Picard, Louis A. and Terry F. Buss. A Fragile Balance: Re-Examining the History of Foreign Aid, Security, and Diplomacy

By Chen, Kai | Journal of Third World Studies, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Picard, Louis A. and Terry F. Buss. A Fragile Balance: Re-Examining the History of Foreign Aid, Security, and Diplomacy


Chen, Kai, Journal of Third World Studies


Picard, Louis A. and Terry F. Buss. A Fragile Balance: Re-Examining the History of Foreign Aid, Security, and Diplomacy. Sterling. VA: Kumarian Press, 2009. 317 pp.

In the twenty-first century, foreign aid is still an essential approach of implementing foreign policies. Foreign aid has achieved successes to some degree. For understanding the weak points of foreign aid offered by the United States and the "potential contradictions between foreign aid and the other components of foreign and security policy"(p.10), A Fragile Balance: Re-Examining the History of Foreign Aid, Security, and Diplomacy discusses the United States foreign aid in Africa, Asia, Latin America, including Cuba, Haiti, and Liberia, Turkey, Persia, Thailand, Philippine and China. In the context of historical patterns of international relations, Louis A. Picard and Terry F. Buss analyze U.S. foreign aid through the approach of public policy, examine the corresponding impacts on international security, and consider the evolutions of state-sponsored foreign aid as "a product of the two World Wars and the Cold War sequel" (p.60).

Humanitarian and development assistance had its origins in the eighteenth century and the Enlightenment (p. 17). The universal implications drawn from one country would not be applicable to other countries or regions. As Picard and Buss conclude, "history makes it clear that institutions and institutional relationships cannot realistically be transplanted from on society to another"(p.290). Through the historical methodologies, such as what Robert Cowley calls "Counterfactual" history, this book analyzes "failures and successes as lessons for future foreign assistance approaches"(p.4) in the context of diplomacy and security policy.

As Picard and Buss note, the motives of foreign aid are varied: "technical specialists were sometimes missionaries, sometimes had commercial ties, and often defined their roles in moral or even ethical terms"(p.59), which challenge the narrow calculations of cost-benefit analysis in the literature. For the United States, interagency framework of foreign aid has been made up of the USAID, private sector and NGOs. In the views of the authors, there are three motivations of foreign aid: "self-interest", "a concern for national security", and "a sense of obligation and charity as some form of humanitarian reasonabilities" (p.284).

There are three challenges in the application of this approach: "sufficient skilled staff", "flexible politics" and "absence of incentives"(p. 176, 183). For example, NGOs have limited budgets to hire "sufficient skilled staff", and personnel of many NGOs are not direct hires. Donors also increasingly rely on personnel services contractors, who often have no administrative training in aid procedures. At the same time, if foreign aid is inappropriately utilized, this can make situation much worse. …

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