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U.S. Congress should reject 2018 Trump aid budget
by Jeremy Konyndyk, Peter Yeo, Jeffrey Sachs
Better World Campaign, agencies
12:22pm 11th Jul, 2017
July 2017
InterAction''s Statement on the Impact of Foreign Aid Reform
We, the undersigned humanitarian and development non-governmental organizations and partners, share a commitment to alleviating human suffering to make the world a more peaceful, just, democratic, and prosperous place. As organizations working in the humanitarian space in nearly every country on the planet, we represent American citizens’ instinct to make a positive difference in the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalized people. Therefore, in the context of ongoing discussions about foreign assistance reform, our focus is on the impact any reforms will have on people whose lives are affected by our programming.
Because the United States’ foreign assistance infrastructure supports positive, life-changing programs for people all over the world, reforms that reduce its effectiveness or reach also alter our community’s ability to support human dignity, livelihoods, and the voice of local civil society. As a result, we are concerned that efforts with the stated goal of finding efficiency in foreign assistance but which are hasty or unexamined will cause harm to the very people we work to serve.
We believe that strong bipartisan congressional support for foreign assistance has been a key element of the United States’ positive presence in the world; and that responsible, appropriate reform requires collaboration between Congress and the executive branch. Over the last decade, Congress had led reform efforts to improve USAID, with exciting and powerful results. We therefore support congressional engagement to study the administration’s foreign assistance reform proposals.
We especially call for explicit consideration of any proposal’s full impact in human, economic, and institutional terms. Over the last 50 years, the development and humanitarian community has learned a tremendous amount about what works and what does not in programming and management.
We ask Congress to use its authority to continue to put that learning to work to inform and guide how this country engages with the world through development and diplomacy.
To inform that process, we also propose below the core values, observations, and principles that underpin our community’s vision for U.S. development assistance.
For decades, a key purpose of foreign assistance has been to alleviate poverty and promote decency, dignity, and hope, while promoting American goodwill. Addressing root causes of poverty, promoting development, and preventing and responding to humanitarian crises are important elements of U.S. moral leadership and reputation around the world.
The U.S. depends on a robust and independent U.S. foreign assistance agency to achieve sustainable impact. Successful development and humanitarian programs support a safe and secure world, but they operate on different timelines than immediate-term diplomacy. An independent aid agency preserves the United States’ ability to address immediate and future challenges and supports long term development objectives.
The goal of any reform or reorganization should be to improve the United States’ ability to deliver different types of positive outcomes. This requires detailed consideration that extends beyond costs and into the way reforms alter the effectiveness of proposed reforms. What works for global health is likely different than what works for food security or disaster response.
U.S. foreign assistance programs can and should be made more efficient and effective, but we oppose mergers that ignore differences in strategic objectives, purposes, or professions. American diplomats, development specialists, international health workers, and humanitarians are trained professionals with different, meaningful skills. Combining offices or accounts with incompatible goals and staff requirements will reduce effectiveness more than it reduces overhead.
Private actors are not a substitute for official U.S. presence: InterAction members manage the vast majority of the $15.4 billion committed annually to international development from private and voluntary organizations.Only 25% of which is from the U.S. government. While civil society organizations are critical partners to the U.S. government for the implementation of foreign assistance neither private sector actors nor charitable giving can replace the critical, convening power, and overarching framework provided by the United States government.
* InterAction is an alliance organization in Washington, D.C. of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). With 180-plus members working around the world. ''What unites us is a commitment to working with the world''s poor and vulnerable, and a belief that we can make the world a more peaceful, just and prosperous place – together''.
31 May 2017
Trump''s aid budget is breathtakingly cruel – cuts like these will kill people, writes Jeremy Konyndyk from the Center for Global Development.
President Trump’s new budget plans for 2018 take particular aim at foreign aid spending, proposing an overall cut of 32% to all civilian foreign affairs spending. Facing extensive criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for the budget’s draconian vision, Trump’s budget chief Mick Mulvaney defended the proposal by arguing it should be judged not “by how much money we spend, but by how many people we actually help.”
