Besides the domestic turmoil caused by the plethora of executive orders passed during the first 100 days of the new US presidency, the Trump administration’s intention to slashing its international aid by over 30pc has also stirred consternation amongst development stakeholders, and across the developing world.
The so-called ‘carrot and stick approach’ is an idiom often applied in international relations to refer to the inducements and the potential threats used by powerful countries to exert their influence around the world. The US has long utilised this dual-sided approach, by retaining the largest military force on earth, as well as providing the most amount of money to other countries in absolute terms. However, the incumbent US administration with its ‘America First’ budget blueprint is insisting on billions in reductions to non-defence programmes, whereby signalling the intention of investing more in hard rather than soft power.
Foreign Policy recently cited sources claiming that the new presidential team even wants to fold United States Agency for International Development (USAID) into the State Department. USAID is reportedly anticipating that the budget proposal will eliminate 30 to 35 of its field missions and cut down its regional bureaus by nearly 65pc. This would undoubtedly impact their current outreach which extends across a hundred countries.
USAID is surely not without problems. It has often worked in tandem with agencies, such as the World Bank to perpetuate the market mechanism, which may help stimulate growth but can often bypass poorer people in developing countries. However, instead of making USAID rethink some of its existing strategies, drastically slashing its outreach is hardly a positive step.
Most Democrats and even some Republicans have declared opposition to the Trump administration’s budget plans. The US Congress, thus, unlikely will not consent to the entire aid reduction proposal. Yet, aid experts still fear that the next budget passed by Congress will be a compromise, which will probably end up lowering spending on international aid and assistance.
Development experts within the US realise that reduction in international aid would eviscerate the most important tool of American influence in the developing world. Back in February, over 120 retired generals and admirals had sent an open letter to the White House and Congress cautioning against cuts to foreign aid, which they acknowledged as being vital for maintaining global stability, confronting extremism and curbing refugee flows.
USAID reduction would also adversely impact relief and development efforts in many poorer countries in the world. These proposed cuts come at a time of a major humanitarian crisis, such as the famine affecting millions of people in South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia. Cutting aid would also undermine longer termed development goals and commitments, of improving health and education facilities, and enabling vulnerable countries to cope with the effects of climate change.
As things stand, it seems that significant cuts to US foreign aid will probably take place soon, alongside a hike in defence spending. Such moves are being justified in the name of making the US government leaner and more focused on ensuring the security and well-being of Americans. Yet, the ability of the evident shift in US policies to achieve the goal of making America ‘safe and great’, remains fiercely contested. Moreover, how other world powers will choose to respond to the opportunity of diminishing US influence in setting international aid agendas is an issue that is not getting much attention, even though its implications could be significant.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2017.