The Budget Crunch: Why Save Aid?

With passage of the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution appropriations bill in the House of Representatives, consideration of the stop-gap measure moves to the Senate. With the bill, the ever-growing debate on what to cut from the budget also heads to the Senate. Unfortunately, the U.S. International Affairs Budget lies directly in the cross hairs of the deficit hawks.

Maybe lawmakers scrambling to find budget cuts are emboldened to target foreign aid programs because the American public erroneously believes that 25% of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid. In fact, approximately 1% of the U.S. budget is committed to the International Affairs Budget.

Or, perhaps, as former Bush Administration speech writer Michael Gerson suggests, our elected officials are misguided in thinking our current budget crisis is because of spending “too much on bed nets and AIDS drugs,” and not because of “entitlements and aging population and health cost inflation.”

But why should Americans be interested in saving foreign aid programming in such a dire fiscal situation? Much is said about America’s moral imperative to invest in development programming. As a super power with the world’s largest economy and which is undeniably linked to the rest of the world, Americans have an obligation to look out for those less fortunate than ourselves. Those who, try as they might, are unable to break themselves from the cycles of poverty, disease, and violent conflict that ravage the developing world. We must help those that are at a distinct disadvantage from their counterparts in the developed world to continue America’s commitment to humanitarian values.

But let us forget for a moment that roughly 1 billion people live on $1.25 per day. Forget that 33.3 million people are currently living with HIV around the world, 1.8 million of which died in 2009 because of their disease. Forget that rising global food prices are the cause of 925 million people worldwide suffering from debilitating hunger. And let us certainly forget that through its foreign aid programs the United States can do something about it.

Instead, let us consider the value added to the American public through strong investment in global development. Without humanitarian values to back up our foreign aid budget, what is there to encourage lawmakers to fully fund global development activities? In other words, in such a difficult economic situation, what’s in it for us?

First, investing in the International Affairs Budget means investing in national security. By investing in programs such as Peacekeeping Operations, International Military Education and Training, International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, and Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs, the U.S. is strengthening its national security and saving on costs of military engagement. These programs help cultivate strong diplomatic relations, stabilize conflict areas, and reduce the threats of terrorism and drug trafficking on America’s doorstep.

Military professionals and civilians alike agree that our development funding is a vital component to national security. In a letter to Congress in support of the International Affairs Budget, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen reasoned “the more significant the cuts, the longer military operations will take, and the more and more lives are at risk!” In an editorial published recently, Representative Steve Rothman went so far as to claim that because of the national security component of the development budget, “our foreign aid and diplomatic budget has a return on investment that is at least a thousand fold.”

More importantly, investing in the International Affairs Budget has a decided economic benefit for American businesses and the economy at large. Ensuring economic growth in the developing world opens markets to international trade. Because of the investment in out development programs, American businesses are able to penetrate these new markets more readily.

Take for example, the US Trade and Development Agency helps American companies to break into new markets by establishing links between the companies and potential export and trade opportunities. In 2010 alone, the USTDA funded activities that accounted for $2 billion in U.S. exports. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation finances and insures U.S. business ventures in emerging markets, at no cost to American taxpayers. Both of these agencies are vital components of the U.S. foreign assistance strategy as they are integral to economic growth in the development world as well as economic prosperity and job creation in the United States.

Without a robust International Affairs budget the United States is at a severe disadvantage in its quest for national security and economic prosperity.  We must combine these two reasons with the American legacy of humanitarian responsibility to truly harness the world’s potential and create stability. Because, in the end, a stable and prosperous world is a safe a prosperous United States.