This is an admirably fair standard – because it perfectly illuminates the callousness and cruelty of the 2018 Trump aid budget. I have waded through the numbers and budget narrative released by the White House to see how the budget levels stack up against Mulvaney’s statement. It is not a pretty picture.
The White House justifies cuts of roughly $13.5bn with claims that global aid spending is imbalanced, and the US should roll back its spending to encourage others to do more. Global aid spending is imbalanced – but if anyone is falling short, it’s the US. The United States is the most generous global aid donor in absolute terms, but relative to the size of the American economy it’s less a case of “America First” than “America Twenty-Second”. As my colleagues at the Center for Global Development have pointed out, US aid spending already falls far short of the proportional contributions of most other rich countries in the world.
On the “money spent” side of the ledger, the foreign aid cuts yield negligible budgetary savings while pushing the US deeper into the bottom tier of wealthy aid donors. That’s bad enough, but the “people helped” side is where the real damage sets in. There’s more wreckage than can be covered in a single blogpost, but here is a sampling.
Humanitarian aid is one of the crown jewels of American foreign policy – US funding provides the backbone of global humanitarian response and saves millions of lives each year. The Trump administration proposes to drive it over a cliff – cutting nearly half the funding that Congress appropriated in 2017 and fully eliminating the principal food aid account.
The budget documents attempt to wrap these cuts in a veneer of efficiency, claiming the US will purchase food aid more efficiently through a different budget line. Don’t be fooled. The proposal does not shift those resources; it eliminates the money completely. And it simultaneously cuts the budget line that it claims will cover food aid needs. This is not about stretching dollars further – it’s simply about getting rid of them.
The human impact here is extraordinary. Food aid funding would drop from $3.5bn in 2017 – enough to feed 67 million people – to $1.5bn in 2018, enough to feed only 29 million. Beyond the food side, refugee assistance would be cut by nearly 20%. International disaster assistance, which covers the non-food needs of the world’s conflict and disaster victims, takes a massive hit as well – dropping from $2.5bn in the 2017 budget to $1bn in 2018.
Let’s not sugarcoat this: humanitarian aid is lifesaving assistance, so cuts like these will kill people. As the head of foreign disaster response for the Obama administration, I had to weigh up budget trade-offs every year, knowing that saving lives in one region meant we would save fewer elsewhere. But I never faced trade-offs this extreme.
Laying waste to US relief aid would be hard to defend even if the world were in decent shape. But proposing this amidst the worst slate of humanitarian crises in recent decades is breathtakingly cruel.
This budget would cut nearly 30 million people from food aid rolls even as aid groups struggle to hold off four potential famines. It would undermine refugee aid even as global refugee numbers hit peaks not seen since the second world war and new South Sudanese refugees flee their country by the tens of thousands.
And it would obliterate funding for the health, clean water, nutrition, and shelter programmes that keep victims of conflicts and natural disasters alive.
But that’s not all. Global health funding takes a huge hit as well. The administration has tried to obscure this by claiming that it is shielding Aids funding from debilitating cuts. Again, don’t be fooled. Aids funding would be cut by a fifth, which would allow people currently receiving treatment to stay on their meds, but would dramatically reduce the number of new enrollees. Because the promise of treatment is an important incentive for HIV testing, these cuts would likely disrupt testing too.
That means more people transmitting HIV unknowingly and eroding the hard won gains that have limited the spread of HIV over the past decade.
Incredibly, this is not even the worst news on the global health front. The budget proposal seeks to take a much bigger chunk out of non-HIV health programmes – cutting their funding by half. These programmes work – they have brought polio to the brink of global eradication, helped reduce malaria deaths by more than half since 2000, vaccinated millions of children each year, and expanded access to basic health care.
Cutting these programmes means more children dying of malaria, resurgence of preventable diseases like polio and measles, and many, many other deaths besides. By weakening public health systems, these cuts also increase vulnerability to major epidemic threats like Ebola and Zika.
