SEATTLE — Less than 1 percent of the $4 trillion federal budget – that is, less than a penny on every dollar – goes towards foreign aid. Effectively addressing global threats requires that the public spend at least as much as it lavishes on candy, lawn care and soda drinks. Today’s evolved global threats require involved foreign aid and investment.
Foreign aid is in the public’s national security interest. The nature of terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida demonstrates the evolution of unprecedented threats faced today. Barbaric attacks akin to those in London Bridge and Kabul diplomatic quarters have become the new norm in other countries. It is up to the public not to let that happen, here or anywhere. Recent history has shown that even defeated groups can pose a bona fide threat to the U.S. homeland, especially if the general population fails to at least make an effort in understanding what makes such groups tick.
Everyone lives in a shared – if different, unrecognizable and sometimes scary – world. It may be a mistake to ignore the evolved threats our world faces. Strategic attacks have pivoted from military operations by established terrorist groups to low-tech campaigns by inspired individuals. Despite the setbacks that have been dealt to these groups, depraved ideologies are unceasingly permeating the very fabric of our civilization. Clearly, the continued clout of these ideologies festers equally in developed and developing countries.
In determining the root causes of radicalization, we have to examine the underlying environments that incubate extremism. It stands to reason that if hopes for the future are fostered, terrorist groups will be deprived of their most powerful resource: the human capital. Deteriorating social, economic and political conditions of a country are not limiting factors in and of themselves, but they can certainly breed despair, alienation, or resentment among the local populations and prompt them to support, if not directly help, terrorist groups.
The United States’ Role
As a developed country, the United States is one of the world’s most influential donors providing foreign aid, albeit to a certain extent, to promote security and economic opportunity in developing countries. Channeling this foreign aid into an efficient counterterrorism policy can free up an overworked foreign government’s resources to fight terrorism. It can empower investments in health care, education and infrastructure. More importantly, it can build bridges between nations and cultures, establishing the framework of trust, dependence and mutual support.
Our nation’s security depends on international stability, and at present the world is far from stable. Current worldly state-of-affairs demand that today’s evolved global threats require involved foreign aid and investment. This proposition is not without precedent.
Developmental and humanitarian assistance has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and for a good reason. Foreign aid ensures the necessary balance between hard power and soft power is maintained. As Defense Secretary Mattis put it bluntly, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”
The U.S. can and should wield its military influence more responsibly by avoiding it whenever possible. It should explore alternatives to military power and interventionism.
Investing in foreign aid offers a necessary check on tried-and-tested, often heavy-handed maneuvers. It can instead place the burdens on governments to fulfill their own duties and responsibilities, and leave the ultimate prerogative to their people inspirited by democratic norms and ideals. For the United States to be most effective in its foreign policy goals, it needs the commitment and cooperation of foreign governments.
Importance of Universal Foreign Aid
A government’s receipt of foreign aid can be conditioned on its provision of social services and humanitarian aid to its most affected citizens. While poverty does not make killers out of the disenfranchised poor, it is likely to place them in an existential quandary: starve to death or join criminal groups offering sustenance.
Governments of developing countries can be incentivized to cooperate in the war against terrorism for their own sake and for our common good. Of course, any government risks serious damage to its legitimacy and the country’s stability by failing to do anything about the terror threat in its midst. As a country’s economy is buoyed and living conditions improve, there will be many opportunities for development and growth for its citizens.
Eventually, countries which receive aid today can become our most vocal trading partners tomorrow that demand “trade not aid.” But that can only happen if we recognize that today’s evolved global threats require involved foreign aid and investment.
Through our leadership in more effective and transparent foreign aid efforts, we can encourage leadership by governments and their citizens. Foreign aid is necessarily proportional to the need for political stability, economic opportunity and continued U.S. relevance in the international arena. If conflicts are to be avoided, or at least mitigated, many of our global challenges – such as poverty, instability, drug trade and poor governance – can and should be addressed by holding the U.S. as a role model for other countries to follow.
The world is a small place. Our engagement needs to be just as bigger because evolved global threats require involved foreign aid and investment.
– Mohammed Khalid