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Persuasive Aid: Looking the Gift Horse in the Mouth

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Foreign assistance has changed since the Cold War. What was once a cooperative tool of statecraft that is, an activity undertaken for the recognized mutual benefit of all, is increasingly a persuasive tool that is, an activity taken by Actor A to persuade Actor B to do something in As interest. The adage goes that one should never look a gift horse in the mouth. Yet that is exactly what many aid recipients are doing - questioning whether aid is in their own best interests and, if so, whether the policies donors advocate form the best way to promote those interests. This paper seeks to examine the changing perception aid recipients have of the nature of foreign assistance. The argument will be made that donors must either adjust their assistance policies to be truly cooperative, or accept the natural tensions implicit in the use of persuasive aid. For the Cold War warrior, foreign assistance was a straightforward mutual exchange. The United States would give a poor country something useful like a bridge, a health system, or a navy and, in return, the poor country would give its support against the Soviets. The Soviets, of course, were engaged in the same barter system. The key element is that aid was not used primarily to build the wealth or health of recipient countries, but to ensure U.S. security in the global arena. In the post-Cold War era, recipient countries recognize the non-altruistic nature of aid and increasingly question its utility in pursuing their own strategic interests. To the extent recipient countries do not see mutual benefit in accepting foreign assistance, donors must expect resistance. When donors find a country is hard to help, they are probably faced with a government that sees aid as contrary to its own interests. Developing countries will continue to look cautiously at the teeth of the gift horse of foreign assistance since, in their view, it is not a gift at all.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Psychology

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