Some proposed cuts are not merely cruel – they are self-defeating even by their own logic. The administration seeks to completely eliminate funding for reproductive health and family planning. This is motivated by pique at abortion providers; but much of this funding actually supports contraception availability and safe childbirth practices. Eliminating these funds means thousands more mothers needlessly dying in childbirth.
It also means a surge in unintended pregnancies, with the net effect likely to be more abortions, not fewer – as many as 3.3 million more per year, according to one estimate.
And the hits keep coming. President Trump tweeted last week that his visit with Pope Francis left him more determined than ever to “pursue peace in our world.” His budgeteers seem to have missed the memo: this budget would debilitate US support to global peace efforts even as it ramps up US military spending.
UN peacekeepers protect the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people – something I have witnessed firsthand during visits to UN Protection of Civilian camps in South Sudan. The POC sites provide protection to hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities who would risk death if they stepped beyond the camps’ gates. While peacekeepers in South Sudan and elsewhere occasionally come in for criticism – some justified – there is ample evidence that peacekeeping deployments shorten conflicts, reduce harm to civilians, and help prevent conflicts from recurring. The Trump administration wants to cut US support for peacekeeping efforts by 40%.
The administration simultaneously seeks to shutter the US Institute for Peace, an independent federal institute created under President Reagan to promote peace and stability around the world. USIP has real impact – it mobilises seminal research and analysis through direct engagement in conflict zones. It has supported major peace negotiations and facilitated the famed Iraq Study Group that helped change the course of the Iraq war. It does all this on an annual budget that’s just bit more than a single replacement engine for an F-35 fighter jet.
The Trump administration may not see the value in investing in peace, but these budget choices will just mean more people killed by conflict.
I could go on and on. I could talk about the debilitating cuts to global food security programming, which will all but guarantee more famine risks in the years ahead.
I could talk about the wholesale elimination of Development Assistance funding, which supports basic education, economic development, clean water, and countless other interventions that improve millions of lives each year.
I could talk about the zeroing out of the Food for Education programme, which helps kids in extreme poverty stay in school by providing them with a simple daily meal.
But you get the picture. This budget will harm tens of millions of lives to save fractions of pennies.
It is gratuitously cruel and unbecoming of the deep American traditions of helping those in need around the world. President Trump and his budget director should think hard about the standard they’ve expressed for themselves – and begin to refocus this budget on “actually helping” people.
* Jeremy Konyndyk is a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, and previously served in the Obama administration as the director for foreign disaster assistance at USAid:
5 May 2017
The budget passed by the US Congress will fund government operations through the end of the fiscal year 30 September 2017. In general, the budget is close to previous years spending on key international and foreign aid accounts. Overall foreign aid spending is stable. US contributions to the UN’s regular budget are also fully funded.
The agreement rejects many of the aid cuts sought by Republican President Donald Trump. That outcome results from the unwillingness of key Republicans in Congress and Democrats to slash funding for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAid). However, the White House is continuing to seek major cuts to this funding in the 2018 financial budget.
Better World Campaign Statement on the United Nations Funding Levels in FY17 Omnibus Bill
Better World Campaign President Peter Yeo issued the following statement today on the funding levels for the United Nations and UN Peacekeeping included in the FY 2017 Omnibus spending bill:
“We are deeply appreciative of the successful efforts made by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for the past eight years to fully fund America’s contributions to the United Nations.
“In the Omnibus bill, we are pleased that a bipartisan majority in Congress maintained this progress by agreeing to fully fund the UN regular budget and a number of UN agencies, including the UN’s Children Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Program (UNDP), and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). These funding commitments come just one week after nine former U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations under five different Republican and Democratic administrations sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging full funding for the organization.
“Unfortunately, the bill eliminates funding for key environmental programs like the Green Climate Fund and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, doesn’t redress the misguided determination that defunded the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and falls short on fully funding the U.S. negotiated share of UN Peacekeeping operations.
