The United States and Foreign Aid

What is the U.S. approach to development aid — and how does the world view its policy?

June 28, 2002

What is the U.S. approach to development aid — and how does the world view its policy?

The idea of giving foreign aid to poor countries seems to contradict the “American Way.” Many Americans are driven by the idea to make it from ‘rags to riches’ on their own. Yet, the United States is the most powerful nation on earth. Other countries are convinced that this power comes with responsibilities — such as to head the global fight against poverty. Our Read My Lips feature traces U.S. uneasiness with foreign aid — and what some close U.S. allies have to say about current U.S. practices.

Why should world poverty concern the United States?

“We have globalization on the cheap. But we pay for it in the many cases of state failure that lead to violence and war.”

(Jeffrey Sachs, Harvard economist, October 2001)

What does the U.S. President think about poverty?

“I worry about stories and pictures I see of people going hungry — and children not being educated.”

(U.S. President George W. Bush, February 2002)

Why is the United States so cautious about foreign aid?

“Over the last 50 years, the world has spent an awful large amount of money in the name of development — without a great degree of success.”

(Paul O’Neill, U.S. Secretary of Treasury, November 2001)

Is that a big surprise?

“The problem of making poor countries rich was much more difficult than we thought.”

(William Easterly, World Bank senior advisor, March 2002)

How has foreign aid developed in recent years?

“As official aid has dwindled, corporations are the only organizations that can bring investment, jobs and technology to poorer countries.”

(Reginald Dale, International Herald Tribune columnist, July 2001)

Secretary Powell, what is your opinion on aid?

“We have to go after poverty, we have to go after despair, we have to go after hopelessness.”

(U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, March 2002)

Why is the fight against poverty so important?

“Poverty can foment hopelessness, resentment and anger, which in turn can lead to instability and even terrorism.”

(Robert Rubin, former U.S. Treasury Secretary, March 2002)

Does that mean hunting down terrorists is not enough?

“We will not create a safer world with bombs or brigades alone.”

(James Wolfensohn, World Bank president, March 2002)

Why are European leaders so adamant about more U.S. involvement?

“We formed a strong coalition against terrorism. We need an equally strong coalition against poverty.”

(Joint statement by the leaders of Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Sweden, March 2002)

What makes U.S. involvement all the more crucial?

“There could be no more potent spokesman for increased aid than George W. Bush, the war leader.”

(Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of UN Development Program, March 2002)

How have the events of September 11 changed the U.S. mindset?

“America has tended to view international affairs as an act of charity. We go forth into the world doing good — rebuilding Europe, providing foreign aid, combating communism. But this time it’s about us, not about them.”

(Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek columnist, December 2001)

Has that been appreciated in Europe?

“I think we got some focus in the White House, and realization that you can’t make the world safe just by military action.”

(Clare Short, Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development, March 2002)

Who managed to convince President Bush to raise aid spending?

“Dick Cheney walked into the Oval office, he said, ‘Jesse Helms wants us to listen to Bono’s idea.'”

(U.S. President George W. Bush, March 2002)

How optimistic are some in the United States about the new aid initiative?

“Foreign aid will not solve the world’s problems — but it will make a difference, especially combined with U.S. leadership.”

(U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), March 2002)