real number is only around 1.5 percent.

In fact, foreign aid acts as economic investment with other countries and creates trading allies, providing a return on investment. Also, foreign aid works to provide national security for the U.S. by stabilizing countries rife with conflict and poverty; such measures often end wars before they even begin. This notion was confirmed by a letter to President Trump from over 120 retired generals, urging the president to reconsider the ‘benefits’ of the proposed cuts to the foreign aid budget.

Throughout the history of U.S. foreign aid, one can simply follow our military. Here are four of the big shifts in U.S. foreign aid policy.

Marshall Plan

Foreign aid, as we consider it now, started post-WWII. In 1947, two years after the war, Secretary of State George C. Marshall insisted at a Harvard commencement ceremony that the U.S. needed an aggressive plan to rebuild Europe. The Marshall Plan, officially known as the European Recovery Program, passed the next year.

In the next four years, the U.S. provided more than $13 billion in aid to European nations. The move, while helpful, was also tinged with a political agenda — the U.S. needed allies in Europe against an emerging enemy, the Soviet Union. The U.S. remains close allies with these European nations and 13 of them are current NATO members.

President Harry S Truman supplemented the humanitarian efforts provided by the Marshall Plan with further military and economic aid to allies in Europe by way of the Point Four Program, a technical aid program aimed at sharing U.S. technology and knowledge of agriculture and industry. This measure was ultimately a gesture meant to create allies against the emerging USSR. Truman then signed the Mutual Security Act of 1951, which replaced the Marshall Plan and shifted its priorities to containing the spread of communism.

Foreign Assistance Act of 1961

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was created out of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. The assumption was that by combining foreign aid programs, the U.S. could be a better leader and moral authority for the rest of the world (read: prevent the spread of communism).

USAID is now the main operator of U.S. foreign aid programs, leading development and humanitarian efforts across the globe ranging from the Feed the Future program, a global food security program providing funding, health services, water and protection to aiding peoples suffering from conflicts in South Sudan.

The Cold War

In the 1970s, the focus of foreign aid shifted from economic and political development, to meeting “basic human needs.” This lead to an emphasis on food production, nutrition, health and education — all means to providing developing countries with the means to be self-sufficient. Still, there was a political tinge. The U.S. was largely acting on anti-communism interests and Middle East peace initiatives. As a result of these priorities, Israel and Egypt became large recipients from U.S. aid.

Toward the end of the 1980s, Congress was tasked with reducing the national deficit and foreign aid was at less than 1 percent of the national budget. Still, foreign aid followed into the same countries as our military including Panama in 1990 after the U.S. invaded Panama during Operation Just Cause under President George H. W. Bush.

Due to the end of the Cold War and Congress’s continued efforts to maintain the budget deficit, foreign aid remained less than 1 percent of the federal budget until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Contemporary Foreign Aid

From 2003-2014, Iraq and Afghanistan received increases in economic and military assistance from the U.S. Afghanistan became the largest recipient of U.S. aid in 2017 at $4.7 billion. President George W. Bush also created the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003, which supports over 14 million people in over 50 countries living with HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR’s website claims to have helped more than 2.2 million babies to be born HIV-free to pregnant women living with HIV and AIDS.

In 2008, President Obama renewed PEPFAR and also signed the U.S. President’s Policy Directive on Global Development. The Obama administration called it the first of its time, but the measure resembles Kennedy’s act to instill the U.S. by way of foreign assistance and development at the forefront of moral and economic authority globally. The directive has a wide berth of goals aimed at providing increased global food security, global health and national security by working on poverty-related issues in impoverished nations.

Today, President Trump continues to insist we trim the U.S. foreign aid budget by over 30 percent, which will inevitably cut some humanitarian programs entirely. The Trump administration claims the cuts will go to bolstering national security, but as we’ve learned and as over 120 retired generals stated to President Trump, U.S. foreign aid is a form of national security.

– Nick Hodges
Photo: Flickr