WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just as foreign aid can alter the fate of the developing world, so can developing countries’ political actions and behaviors affect the United States’ decision to send foreign aid.
The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA) is the foundational legal framework that authorizes and defines how U.S. economic, military, and humanitarian aid is expended abroad. In the past, Congress has withheld foreign aid under FAA guidelines as a way to motivate governments produced by a military coup to return to democratic elections and rule of law.
After the Egyptian military ousted Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi in July, the U.S. found itself in a tough spot: officially calling the Egyptian ouster a “coup” would force the U.S. to cut off its military aid to Egypt, which currently exists as the second largest U.S. foreign aid package after Israel’s.
On the other hand, however, continuing aid to an undemocratically ruled country may harm the U.S.’s reputation as a promoter of democratic peace around the world and go against certain FAA standards.
So, what did the U.S. decide to do? The Obama administration decided not to make a formal determination about whether the ouster constituted a coup. By doing so, the U.S. showed its commitment to upholding national security and economic interests in foreign aid decisions above following strict democratic guidelines.
Some may question this decision to continue providing developmental aid to a country that seems to be backpedaling on its path towards democracy. A quick look at the U.S.’s history with foreign aid behavior, however, shows that the Obama administration’s decision may be part of a greater trend.
For example, in 1992, the George H.W. Bush administration withdrew all assistance from Algeria when the military cancelled free elections, but later restored and even increased aid to Algeria to guarantee its loyalty in the war on global terrorism in 2001.
Further, in 2006, the George W. Bush administration froze military aid to Thailand but continued its humanitarian and economic aid programs after the military deposed its Prime Minister, just as Obama did with Mali in 2012.
What these three examples have in common is the U.S.’s decision to wave the FAA guidelines restricting aid to countries that display anti-democratic sentiments if continuing aid would serve the U.S. and the developing country some greater humanitarian, economic, or security benefit.
So what does this mean, moving forward?
In the coming months, the U.S. will surely keep a close eye on the state of the Egyptian government to decipher whether or not the interim civilian government is simply a “guise for long-term military rule” in Egypt.
This is good news for global poverty. By showing its commitment to upholding standards of economy, security, and peace in the Middle East in dealing with Egypt, the U.S. has proved that it can overcome the traditional American reluctance towards increased foreign aid budgets and fulfill its role as a leader in foreign developmental aid.
– Alexandra Bruschi