“Of equal concern, the reinstatement of the 25 percent cap on the U.S. share of peacekeeping costs, instead of the actual 28 percent rate previously negotiated by the U.S. will return the U.S. into arrears on its UN contributions for the first time in nearly a decade.
“Despite a decade-long streak of bipartisan support for the UN on Capitol Hill, the FY 2017 Omnibus bill is mixed in terms of meeting our financial obligations to the United Nations. “We urge Congress and the Administration to restore our nation’s commitment to the UN and UN Peacekeeping by paying our bills in full in FY 2018.”
March 14, 2017
Trump seeks deep cuts to UN relief programs, just as 20 million people face famine. (UN Dispatch)
In a perfect storm, the Trump administration is seeking deep cuts to UN relief programs, just as 20 million people face famine.
Foreign Policy reports that the Trump White House has instructed the State Department and the US Mission to the United Nations to cut US contributions to the UN by 50%. The United States is the largest funder to the UN, in all contributing about $10 billion to the UN and its various agencies, like UNICEF, the World Food Program and the UN Refugee Agency. These organizations depend on American funding. Without which they will simply be unable to do their job. In many cases ‘not doing their job’ means that some of the most vulnerable people on the planet will lose their last lifeline. The timing could not be worse.
“We stand at a critical point in history. Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council last week.”
He was referring to what is known around the UN as the “four famines.” These include one already-declared famine (in South Sudan) and three other situations (Yemen, Somalia, Northern Nigeria) that are extremely food insecure and may soon cross the starvation threshold to “famine.”
People — mostly children under the age of five years-old — are already starving to death in these places. In all 20 million people are in immediate need of food assistance in these places. If they don’t get that assistance, they will starve to death. The last famine–in Somalia in 2011–killed over 250,000 people. This could be worse.
Heading off the famine requires money. In Yemen, the World Food Program says it urgently needs nearly $460 million to reach 7 million people. In Somalia, 6.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 1 million children under the age of five face who severe acute malnutrition. UN agencies require $864 million to mount a full response. They have so far received 6% of that. In Northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin region, which is still reeling from Boko Haram, only $458 million of a $1.5 billion appeal has been funded.
Millions of people around the world turn to the UN as their last lifeline — they get food from the World Food Program; their children get vaccines and medical care from UNICEF; they get rudimentary shelter and assistance from the UN Refugee Agency. These agencies are already stretched thin. The Syrian civil war has caused the biggest global refugee crisis since World War Two, forcing agencies like the WFP to scale back. (And “scaling back” means reducing the caloric intake of the people they serve.)
Even small cuts to their budgets have profound implications for the people they serve. A massive cut from the single largest funder could cause a generation-wide catastrophe the likes of which the world has never seen.
* Foreign aid accounts for less than 1% of the U.S. budget.
March 13, 2017
White House seeks to cut Billions in funding for United Nations, by Colum Lynch. (Foreign Policy Magazine)
U.S. retreat from U.N. could mark a “breakdown of the international humanitarian system as we know it.”
State Department staffers have been instructed to seek cuts in excess of 50 percent in U.S. funding for U.N. programs, signaling an unprecedented retreat by President Donald Trump’s administration from international operations that keep the peace, provide vaccines for children, monitor rogue nuclear weapons programs, and promote peace talks from Syria to Yemen, according to three sources.
The push for such draconian measures comes as the White House is scheduled on Thursday to release its 2018 budget proposal, which is expected to include cuts of up to 37 percent for spending on the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign assistance programs, including the U.N., in next year’s budget. The United States spends about $10 billion a year on the United Nations.
It remains unclear whether the full extent of the steeper U.N. cuts will be reflected in the 2018 budget.
On March 9 in New York, U.S. diplomats in a closed-door meeting warned key U.N. members, including wealthy donors from Europe, Japan, and South Korea, to “expect a big financial constraint” on U.S. spending at the United Nations, said one European diplomat.
