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U.S. Budget Problems: Implications for Development WorldwidePosted by: admin on Thu, 2011-08-04 09:53
Against a backdrop of intense debate over cutting government spending, experts met this week to discuss the future of international development programs. With U.S. humanitarian and development assistance on the chopping block, some are raising concerns about the impact on national security.
By Caldwell Bishop
Over the past decade, there has been growing bipartisan agreement on the importance of international development. The consensus that international development is in the United States’ interests led former President George W. Bush to push for an increase in money allocated to agencies such as USAID in 2006/07. Now, however, with the government facing record deficits, funding for development work is once again taking a back seat to issues viewed by Congress to be of greater importance to national security.
The reforms that took place in Fiscal Year (FY) 2006/07 sought to increase personnel, improve training, and fix what has been largely viewed as an ineffective and fractured system for appropriating foreign aid. While these changes received some criticism, they have shown progress in advancing the U.S. government’s capability to deliver effective aid and development programs. As Congress prepares to drastically cut spending to reduce the national debt, the future of the development agencies is starting to look bleaker than it was just a year or two ago.
In an event – “Debts, Deficits, and Development” – sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, speakers Gordon Adams, George Ingram, and John Sewell touched on this subject and others pertaining to the U.S. national debt.
Several of the event’s speakers asserted that, as the U.S. government tries to deal with the growing debt, Congress has focused on preserving those programs it deems have a direct effect on national security. As a result, analysts estimate some of the major cuts to international development programs for FY 2012 will include: USAID operating expenses cut by 27 percent from FY 2011, poverty-focused international development and humanitarian assistance by 13 percent, and international disaster assistance by 12 percent. By comparison, the only defense account being cut for FY 2012 is security, which will be reduced by just under 1 percent from its FY 2011 budget.
In the current debate over slashing spending, the defense budget appears to be one of the most-protected programs. Despite this, there are those who still argue that cutting the defense budget puts the United States in jeopardy. As Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham wrote on Twitter on Monday (August 1st), “If fully implemented, the consequences to our nation’s defense infrastructure would be severe, and these deep cuts would come at a time when threats to our nation are increasing, not declining.”
There are others who argue, however, that U.S. international development spending should also be viewed in the context of national security. Experts, such as Gordon Adams and Cindy Williams, have argued that the United States has a security interest in furthering the development of poor countries. In fact, Afghanistan and Pakistan are two of the biggest recipients of USAID money because the Obama administration believes USAID’s programs serve a vital function in America’s relationship to both countries. As a part of the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan, the U.S. is planning to keep diplomats in-country to work on development and combat terrorism long after the scheduled decrease in U.S. military presence. With the anticipated reduction in funding over the next decade, however, Gordon Adams raised two important questions at the Wilson Center event: How do we empower aid workers and diplomats to end conflict? Is Congress prepared to empower them?
Recent polling has shown that humanitarian aid and development work can actually reduce hostility toward the United States. This suggests that reducing the amount of humanitarian aid the United States offers in the future may be detrimental to national security interests.
In a recently published Pew Center report examining public opinion in Muslim populations in non-Western countries and Western countries, it was noted that in both Indonesia and Pakistan, there was a positive correlation between U.S. humanitarian aid and public opinion on the United States in those countries. Perhaps it is time the U.S. government starts viewing development as an area directly affecting national security and allocate adequate funding to it. As one of our earliest presidents in U.S. history once said, “Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy, and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it.”
Caldwell Bishop works with AudienceScapes and is a graduate student at The George Washington University. His research interests are in East Asia, development, economics, the environment and human rights.