IN his April 21 Earth Day address, President Clinton wisely
called for a strategic plan to increase United States environmental
exports. But he failed to tie this proposal to the rest of the US
foreign aid program, and thereby missed a great chance to rescue it
from the doldrums. Altruism and national security, the principal
justifications for US help to poor countries since World War II, no
longer wash in Oshkosh.
With homeless crowding the streets, taxes rising, domestic
public services on the decline, deficits persistent, and
unemployment high, Americans want to keep their money at home.
Regional conflicts, explosive population growth, and dismal
third-world governance overseas further crimp our willingness to
send dollars abroad.
Foreign aid is moribund, and the disarray within the Agency for
International Development (AID) only compounds the unease. Long the
flagship for US bilateral aid, it originally aimed at reducing
poverty and achieving "economic development." But gradually, AID
became entangled in extra responsibilities created by Congress.
These range from security assistance to friendly nations and
balance-of-payments support for Egypt and Israel, to rental for US
bases abroad. Disaster and famine relief also figure in AID's
portfolio. So do HIV counseling, family planning services, and
boosts for the US private sector. With such extra burdens, not to
mention countless earmarks by legislators beholden to special
interests, no wonder AID suffers from rudderless leadership and a
All this shows clearly on the bottom line. Back in the Marshall
Plan era, we spent 2 to 3 percent of the gross national product
(GNP) to rebuild Europe. In the 1970s a goal of 1 percent of GNP
was set. We may think ourselves generous, but our aid spending has
long ranked near the bottom of 18 rich-country donors belonging to
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
In 1991, for example, appropriations for all "foreign aid,"
including the congressional add-ons, sank to just 0.20 p
ercent of our $6 trillion GNP. Only Ireland does less.
To reverse these trends, foreign aid needs a new rationale. Some
progress is being made. After fierce bureaucratic tussles in AID's
fragmented empire, the Clinton administration has proposed a new
design for AID. As outlined by AID administrator-designate J. Brian
Atwood in his Senate confirmation hearing last week, the
rejuvenated program will echo earlier doctrine and break new ground.
As it did during the 1970s, AID will continue to emphasize
"basic human needs" and democracy, aiming at better health,
education, and family-planning services. It will also help poor
nations achieve "sustainable development" through environmentally
sound management of land and resources. …