Since the end of World War II, foreign aid and national security have evolved in close proximity. Indeed, in the decade that followed, United States foreign assistance would range between 1.5 percent and 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP.)
Since then, foreign aid has played an important role in advancing national security through several of its components: “bilateral development aid, economic assistance supporting U.S. political and security goals, humanitarian aid, multilateral economic contributions and military aid and assistance.”
However, during the Cold War, this relation began to change. As the U.S. refocused its foreign policy toward containing the Soviet Union, foreign assistance began to drop as a percentage of GDP. But still many development programs remained in place, working toward bringing about political reform and democratization. The dominant logic that political reform and development would create stable and open regimes that could resist communist ideology.
The purpose of many programs did not changed since then: expanding access to healthcare services and education, reducing infant mortality rates, reducing hunger and even protecting the environment. Following the end of the Cold War, the main purpose was refracted; by then, the main target was no longer to contain the Soviet Union but to foment development and economic growth in poor countries.
This also meant that the share of military assistance versus aid also changed. During the Cold War, almost 50 percent of the foreign aid’s budget was allocated to military assistance. By 2001, it had dropped to 24 percent. While the humanitarian and development aid budget increased from 33 percent to 46 percent. The period between the end of the Cold War and the September 11 attacks is characterized by a shift toward prioritizing economic development and opening access to healthcare and education in poor countries. Although no imminent threat existed at the time, national security consideration always remained at the heart of foreign aid.
After the attacks of September 11, this relation between national security and foreign aid changed once more. By 2005, the war on terror had the U.S. engaged in providing foreign assistance to almost 150 countries. Once more the shift was toward containment, but this time of jihadists and extremist activities. Since September 11, the region that has received the bulk of U.S. aid is the Middle East.
Despite the many ups and downs in the road of U.S. foreign aid, the world still looks to U.S. to provide leadership in response to erupting crises around the world. If we are to take a few lessons from this close relationship between aid and security, they are that no matter what the threats are, a key component of national security is a stable world and the best way to achieve is by bringing people out poverty and giving them access to healthcare and education.
Responding to crisis world wide does not have to entail military might. While development and economic aid results can be longer term than military intervention, the long history of the U.S. as a major aid contributor shows that it certainly pays off.
– Sahar Abi Hassan