The cuts would fall heaviest on U.N. programs, like peacekeeping, UNICEF, and the U.N. Development Programme, that are funded out of the budget of the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs. It remains to be seen whether other U.N. agencies popular with Congress, like the World Food Programme and U.N. refugee operations — which are funded out of separate accounts in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State Department, respectively — will get hit as hard. But one source tracking the budget proposal said the Trump administration is considering cuts of up to 36 percent on humanitarian aid programs.
Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said cuts of this magnitude would create “chaos.”
The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) received $1.5 billion of its $4 billion budget from the United States last year, he said. Cutting the U.S. contribution would “leave a gaping hole that other big donors would struggle to fill.”
“Multiply that across other humanitarian agencies, like the World Food Programme, and you are basically talking about the breakdown of the international humanitarian system as we know it,” he added.
The budget proposal reinforces a shift by the Trump administration from U.S. support for diplomacy and foreign assistance to increased financial support for the U.S. military. Late last month, the Trump administration argued that the proposed cuts in the budgets for the State Department, USAID, and other foreign assistance programs, including contributions to the U.N., would help offset a projected $54 billion increase in defense spending.
Those cuts, it now appears, are likely to fall disproportionately on the United Nations.
U.S. officials in Washington and New York learned during the past week that they will be asked to find ways to cut spending on obligatory and voluntary U.N. programs by 50 percent from the International Organization Affairs Bureau’s account. State Department officials, for instance, were told that they should try to identify up to $1 billion in cuts in the U.N. peacekeeping budget, according to one source. The United States provides about $2.5 billion per year to fund peacekeepers.
The United States could end missions by not extending their mandate when they come up for renewal or could negotiate savings in budget talks scheduled for May and June.
Trump’s budget plans are encountering strong head wind in Congress, where Democratic and Republican leaders have voiced concerns about imposing steep cuts in the State Department budget.
Peter Yeo, the president of the Better World Campaign, a U.N. advocacy group in Washington, said the budget is only an early salvo in what is likely to turn out to be a long, drawn-out battle.
“Congress is unlikely to go along with these strong and disproportionate cuts,” he said. “This is only chapter two in a very long book.”
The United States has to pay just over 22 percent of the U.N.’s $2.5 billion administrative budget. Additionally, Washington pays billions of dollars for peacekeepers and helps underwrite other programs that fight hunger, settle refugees, and battle climate change.
U.N. diplomats and foreign dignitaries say they expect the United States to seek to eliminate funding for some agencies unpopular with conservatives — including the U.N. Population Fund, which receives afunds from the United States for family planning programs, and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
If Washington fails to honor its funding commitments to the U.N.’s regular budget, which is obligatory, it could lose its voting rights in the General Assembly. U.N.-based diplomats say it is unlikely that other foreign donors would fill the entire gap in the event of massive U.S. cuts. For instance, European powers, including Germany, may step up funding to address the Syrian crisis, which has sent massive waves of refugees across European borders, but they are not likely to muster the funds to match American funding on a range of other programs, including international development and peacekeeping.
Anticipating cuts to family planning programs, Dutch Development Minister Lilianne Ploumen recently established a fund to solicit contributions to institutions that have faced a cutoff of U.S. assistance because they perform abortions.
But sub-Saharan Africa has plenty of crises that could only get worse if the United States pulls back its financial support. Bathsheba Crocker, who served as assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs during former President Barack Obama’s administration, said steep cuts in the U.S. funding account could imperil programs responding to major humanitarian calamities, dealing with political crises, and combating terrorists.
“We have U.N. warnings of famine in four countries,” she said, referring to food crises in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen. “It is only the U.N. agencies that have the scale and ability to get in and address these challenges.”
* Over 120 former senior military officers stress importance of funding diplomacy and development:
February 28, 2017
Over 100 American NGOs call on Congress to maintain UN, Aid funding as 20 million people face famine.
Better World Campaign President Peter Yeo issued the following statement today following reports that the U.S. Office of Management and Budget will propose significant cuts in foreign affairs funding, which could also impact U.S. support for the United Nations:
“Foreign affairs funding encompasses only 1 percent of the total federal budget, and yet the return on investment is vast for U.S. national security objectives.
