Foreign aid as defense. We know it sounds crazy, but think about it. Not too long ago, President Obama did. He even wrote an essay for “Foreign Affairs” about it, titled “Renewing American Leadership.” In his piece, Obama states that, “since extremely poor societies and weak states provide optimal breeding grounds for disease, terrorism and conflict, the United States has a direct national security interest in dramatically reducing global poverty and joining with our allies in sharing more of our riches to help those most in need.” Basically, Obama is asking for the U.S. to spend more on foreign aid, in lieu of a larger national defense budget.
When you think about it, the argument makes sense. Extremist threats to national security are bred in volatile areas: areas with high disease rates and low education rates, which commonly result in poorer economies overall. Plus, studies have shown that investing in impoverished areas for basic human needs, such as health and education, makes a big difference to economies. The argument here is also logical. People work more hours when they are healthy and they get better-paying jobs when they are educated. Improving infrastructures in those countries would fight extremist threats before they even arise.
The fact of the matter is that using U.S. foreign aid to assist countries abroad is actually a great idea. However, like all great ideas, Europe came up with it first. Currently, the European Union as a whole gives the most foreign aid in the world. Just take a look at the percentages from the United Kingdom, which in 2014 spent 70 percent of its total gross national income on foreign aid. This is coming from the nation that colonized nearly half the world less than 100 years earlier. Talk about a change of policy.
However, when we compare these numbers to the U.S., our numbers are embarrassingly low. Less than 1 percent of the U.S. Federal Budget goes to foreign aid, according to NPR. Compare this to the over 20 percent spent on U.S. military and defense in 2011, and we see a big difference. This is especially significant when you consider that 56 percent of Americans think that the U.S. is spending too much on foreign aid. However, the average American also thinks that the U.S. spends around 28 percent of the budget on foreign aid — a dramatically inflated opinion.
The U.S. spends so much on defense and military that it ends up looking like damage control. Just like the United Kingdom did, the U.S. should consider foreign aid to be a substantial part of its foreign policy and increase spending for it. As the most powerful country in the world, the U.S. has the ability to help improve living conditions in many impoverished areas, and it needs to start doing that instead of sending a military presence to whatever region represents a threat.