May 22nd, 2021

In Praise Of


Recent events in Gaza and Colombia have led to calls for the conditioning of foreign aid—a controversial but longstanding element of the US foreign policy toolkit for pursuing economic and political aims abroad.

A 2007 article by STEVEN HOOK looks at the effort to condition foreign aid as part of the post-Soviet transition following the Cold War.

From the article:

"Upon the Cold War's demise, the global development aid regime coalesced around the overarching goal of sustainable development. Among other components of this goal, such as preventing ecological decay and restraining population growth, the promotion of democracy emerged as a primary concern. Bush and Clinton looked to foreign assistance as a primary vehicle to promote the expansion and consolidation of democratic rule. The stated objectives of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) were aligned with those of other major donors and international organizations, with themes related to all aspects of sustainable development assuming a high profile. Leaders of USAID announced new standards for aid qualification and reorganized the agency's bureaucratic structure, in Washington and in overseas field missions, around the new mission. In some cases, most notably former Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), USAID missions were closed because their host governments had proven to be 'poor partners' in implementing reforms. The agency's central challenge became convincing a skeptical Congress and general public that global democratization was as vital to US national interests — and as worthy of the country's financial sacrifice — as was communist containment during the cold war.

The rhetorical alignment of US aid policy with that of the development aid regime represented a profound departure for the United States, which had long diverged from regime norms in the qualitative aspects of aid policy even while serving as the primary donor of aid at an absolute level. The uneven results of the US policy may thus be attributed to unresolved tensions between the principles advocated by the aid regime and the coexisting and often contradictory foreign-policy objectives of the US government. While changes in the international environment may alter the substantive foreign-policy priorities of donors, and while transnational regimes may impose pressures on donors to promote objectives that cross national boundaries, the ultimately political role of foreign aid as an instrument of foreign policy remains its distinguishing feature."

Link to the text.

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