AMERICA SPENDS BILLIONS OVERSEAS--BUT MAINLY IN MILITARY AID, NOT DEVELOPMENT : Let Them Eat Guns
Borosage, Robert L., The Nation
According to a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations, "The average American believes we spend 18 percent of the federal budget on foreign affairs, while thinking we should spend only 6 percent. In reality, foreign affairs spending, the bully pulpit of America's strength overseas, is now only 1 percent of the federal budget--a little more than one penny of every federal tax dollar."
This argument has been the centerpiece of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's campaign for more funds for international activities. "That 1 percent," she argues, "may well determine 50 percent of the history that is written about the era." But although the Secretary's cause is a good one, her argument is profoundly misleading, for it excludes the bulk of US international spending--the military budget. Americans have it about right when the military is included; we spend about 17 percent of our total budget on national security and international activities, with the military consuming 95 percent of the total sum. Indeed, in the coming year, the military will capture more than half the entire federal discretionary budget--money for everything the government does from the FBI to Head Start--excluding only mandatory spending (primarily, interest on the national debt and entitlements like Social Security and Medicare).
Spending on international affairs other than the military, when measured in constant dollars, has been declining steadily since 1980. From 1992 through 1997, funding dropped an average of about 6 percent annually. Under the projected balanced-budget agreements, this nonmilitary funding is slated to be cut another 13 percent by 2002. By that year, nonmilitary international spending will be at about half its average level in the eighties and at its lowest level since 1955.
Were Washington to match the aid level of our allies, significant additional resources would be available for international assistance. If the United States spent, as our allies do, an average of 0.4 percent of its GDP on overseas development aid, it would quadruple its aid outlays to more than $27 billion per year. If it invested as generously as Sweden does (nine-tenths of 1 percent of GDP), its spending would rise to about $76 billion a year.
But this parsimony is not because Americans don't support an expansive role abroad. The United States devotes more than 4 percent of its GDP to foreign policy and military spending, compared with Japan's 1.3 percent and the 2.7 percent average of our NATO allies. That amounts to $110 billion more per year than the amount spent by our allies--but we spend the money on the military, not on diplomacy or development assistance.
The AIDS plague in Africa threatens the worst global catastrophe since the bubonic plague that killed one-fourth of Europe's population in the fourteenth century. In countries like Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, one in four young people is HIV-positive. Experience in Uganda shows that with strong government action and adequate external assistance, the disease's spread can be stemmed. UN agencies estimate that an additional $2 billion a year is desperately needed. In January the United States made Africa the focus of a special session of the UN Security Council. Vice President Gore made a dramatic speech on the global threat posed by the plague and offered to increase our contribution by all of $150 million to help fight it. This grand gesture comes in a year when Senator John McCain detailed $5 billion of "pure pork" in the Pentagon budget--weapons and projects the Pentagon didn't even ask for. The House just voted for $2 billion to pay for US troops in Kosovo. But for a plague that threatens to decimate sub-Saharan Africa, the Administration promises less than 10 percent of that. We don't do plagues. We do guns.
The starvation of US diplomatic and aid budgets contributes to and reflects the post-cold war US default in developing innovative public aid programs and building strong multilateral institutions. …