Skeptical Congress Accelerates Foreign-Aid Cuts
Charging waste and poor returns, GOP lawmakers sharply curtail a pillar of postwar foreign policy
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Bryan Johnson, a policy analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, says there is no evidence that foreign aid has helped poor nations and much evidence that it may actually have hurt by retarding needed economic reforms.Skip to next paragraph
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A forthcoming Heritage study indicates that of 64 nations that have received US foreign aid for a minimum of 35 years, two-thirds have economies that have remained stagnant or actually shrank.
On the other hand, East Asian countries like South Korea, which have received almost no development assistance since the mid-1960s, have experienced spectacular growth.
In the absence of foreign aid, Mr. Johnson says, the Asian nations were forced to reform their economies.
''We know there is evidence that foreign aid does no good,'' says Mr. Johnson. ''Cutting foreign aid is certainly not going to make anything worse.''
''In order for the US to truly help the poorer regions of the world and the conditions of poverty that exist, development assistance as we know it should be zeroed out,'' he adds.
Mr. Johnson's view, which is widely held by Republicans in the 104th Congress, is disputed by many development specialists.
They say it is unfair to draw conclusions about the efficacy of past US aid since so much of it was given with reference to cold-war politics - that is, to nations that were strategically important rather than to those that were truly deserving.
''When aid was given mainly for security and cold-war purposes, it did not have a positive development impact. That money was often wasted,'' says David Gordon, director of US policy programs at the Overseas Development Council in Washington.
But when aid has been devoted to development, Mr. Gordon says, the results have often been impressive, measured in terms of improved levels of education, decreases in infant mortality, reductions in fertility, and improved health.
''In the aftermath of the cold war, development assistance has been refocused overwhelmingly on countries that are engaged in difficult transitions to market economies and democratic government,'' Gordon says. ''It's a shame that we're cutting it just at this moment.''
''It's hard to point to much success in foreign aid in part because not very much has gone to areas where it's really needed - for example, human-resource development,'' says Gareth Porter, International Program Director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute in Washington. ''It's a little like Christianity: it's never really been tried.''
The legislation includes several amendments long-sought by President Clinton.
One is a waiver that releases $368 million in military equipment paid for by Pakistan but held in storage because of the Islamabad government's nuclear-weapons program. Another gives an 18-month extension to a measure authorizing aid to the Palestinian Authority, which has acquired limited authority in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank turned over by Israel.