BELMONT, Massachusetts — It is no secret that public opinion has always posed a challenge to United States foreign aid. According to a Gallup poll, 57 percent of Americans consider international trade fundamental to domestic growth. On the other hand, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center, 48 percent think that the foreign aid budget should be reduced. Ironically, these two elements of international relations are inextricably linked.
In reality, the U.S. foreign aid budget comprises only 1 percent of the national budget, and any cuts would not even make a dent in reducing the deficit. However, public perception places the share of foreign assistance around 28 percent.
Last year, several congressional leaders proposed cuts to the State Department’s budget and specifically to foreign aid. These cuts would reduce funding for African food aid, international disaster relief and the Peace Corps, among other programs. Those in favor of decreasing U.S. foreign assistance argue that the U.S. “must prioritize national security and domestic issues over foreign humanitarian aid.” Others argue that foreign aid expenditures work to advance special interests in the U.S. and powerful dictators overseas.
Indeed, contrary to these believes, cuts to the foreign aid budget poses a threat to advancing U.S. economic and security interests.
In fact, when foreign aid is put to work under the right initiatives it can actually “contribute to deficit reduction, greater mobility and improved global security.” Foreign aid investment has been a smart long term investment giving the U.S. a strategic place in the international system. U.S. prosperity and security have always been interconnected with economic prosperity in the rest of the world.
Out of the 20 countries that currently have economic relations with the U.S., 18 used to be recipients of U.S. assistance, including South Korea, Poland and Taiwan. More importantly, when it comes to national security these same countries are important allies to the U.S. in facing growing threats such as extremism.
One agency that is working in the background to advance U.S. economic interests is the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Since 1971 OPIC has served as the U.S. government’s development financial institution. OPIC works with international banks and organizations to incentivize investment in areas “where the market fails to invest appropriately.” With no cost to U.S. taxpayers, OPIC has streamlined the investment of over $200 billion in developing markets. These investments are an innovative form of aid, helping to create new jobs and new markets for U.S. goods.
Notwithstanding instances of corruption and inefficient spending, the case for foreign aid investment remains strong. Especially when we take the time to investigate how much the U.S. actually spends on foreign assistance, and how contrary to common knowledge, reducing it would do harm to economic and security interests.