Development Aid:
No Time to Retreat from

Global Leadership


Charles F. Dambach

Most Americans assume we are the worldís most generous provider of foreign aid. In fact, weíre not even close. Among the 21 prosperous nations that comprise the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we rank dead last. On a per capita basis, several Scandinavian countries provide ten times as much as the United States. Japan contributes four times as much, and Canada contributes three times as much as we do. Three countries that are much smaller than the United States contribute more actual dollarsóJapan, France and Germany.

Following World War II and through the 1960s, we were the most generous donor, but we lost that honor long ago. Currently, only 1% of the U. S. budget is devoted to all non-military foreign affairs combined. That tiny proportion includes dues to the United Nations, the costs of operating our embassies, and security aid for the Middle East, as well as development assistance and humanitarian disaster relief.

Most of this foreign affairs budget is used for programs that directly benefit our own economy and our security. One-third is devoted to peace initiatives in the Middle East, which help to preserve the peace and ensure a low-cost and secure supply of oil for Americans. In addition, the costs of our diplomatic establishment account for just over a quarter of the budget.

We invest a modest 7% of the international affairs budget to help Russia, other former Soviet republics, and a few other places build democratic institutions. By promoting democracy we help protect against a return to communism. Thatís a lot less than the cost of a renewed cold war.

Eighteen percent of the international affairs budget is for Development Assistance. A large portion of it is actually used to combat drug production in Latin Americaóto solve
an American problem. Development Assistance also promotes economic development, which creates markets for U. S. products.

The only part of the budget that is fully an aid program, something that helps others without a direct pay-back to the United States, is the Humanitarian Assistance program. It uses less than one-tenth of the international affairs budget. Thatís one-tenth of 1% of the federal budget for disaster relief and to combat poverty around the world. Clearly, there is no ìgive-awayî in our tiny international affairs budget!

Contrast the small size of foreign aid with its achievements, and the story is truly extraordinary.

We won the Cold War without firing a shot at our most powerful enemy. Military deterrence was a big part of the story, but so was diplomacy and the friends we made with our aid programs.

Along with democracy, market economies are producing hope and opportunity for progress on every continent. Developing countries have become the fastest-growing consumers of U.S. products, creating good jobs for American citizens.

Through the green revolution, the growth in world food production now exceeds population growth. Infant mortality has been cut in half, and people in developing countries live nearly 20 years longer than they did just a few decades ago.

Americans living and working as diplomats, as aid workers, and as Peace Corps volunteers helped to make this miracle possible. In fact, between 1970 and 1992, the period during which we made a serious effort to combat world hunger and poverty, the worldwide hunger rate dropped from 35% to 20%. Even though the population increased significantly during that time, the number of people suffering from malnutrition dropped from 918 million to 841 million.

While food production has kept pace with population growth, distribution has not, and new production techniques may not be sustainable. Every 10 years, the world produces enough new faces to populate another Chinaóover a billion people.

Where will they live? Who will grow their food and deliver it to them? How will they earn their way? What form of government will guide or control their lives?

Much of the answer is in our hands. In spite of the progress, a billion people, mostly women and children, will go to bed hungry tonight. Thirty-five thousand of these children, under age five, die of malnutrition and related preventable diseases each and every day.

As we share this small planet, we share this problem. It is at the root of the immigration challenges we face. Locking the door and building a wall will not keep the huddled masses away. We have more than adequate resources to do something about it. Tragically, we seem to have lost the will.

Disasters, whether man-made or natural, create untold misery for millions of people every year. The pain of human suffering is not determined by geography, and our help should not be, either.

Can we afford it? Of course we can. Following World War II, we invested 15 times the current level for foreign aid to help our friends and our most bitter enemies to recover and prosper. We are wealthier now, and we can afford to do even more.

This is no time to retreat from world leadership. And we cannot afford to try to lead on the cheap. We cannot abandon the hungry who need our technology and support to become self-reliant. We cannot continue to be the least generous donor nation and expect to remain the most respected leader. v


Charles F. Dambach is President of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), a non-profit membership association formerly known as the National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. It is independent of the federal agency, the Peace Corps. NPCA sponsors Global TeachNet, a global education program with a national information network for K-12 teachers. For information about grants, publications and workshops, contact the websiteóóor TeachNet Director Anne Baker at NPCA, 1900 L Street, N.W., Suite 205, Washington, DC 20036. Tel.: 202-293-7728, ext. 8;
fax: 202-293-7554; e-mail: