Foreign Aid Serves US Interests - Keep It Flowing

By Stephen J. Solarz. Stephen J. Solarz of New York is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. | The Christian Science Monitor, December 31, 1991 | Go to article overview

Foreign Aid Serves US Interests - Keep It Flowing


Stephen J. Solarz. Stephen J. Solarz of New York is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee., The Christian Science Monitor


THERE's a new mood in America. Or, more accurately, a long discredited delusion arisen from the graveyard of bad ideas. In the wake of our triumph in the cold war, Americans are being told we can no longer afford a leading role abroad but must concentrate on problems at home.

Portraying themselves as champions of the American taxpayer, some proponents of this new isolationism have called for sharp reductions in American foreign assistance. Their mesmerizing but misguided message has picked up support at a time of recession. The House of Representatives, for example, refused to pass a foreign aid authorization bill similar to one voted for earlier this year by over 100 votes.

Foreign aid critics use a handful of faulty arguments. They say foreign aid is a giant giveaway. It's time, say nay-sayers, to end the gravy train.

This is nonsense. There may be some unproductive spending. But the bulk of United States assistance to friends around the world is distributed efficiently and honestly. Far from being a giveaway, foreign aid is a tangible expression of American idealism, and it contributes to vital US interests. It goes for humanitarian needs and US security purposes. It plays a role in serving American commercial interests. It helps fledgling democracies. It goes to causes as diverse as narcotics control, peacekeeping, and environmental protection.

A frequently lodged complaint is that we can't afford foreign aid. The US, the critics say, has a national debt of $3.6 trillion. The deficit for this year alone is $321 billion. We can't spend money we don't have.

Unfortunately for the isolationists, the notion that the wealthiest nation in the world cannot afford a foreign aid program costing $60 per American does not stand up. Foreign aid ($15.1 billion in 1991) is 1.2 percent of the federal budget. Even if we eliminated aid altogether (and no one seriously calls for so drastic a step), the budget deficit would still total $300 billion.

We now spend about one-quarter of 1 percent of our GNP on foreign aid. Sixteen of the world's 18 leading industrial countries do better. Americans spend more every year on cosmetics than on foreign aid. We spend twice as much on beer, and three times as much on tobacco. The idea that we can't afford foreign aid is only slightly more respectable than saying we'd prefer to spend our money in other areas.

In addition, 70 percent of the money appropriated for foreign aid is actually spent on goods and services in the US, which are then shipped overseas, often on American ships.

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