In the third installment of its series of reports addressing national security issues (see New Security Beat
coverage of the first
reports), the Center for American Progress
offers a blistering critique of America’s foreign assistance approach
, arguing that American foreign policy during the second half of the 20th century helped create some of today’s security concerns. For instance, the authors maintain that if the United States had used more foresight while dispensing $24 billion in aid to Pakistan over the last 25 years, “[w]e might not be talking today about the extremism taught in many madrassas, or debating the best course of action for defeating the Taliban.” The United States leads the world in humanitarian assistance, write authors Natalie Ondiak and Andrew Sweet, and they argue that the United States need not contribute more, only more wisely.
According to Ondiak and Sweet, one of the major problems is that the United States spends “more on treating the symptoms of a crisis…than on the development programs that support crisis prevention.” This failure to prevent crises has resulted in dramatically higher long-term costs for the United States, they say. Pakistan and Afghanistan provide particularly striking examples of the shortcomings in America’s foreign aid strategy.
U.S. assistance to Pakistan has run hot and cold over the past 40 years, spiking early in the Cold War, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and rising to its highest level immediately following September 11, 2001. Ondiak and Sweet characterize the relationship as “consistently inconsistent.” Since 2001, Pakistan has been the recipient of $10.5 billion in assistance (excluding covert funds), but just 2 percent of this has been dedicated to development assistance. As a result, half of the population remains illiterate, job growth cannot keep pace with population growth, and extremist groups operating in the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas have become increasingly attractive to the one-third of Pakistanis still living in poverty.
In a major foreign policy speech attended by several New Security Beat contributors, Senator Barack Obama noted that he is sponsoring a bill, along with Senators Joe Biden and Richard Lugar, to triple non-military aid to Pakistan for 10 years. “We must move beyond a purely military alliance built on convenience,” he said.
Closely linked with the fortunes of Pakistan is Afghanistan, a country Ondiak and Sweet describe as “a good illustration of what happens when our ‘aid reaction’ is driven by geopolitical interests shaped by the ebb and flow of foreign policy priorities.” U.S. assistance to Afghanistan dropped off sharply following its conflict with Russia during the 1980s, leaving the country struggling to rebuild itself after fully one-third of its citizens had left the country as refugees. This disengagement cost us “the opportunity to consolidate the gains borne of the end of occupation,” argue the authors, instead allowing Afghanistan to lapse into state failure. Today, Afghanistan is the poorest country outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Half of its citizens live in absolute poverty, 70 percent are illiterate, and life expectancy is 43 years.
Ondiak and Sweet call it a “tragic irony” that the lack of public support for peacetime capacity-building assistance leads to a much greater need for emergency aid down the road. “Turning the aid spigot on and off,” they write, “rarely yields long-term, sustainable results.” Their recommendation is simple: The United States must prioritize development and crisis prevention and provide long-term aid packages. This will only be possible if the mindsets of politicians, policymakers, and the public shift to recognize that “what is true in our own lives is true on the international stage—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”