“The proposed cuts outlined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget would bring foreign affairs funding to levels that pre-date 2001. These funds save millions of lives each year from preventable causes like malnutrition, malaria, and polio, while helping to address global threats such as violent extremism, pandemics, and climate change.
“Included in this account are U.S. funds for the United Nations, which amount to 0.1 percent of the federal budget. Working with our allies through the UN means that the U.S. can share the burden of solving global challenges. Although imperfect, no other organization has the reach and impact of the UN, from responding to the greatest refugee crisis since World War II to using diplomacy to prevent conflicts from breaking out, and supplying vaccines for 45 percent of the world’s children.
This viewpoint is shared by many; the Better World Campaign, along with 100 other organizations, sent a letter today to Congress urging continued U.S. engagement at the UN. The letter notes that Republicans and Democrats have long recognized the value of various UN activities, from peacekeeping to humanitarian response to development assistance.
“The U.S. will not achieve peace, security, and prosperity at home by withdrawing from the world. American interests are never served by going it alone. We encourage Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to speak out about the potential negative impacts such cuts in foreign affairs funding would have at home and abroad.”
February 28, 2017
To The Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. Committee on Appropriations, United States Senate Washington, D.C. 20510 from the the Better World Campaign, along with 100 other organizations.
As civil society organizations committed to multilateral cooperation as a means to creating a better, safer world, we urge you to support strong U.S. leadership at the United Nations, including by fully meeting our nation’s financial obligations to the organization. Continued engagement with the UN is critical to advancing a number of core U.S. foreign policy objectives, including securing recent gains in international development, delivering lifesaving humanitarian assistance, combating terrorism, encouraging the peaceful resolution of conflict, and promoting universal human rights.
The world is currently facing upheaval on a range of fronts. Devastating conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan, among others, have killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced millions more from their homes, climate change and its destabilizing impacts continue to mount, and public health challenges new and old underscore the need for enhanced global cooperation.
Given the complex and transnational nature of these challenges, and the finite resources available to address them, it is clear that the UN must rededicate itself to reforming its operations and management practices so it can be more nimble, responsive, and effective. The U.S. has gained an important ally in this effort in the new Secretary-General, António Guterres, who as UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015 gained a well-deserved reputation for results-oriented and forward-
Looking leadership. Now is the time to engage robustly and constructively with Mr. Guterres to achieve theseends, and avoid Counterproductive actions, such as withholding financial support for the UN, that will only isolate the U.S. from its international partners and stymie efforts to achieve real and sustainable reform.
This viewpoint has been articulated by both Republican and Democratic Administrations for decades. Earlier this month, for example, during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Ambassador Nikki Haley stated repeatedly that she opposed the “slash-and-burn” approach to UN funding advocated by some observers.
Furthermore, in 2005, when Congress was considering legislation to tie the payment of U.S. dues to reform, a bipartisan group of eight former U.S. Ambassadors to the UN – including Jeane Kirkpatrick, John Danforth, Richard Holbrooke, and Madeleine Albright - authored a letter opposing the proposal. “Withholding our dues to the UN is the wrong methodology,” the letter argued. “When we last built debt with the UN, the United States isolated ourselves from our allies within the UN and made diplomacy a near impossible task.”
The UN is very often, in conjunction with the U.S., the world’s first responder in times of crisis and need. Each year, UN humanitarian agencies like the World Food Program, UN Children’s Fund, UN Refugee Agency, and UN Population Fund provide food and nutrition assistance, clean water, vaccines, maternal health care, and other critical services to tens of millions of people affected by conflict or natural disasters worldwide; organizations like the UN Development Program work to fight poverty and build more resilient communities; UN peacekeepers stabilize fragile states, protect civilians, and support peaceful transitions of power; and the World Health Organization seeks to ensure global coordination to prevent and respond to disease outbreaks.
