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STUDY'S CALL TO END FOREIGN AID MISGUIDED.

Byline: Robert Lloyd Local View

THE conservative Heritage Foundation recently issued the results of its study into country voting records at the United Nations. The study contends that foreign aid, contrary to official American claims, has little impact on gaining international support for American policy initiatives at the U.N.

In the 1997 U.N. session, 74 percent of foreign aid recipients voted against the United States a majority of the time, up from 64 percent in 1995. Egypt, for example, received over $2 billion of hard-earned American taxpayers' money, but voted against the U.S. 66 percent of the time.

The Heritage Foundation study is clearly designed to influence coming congressional deliberations on foreign aid appropriations on next year's budget. The lesson one is supposed to learn from this study is that foreign aid (less than 1 percent of the total federal budget) is a waste of money on ungrateful and unresponsive Third World countries.

Such a view, however, misses the mark. Foreign aid is designed to achieve broad American foreign policy objectives. Linking votes to money is a simplistic way to approach the question of how best to assess the effectiveness of foreign aid in furthering American interests.

The United States, viewed by an increasing number of countries as the big bully in the international clubhouse, only confirms their worst suspicions when it publicly attempts to force countries into submitting to its views on every issue.

A wiser American approach is to pick one's battles. Votes against the U.S. on issues that are not critical to American interests are simply not that big a deal. It is politically naive to expect the national self-interest of other countries always to coincide with those of the United States. Friends can and do disagree.

The U.N. is a forum by which relatively weak countries like India, Peru and Ethiopia can affirm their sovereignty against fears of domination by an American superpower. Providing a way to save face is just as important in international as in interpersonal relations.

A second objective of foreign aid is to promote economic growth and development. Much foreign aid is directed to develop the infrastructure badly needed to compete in today's global economy. Most poor countries simply cannot afford these types of public investments.

Can Mozambique, one the world's poorest countries, ever possibly afford to build an air traffic control or road system to allow for the rapid movement of people, goods and information that must be available to businesses seeking to invest in the country? At this point in its development the answer is clearly no.

Another aim of foreign aid is humanitarian. American foreign aid for public health and medical research in developing countries saves lives. Easily treatable diseases kill or sicken millions of children each year. Furthermore, many of these diseases can easily book first-class tickets on Boeing 747s. A well-funded public health system reduces the threat that diseases like the nearly always fatal ebola virus will spread quickly from afflicted individuals in Congo to Americans living in Los Angeles.

Critics of American foreign aid often note that much of it is wasted or stolen by corrupt government officials, making worse the prospect of development for the people of that country.

It is undeniable that foreign aid is frequently misused. The alternative proposed by the Heritage Foundation, however, is not an acceptable one. Cutting foreign aid is not the type of message the United States wants to send to the world. Foreign diplomats will interpret that action to mean that Americans, acknowledged as the leading world power, are selfish. Americans want the benefits of that position with few if any of the obligations and responsibilities that come with leadership. Furthermore, an American position that is uninterested in the plight of less fortunate countries around the world teaches a lesson that American values of democracy and free-enterprise, if they cost the U.S. anything, are expendable.

American foreign aid buys influence not votes.

The United States wishes to export democracy, free-enterprise and a fundamental concern for human rights best expressed in our Declaration of Independence. Other countries do not always want to buy these products, but foreign aid gets the United States' foot in the door.

Foreign aid is like a game of poker: You have to have chips to play the game of power. Cutting back foreign aid reduces the number of chips the United States can play. In any game, you win some and lose some, but with no chips you have no hope of winning anything.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 23, 1998
Words:756
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