Foreign Aid Goals Change With the Times

Recently, this newspaper provided a stark reminder of just how much some people haven't kept up.

"Reining In Foreign Aid," (March 20), a commentary by former Reagan and Bush administration official Richard Armitage, claims US foreign assistance programs are not doing enough to support US foreign policy. The author expresses puzzlement as to why US assistance programs are promoting economic growth, advancing democracy, protecting the environment, and working to slow population growth around the globe. While he calls these laudable goals, he says they are not supported by Americans and seems not to understand what they have to do with America's stake in the world.

We have a foreign assistance program that is more in sync today with our foreign policy goals than ever before. As Secretary Albright so eloquently noted in June of last year, "In the wake of the cold war we must heed the lessons of the past, and take advantage of the opportunity that now exists to bring the world together in an international system based on democracy, open markets, law, and a commitment to peace."

Recognizing that today's world is very different from that of even 10 years ago, the Clinton administration has dramatically overhauled our assistance programs. No longer do we pass out money to dictators and autocrats simply because they will line up on our side in an ideological conflict. The US now has the luxury of working with those governments who are committed to reform, free markets, and democracy. This is not charity work. We have an important interest in assisting developing nations to become more democratic and prosperous.

By 2000, four out of five consumers will live in the developing world. We cannot expand our markets without investing in emerging nations. US assistance to promote economic growth directly spurs American trade and prosperity. In the 1990s, US exports to developing countries are expanding by 12 percent annually, more than double the growth to industrialized countries. US exports to developing countries rose from $82 billion in 1987 to an estimated $244 billion in 1996. Exports to developing countries now account for 40 percent of all our exports.

Our public health programs also typify this sense of enlightened self-interest. By treating diseases like AIDS and emerging viruses like Ebola in developing countries before they reach our shores, foreign assistance programs lower health costs at home. The foreign aid program has been a key player in the effort to help eradicate polio - a goal that we can reach globally by 2000. When we eradicate the last pockets of polio in Africa and South Asia, US taxpayers will save $230 million a year in domestic immunization costs.

The author criticizes the State Department and the US Agency for International Development for poor coordination. While this may have been true in his day, it is no longer. Coordination between the State Department and USAID has vastly improved, and ambassadors in the field realize that development is an essential element of the US foreign policy agenda. In turn, USAID is far better positioned to respond to high- profile foreign policy initiatives, and the agency has played a key role in efforts ranging from rebuilding Bosnia to helping Rwandan refugees return home.

No, the Clinton administration approach to helping America through a forward looking foreign policy and effective assistance program doesn't look much like the way things were done during the cold war. As President Clinton's very successful trip to Africa so vividly demonstrated, a lot of things have changed for the better in the developing world, and it will be our loss if we don't take advantage of these new opportunities.

J. Brian Atwood


Administrator, USAID

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