WASHINGTON, DC — The annual federal budget for 2013 was an estimated $3.8 trillion. After healthcare and pensions, our largest expense was far-and-away military defense. As the world’s wealthiest country with one of the highest standards of living in the world, defense is a constant concern, but there can be no arguing that the military is not sustainable; our military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan may ring a bill of $4 trillion before it’s over, and there are few positive returns from war.
The Commission Report from 9/11 highlighted one of the key elements of terrorism that the U.S. does comparatively little to address: “Millions of families, especially those with little money, send their children to religious schools, or madrassas. Many of these schools are the only opportunity available for an education, but some have been used as incubators for violent extremism. According to Karachi’s police commander, there are 859 madrassas teaching more than 200,000 youngsters in his city alone.”
Supporting people in impoverished countries makes them less vulnerable to housing terrorists. As the National Security Strategy of the Bush Administration observed, “The events of September 11, 2001, taught us that weak states, like Afghanistan, can pose as great a danger to our national interests as strong states. Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders.”
Learn more about U.S. national security and foreign aid.
According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, 84% of military officers said that strengthening non-military tools, such as diplomacy and development efforts, should be at least equal to strengthening military efforts. Yet the U.S. gives more money to its largest defense contractor than it gives to all aid efforts combined.
It’s true that the U.S. donates the largest amount to foreign development every year, but we are also the wealthiest and one of the largest countries in the world. When you note the percentage of our aid spending compared to that of other countries, we no longer look very proactive.
Luxembourg, who doesn’t have an army to support, gives the most, spending 1% of their gross national income (GNI) on foreign development. The UK however supports a large military and gives .56%, France and Switzerland both give .48%, Canada gives .32%, New Zealand and Austria both give .28%, and the US comes up in the rear giving only .19%.
Learn more about the U.S. and foreign aid.
The US has the largest and arguably, the most formidable military in the world, but ensuring that struggling nations have clean water, access to medication and schooling are the preemptive acts of avoiding further violent conflict.
Robert Gates, Former Secretary of Defense, states that “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers,” and Senator Chuck Hagel wisely reminds us that “we need to stop viewing it as aid. It’s an investment.”
What’s more, it’s in our economic interest to help other nations financially. We’ve always been met with high returns when investing in assisting the world’s poor. Over 40% of U.S. exports now go to developing nations. Nearly all of the United States’ top trading partners, from Germany to South Korea, were once recipients of U.S. foreign aid. By nurturing a developing middle class we establish new markets and alliances.
Learn more about global poverty and U.S. jobs.
Former Secretary of Homeland Security, Governor Tom Ridge says,“By building new markets overseas for American products, the International Affairs budget creates jobs and boosts the economy here at home.”
Each Tomahawk cruise missile costs the U.S. tax-payers $1.41 million. That’s enough to buy 109,600 books and have them shipped to various countries in Africa. So it all comes down to how we want to defend ourselves; with starvation and bombs, or with clean water and books.
– Lydia Caswell
Sources: Books for Africa, The Borgen Project, Huffington Post, OECD, US Government Spending