Through the work of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN also plays a unique role in ensuring a coherent and effective response to emergencies, helping to strengthen and systematize efforts by an array of actors on the ground, including national governments, NGOs, and UN agencies themselves.
By partnering with the UN on these initiatives, the U.S. not only advances its own interests and values, but also helps share the financial burden for responding to global crises and long standing challenges with other countries, thereby saving U.S. taxpayers money in the long-run. That is why both Republicans and Democrats have recognized the value of various UN activities over the decades, from peacekeeping to humanitarian response to development assistance.
It is therefore imperative that the U.S., while pushing for necessary reforms, continues to maintain its seat at the table by fully funding its dues payments and providing robust levels of voluntary contributions to the UN system. To do otherwise risks forfeiting the United States’ long-held position of leadership at the UN, potentially hollowing out UN programs and activities that are squarely in U.S. national interests, ceding control to countries that deny the universality of human rights and liberties, and empowering countries that are not committed to a stronger, more effective, or more accountable United Nations.
March 2017
The ethics and practicalities of foreign aid, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.
As a lifelong advocate for development aid for the world’s poor, I am angered by the reported plans of the Trump administration to slash US foreign aid. I know how many children will die or grow up without access to education if President Trump’s proposals are adopted. I know that the financial savings for the United States will be trivial, but the costs to millions of impoverished people will be enormous.
Even worse, the cuts in aid are designed to fund an increase in military spending, one that is unnecessary and that should not be funded on the backs of the world’s poorest people. Instead of cutting aid to fund a $54 billion increase in military spending, we should be slashing $54 billion (or more) in defense to increase aid for health, education, renewable energy, and infrastructure, as well as urgently needed spending at home.
Trump’s plan will surely appeal to the racist followers of Stephen Bannon and Breibart News, and perhaps that is their main purpose — to pump up Trump’s base. Yet they will also cause enormous harm to America itself, not only to our nation’s soul and moral standards, but to American national security and jobs as well.
My own support for foreign assistance is based on morality. “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” we are told in the book of Deuteronomy. Those who fail to help the poor cast themselves outside of the moral community. “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me,” warns Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.
Charity (zakat) is a bedrock of Islam. Compassion is the very core of Buddhism. Indeed, for all systems of morals, both religious and secular, treating others as we would be treated is the very essences of morality. If my own children were hungry, without medicine, or without schooling, I would desperately want them to be helped. Our responsibility is equally clear. Moreover, I believe, along with the teachings of the ancient prophets, that a nation built on iniquity cannot long survive. It will come apart at the seams, as America may be doing today.
I also know, as a development practitioner now for 32 years, that foreign aid works — when we put in the honest effort and thinking to make it work. And I’m not talking about the aid delivered largely by American expatriates in somebody else’s country. Almost all local service delivery should be carried out by locals except in exceptional circumstances (e.g., in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters when all hands are needed).
Aid works when its main purpose is to finance supplies such as medicines and solar panels, and the staffing by local workers in public health, agronomy, hydrology, ecology, energy, and transport. US government aid should be pooled with finances from other governments to support critical investments in health, education, agriculture, and infrastructure, based on professional best practices. That’s how the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria works, as one important example. It’s a model of success.
This kind of aid is not “the White Man’s Burden,” as has been alleged. The responsibility to help the poor is carried by no race for any other race. This is not about whites helping blacks, or about greens helping blues for that matter. It is about the rich doing what they should for the poor. “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required,” says Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Or as John F. Kennedy put it, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
Nor is good aid about “the poor in the rich countries helping the rich in the poor countries,” as foes of aid have quipped. When aid funds are directed towards the basics — safe childbirth; immunizations; control of diarrheal diseases, malaria, and HIV/AIDS; irrigation for smallholder farmers; information and communications technologies for e-governance, e-finance, e-education, and e-health; ensuring access to schooling; protecting biodiversity; and restoring degraded lands, the beneficiaries will be the poor.
It is true that a politically viable aid program goes hand in hand with a fair tax system.
