The link between International Aid and National Security is less obvious than we thought. (So let’s spell it out)

(Originally posted on Medium at: https://medium.com/@jeremyerdman)

We have a moral imperative to help those in less fortunate positions than us. Moreover, the more the US provides for and safeguards the well-being of the less fortunate in the less developed world, the greater dividends we see on our investment. Creating strong and stable communities throughout the world reduces their susceptibility to chaos in the midst of drought, famine, or political upheaval; in turn, this investment reduces the likelihood of needing to intervene after a despot or other leader has capitalized on the chaos and began to consolidate power. This is important because, as we have learned from recent history, the US has an affinity for trying to overthrow despots.

Why am I choosing to write about this connection? It seems pretty straight forward, right? Well, apparently, it is not. Back in March, the White House released its budget, and it cuts the Department of State and US Agency for International Development (USAID)’s budget by 28 percent. How does the White House justify this cut? Budget Director Mick Mulvaney explains:

“This is a ‘hard power’ budget. It is not a ‘soft power’ budget,”

According to Reuters, this statement refers to the president’s desire to prioritize direct military power over the influence fostered through development aid. Such prioritization will likely result is more demonstrations of force, like the US Navy’s arrival off the coast of North Korea in June.

USS Ronald Reagan (front) and USS Carl Vinson and (back R) sail with Japanese navy ships (Picture: Retuers)

While such actions may dissuade unfavorable actions by a despot in the short term, demonstrations of force do not help address underlying issues as to why the despot is in power to begin with. Moreover, demonstrations of power do not always dissuade against unfavorable action, as North Korea has continued to test its ballistic missiles despite the US’s increased Navy presence.

The uncertainty behind the effectiveness of military intervention and demonstrations of force underscores the need for continued investment in foreign aid. USAID’s scope of work is detailed on their blog:

Spending less than 1 percent of the total federal budget, USAID works in over 100 countries to:

The list above shows the wide range of needs that USAID fulfills around the world. Their operations and grants help less developed nations grow, but they also ensure that nations remain stable. How does their aid help promote stability? In my last blog, I discuss the plight of coal communities and their susceptibility to Trump’s coal message due to crippling economic conditions. I state that fear regarding one’s poor economic conditions and uncertain livelihood makes it impossible to plan for and invest in the future. Fear and desperation for change makes someone either more likely to cling to a despot’s promise for radical change or unable to stop his/her ascent.

To fight fear, we must inspire hope. We need to foster opportunity. In 2010, USAID approached Wilfred Charles’s community in Malawi with the opportunity to install an irrigation system. Wilfred, a farmer, pastor, husband, and father of four, joined with 269 volunteers to build irrigation canals. The work was hard. So hard, in fact, that the volunteers dwindled down to Wilfred and five other men. The six men worked for three years to finish the canals, but their work quickly turned around benefits for their community. Their labor and dedication provided for larger yields, which allowed for families to send their children to school, build houses, and have more economic opportunities.

Stories like Wilfred’s demonstrate the power and necessity of foreign aid and the opportunity we will destroy through a 28% cut to USAID’s budget. Whether you care about national security, the well-being of less developed nations, or both, foreign aid invests in the future of others and creates a more stable world. As the world becomes more and more connected, we need to recognize that investing in others, like Wilfred and his family, makes all of us better off.

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