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It's Chaos

March 30, 1987

Partisan fighting over the budget, the arbitrary squeeze of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings on federal spending, and the disparate foreign-policy agendas of Congress and the Administration are creating unprecedented chaos these days for the U.S. foreign-affairs budgets. The confusion risks important American foreign-policy initiatives.

The desperate condition of millions of people is largely ignored in the present debate. The bulk of the foreign aid that has survived the congressional ax is military aid and is concentrated on a half-dozen nations. The individual prejudices of a relatively small group of Congress members imperil the single most effective assistance program for the poorest of the poor--the World Bank's International Development Assn. As a result, the United States, with 47% of the income of the industrialized market-economy nations, provides only 30% of the official development assistance.

Africa, the most distressed continent, is the worst affected. American aid to sub-Sahara Africa has been cut in half since 1985 even as the needs, and the opportunities, have grown. A total of 22 African nations have accepted stringent reform measures in recent months to accelerate economic development, but there has been no response in terms of aid increases. A constructive proposal in Congress to reverse this trend faces a crucial test Tuesday when the House Foreign Relations Committee marks up authorization legislation.

The argument is made, of course, that this does not really matter, that the poor of America should be the priority. It is a dangerous argument. The development of the Third World is of crucial importance to the future economic growth of all nations as interdependence in global markets increases. Aid need not be at the expense of America's poor. On the contrary, it is likely to help them with domestic job generation in the long run. The growth of the Western economies depends on the growth of Third World markets and trade. Further, the stability of the Third World, crucial to international order, is assured only as development itself is assured.

The entire foreign-affairs budget, including aid and diplomatic operations, makes up less than 2% of the federal budget. It is more than affordable. It is cost-effective. But its value is obscured by the rigidity of the White House, preferring to jeopardize any program rather than to seek appropriate tax resources, and a Democratic leadership in Congress that has yet to provide a clear budget plan of alternatives.

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