There is a lot of negative propaganda about foreign aid, since foreign aid is an easy target. There are very few knowledgeable people around to defend it, and the recipients kept alive by it don’t vote in US elections. We certainly hear an earful: Aid is wasted; aid is a huge budgetary burden; aid demeans the recipients; aid is no longer needed in the 21st century. Aid, in short, does not work.
The simple fact is that some aid is wasted and other aid is used brilliantly. The main issue is whether the aid directly supports the work of local professionals saving lives, growing food, installing rural electricity, and teaching children, or whether the aid goes instead to foreign warlords or overpriced American companies. Our responsibility is to fund the aid that works, and when aid has been demonstrated to work, as in public health and education, to expand the assistance as it’s needed by the poorest of the poor.
Aid is a tiny part of our budget, around 1 percent of the Federal Budget, and less than one-fifth of one percent of national income. It is 25 times smaller than the outlays on the military.
Aid is not demeaning. Aid enables HIV-infected mothers to stay alive and raise their children. Demeaning? Aid enables a child in an impoverished country to escape death or permanent brain damage from malaria, a 100 percent treatable disease. Demeaning? Aid enables a poor child to go to a school fitted with computers, solar power, and wireless connectivity.
Aid is definitely needed. In the 1940s, aid was vital for Europe; hence the Marshall Plan. By the 1950s, Europe had “graduated” from aid; the focus was on Latin America and parts of Asia. Many of those countries too have since graduated. Aid today should focus on the countries that are still poor — roughly the 1 billion or so people in the low-income countries and the poorest of the middle-income countries. By 2030, with improved technologies, and a boost from adequate aid flows for health, education, agriculture, and infrastructure, these remaining countries too could graduate from aid by around 2030.
Another myth is that the United States carries the aid burden while other governments shirk their responsibility. This is plain wrong. The United States spends less as a share of our income than other countries spend as a share of their income. US aid is now just 0.17 percent of US Gross National Income (GNI), roughly $32 billion in aid out of a GNI of $18 trillion. The average aid spending by other donor governments is more than twice the US share, around 0.38 percent.
The moral justification of aid, as powerful and adequate as it is, is matched by an equally important case of self-interest. Aid is a matter of US national security and economic interest.
Regarding the links of aid and national security, there is no need to listen to a moralizing economist. Listen directly to the generals. More than 120 retired generals and admirals recently wrote to the congressional leaders of both parties to defend aid as a critical bulwark of national security:
“The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps, and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.
The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism — lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.”
For this reason Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina has said of the Trump proposal to slash aid: “It’s dead on arrival, it’s not going to happen, it would be a disaster. This budget destroys soft power, it puts our diplomats at risk, and it’s going nowhere.”
We must ultimately acknowledge another more radical, and more accurate, perspective: that this is not aid at all, but justice. There are two senses in which “aid” is absolutely the wrong word when it comes to helping the world’s poor.
The first returns us to morality. In his wonderful encyclical “Populorum Progressio” (1967), Pope Paul VI noted this of giving to the poor: “As St. Ambrose put it: ‘You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.’”
Yet this question of “appropriating things.. for the common use” is appropriate in a dramatically literal sense as well. The rich countries, including our own, have long robbed and despoiled the planet for our narrow economic gain. Appropriating the oil, gas, and minerals out from under the sands of other nations. Our countries transported millions of African slaves to work the plantations stolen from indigenous populations. Our multinational companies have routinely bribed foreign leaders for land and oil reserves.
In the past our government has launched coups and wars to secure oil, gas, copper, and other valuable resources. Our fishing fleets have illegally and recklessly scoured the seas, including the protected economic zones of the poorest countries. And our reckless emissions of greenhouse gases are directly responsible for droughts, floods, and extreme storms around the world, with a president and oil industry too evil even to acknowledge the basic scientific truths.
There is a real question: Who has aided whom over the past centuries? And can we live in morality and peace?
* Jeffrey D. Sachs is University Professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, and author of “The Age of Sustainable Development.”

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