CHARLESTON, South Carolina — The United States is a key player in the distribution of foreign aid. When applied abroad, foreign aid is a critical part of supporting developing nations and promoting global well-being. Aid abroad increases stability in unstable regions, helps stimulate economic development and fight terrorism. However, despite its positive impacts abroad, some voices in the U.S. political sphere have called for reductions to the foreign aid budget, even though it already makes up less than 1% of the U.S.’s national budget. Alternative voices, however, both within government and outside of it, argue that not only maintaining but expanding the foreign aid budget would be beneficial to the U.S. and its benefactors. One such voice is that of the former U.S. ambassador to Estonia, James Melville Jr.
Former Ambassador James Melville Jr.
James Melville Jr. served as a member of the foreign service, the State Department’s diplomacy branch, for over 33 years. His primary focus throughout his career was to strengthen relations between the U.S. and its European allies, where he spent the majority of his career. He has been directly involved in many development-assistance programs in Europe, including his most recent tour as Ambassador to Estonia, where he assisted in Estonia’s acceptance process into NATO. Melville Jr. also served as a diplomat in Washington D.C. as the Director of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs — a position specifically focused on encouraging international security, aiding international economic development and coordinating with the EU to tackle regional issues. He also served in Seychelles, East Africa, and a number of other European countries. Melville Jr. sat down with The Borgen Project to discuss the importance of foreign aid.
The Importance of Foreign Aid
U.S. foreign aid is used in a number of ways abroad and is dependent on the needs of the recipient country. Some foreign aid, like that given to Estonia during Melville Jr.’s tenure, is used to support defense and development goals. Aid can also be used to strengthen humanitarian efforts and strengthen relationships abroad. Actors outside of government also recognize the positive impact of foreign aid. The Gates Foundation, which also advocates for foreign aid, says that foreign aid is beneficial not only to recipient countries but to other nations as well. The Gates Foundation focuses on helping people escape poverty, providing people with comprehensive healthcare and encouraging education abroad — all of which support international stability and better relationships abroad.
When asked about the importance of foreign aid in both the public and private sectors, Melville Jr. stressed its importance. “How can we fix our own problems and ignore the rest of the world when the problems like pandemics, financial panics and other issues are not bound by borders? It is our interest, in everyone’s interest, to participate in foreign aid…to keep everyone safe, you have to work across borders.”
Throughout the conversation with The Borgen Project, Melville Jr. emphasized the importance of funding and expanding foreign aid. “The return on investment, on the small number of our resources that we devote to development assistance, (that assistance) greatly facilitates our policies and planning to develop a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous world,” said Melville Jr.
Personally Seeing Foreign Aid in Estonia
During his tour in Estonia, Former Ambassador Melville Jr. was able to see foreign aid applied directly. During his time in the European Bureau, Melville Jr. watched as U.S. aid helped make it possible for Estonia to meet the standard required for membership in the NATO Alliance. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Estonia, alongside many Baltic states, suffered economically. In the years following the Soviet Union’s fall and as economic conditions slowly improved, Estonia and its neighbors feared that tensions with the new government of Russia would escalate. By pursuing a position in NATO, Estonia signaled to other NATO members that it was interested in guaranteeing security for itself and other members. With U.S. assistance, Estonia was able to complete all the requirements for NATO acceptance, further connecting the U.S. and Estonia together.
Although Estonia is no longer eligible for most of the U.S.’s assistance programs, there is a strong allyship between the two countries that has highlighted the necessity of foreign aid for unstable, developing countries.
– Grace Parker