BOSTON, Massachusetts — In November 2020, President-elect Biden nominated Antony Blinken as his secretary of state. If confirmed by the Senate, Blinken, who has experience serving as former President Obama’s deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017, will bring to the role a long record of support for human rights, refugees and foreign aid. Blinken’s approach to foreign aid is important to note as it will significantly influence global development and poverty reduction.
A Closer Look at Blinken’s Approach to Foreign Aid
Speaking at an online event in May 2020, Blinken said that the Biden administration would put international aid at “the center of our foreign policy,” adding that “the emphasis would be on diplomacy, on democracy and on development.” In a call for a “revitalization” of foreign aid, Blinken has said that he sees international development as not only benefiting the countries receiving the assistance but also as being in the United States’ self-interest. Without an effective U.S. development strategy, according to Blinken, the United States and the rest of the world risk serious geopolitical and humanitarian consequences, including mass migrations, the spread of disease and increased conflict.
Blinken is particularly vocal about the need for development efforts in Latin America, and in a recent interview with Hudson Institute, he says that the United States has a “profound interest” in addressing the numerous political, economic and human rights challenges the region faces and has a role to play in building a “hemisphere of functioning democracies and growing economies that respect human rights.”
According to Blinken, the administration’s approach to Latin America will resemble the efforts Biden made during his vice-presidency when Obama tasked Biden with spearheading a development initiative in the region. Back then, Biden secured nearly a billion dollars in aid for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Blinken says this aid was backed up by agreements from these nations’ leaders to use the funding to fight corruption, violence and poverty in their respective countries. “That was, I think, a smart approach, not throwing money away, but tying it to concrete commitments that were in the interests of both sides,” Blinken told Hudson Institute.
Support for Human Rights and Refugees
Ahead of a 2016 U.N. conference in New York City, where the issue of refugees was to be a major topic of conversation, then-deputy secretary of state, Blinken once appeared in a scene of the popular children’s program, Sesame Street, offering a lesson to the show’s young audience about refugees and the many challenges they face. “These are people who have had to leave their homes because life in their countries was not safe for them,” Blinken told Grover, the fuzzy blue Muppet character. “Could you imagine how difficult it would be to have to leave your home?”
Blinken is the stepson of Holocaust survivor, Samuel Pisar, a well-known Polish-American lawyer who as a boy survived the German concentration camps, Dachau and Auschwitz. Blinken currently serves on the board of the non-governmental human rights group, Human Rights First, and has long been a staunch advocate for human rights and for refugees around the globe.
Blinken has noted that, in addressing the root causes of migrant and refugee crises, he believes foreign assistance will play a vital role, by investing in reforming the governments, economies, police forces and judicial systems of Latin American countries experiencing an outpouring of refugees and migrants. Blinken has said that the United States should lead the effort to address global migrant crises and can address the migrant crisis in Latin America at its root by helping those countries experiencing migrations “make themselves more attractive” to those who might otherwise feel compelled to leave.
Based on Blinken’s long history of support for human rights and development, it is hopeful that Blinken’s approach to foreign aid will steer foreign policy in the direction of protecting human rights and spurring poverty reduction.
– Coalter B. Palmer