The coronavirus pandemic has affected many aspects of global politics, fueling worldwide nationalistic movements. In the U.S., President Trump has often invoked the phrase “America First,” signaling his desire to decrease US involvement in foreign affairs. He has repeatedly criticized the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and NATO. His comments are problematic, but his actions have been even more worrisome. For the 2021 Fiscal Year federal budget, President Trump recommended a 21% spending cut in the budget for foreign aid and the State Department, a cut that Trump’s administration has now proposed for the fourth consecutive year. In President Trump’s 2021 budget proposal, foreign aid accounts for less than 1 percent of total spending.
Though there seem to be many opponents of foreign aid, there should be little disagreement that US foreign aid has caused remarkable humanitarian improvement across the world. For example, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has prevented an estimated 17 million deaths, and US foreign aid has also seen great success thwarting other deadly diseases such as malaria, smallpox, and polio. Child mortality rates and the percent of the world living in extreme poverty have each been slashed in half since 1990. Of course, there are factors other than foreign aid that influence these successes, but foreign aid has played a key role in all of these incredible achievements.
There are some who, despite seeing these astounding successes, do not see foreign humanities crises as the responsibility of the U.S. It is worth restating that even though the direct recipients of foreign aid are not Americans, they are still people. The U.S. is the most powerful and wealthy nation in the history of the world, and I believe that it is our moral responsibility as a nation to help those who live in extreme poverty and lack the necessities for a base level quality of life, regardless of whether they reside in the U.S. or other countries.
Opponents of foreign aid, such as President Trump, routinely say that the money going to foreign aid should be helping our citizens instead, but there are several overlooked benefits of providing aid to other countries.
First, foreign aid improves the economy. Through lifting the living standards in developing countries, foreign aid creates entire new markets for U.S. products. Simply put, more consumers for U.S. products creates a stronger economy and more good paying jobs at home. Furthermore, as countries develop, they often create goods and services that Americans want. This creates lower prices, better products, and an improved market for U.S. consumers.
Secondly, foreign aid strengthens U.S. national security. Foreign aid stabilizes countries, both politically and economically, decreasing the possibility of war, terrorism, or other national security risks. In 2017 a group of 121 retired US generals and admirals wrote a letter to Congress in which they declared that foreign aid is “critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.” The use of foreign aid increases our influence and power across the world, allowing us to promote virtues such as liberty, equality, and democracy. Foreign aid improves global views of the U.S. and makes diplomacy easier, creating more stability and peace throughout the world.
Lastly, foreign aid can help stop future public health emergencies. Improving health care capabilities and living conditions in developing countries will decrease the ability of deadly viruses and diseases spreading throughout the world. This current pandemic is proof that sound public health infrastructure can be the difference between thousands and millions of lives potentially lost in a crisis.
As we are witnessing with the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot–no matter how hard we try–close ourselves off from the rest of the world. We must continue to be active leaders in the world, and we should start by increasing the foreign aid budget.