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U.S. Foreign Assistance: Creating a Toolbox for the Twenty-First Century

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Its no surprise that U.S. policy makers need a new typology for foreign assistance as a strategic tool. Throughout the Cold War, foreign assistance -- defined here as government resources provided to foreign governments, groups, or individuals to promote the donors national interest -- was viewed through the lens of East-West rivalry. The overriding goal of foreign aid was nearly always to cement the position of recipient governments in one camp or another, balancing spheres of influence between two superpowers. In the United States, a plethora of subsidiary goals evolved with no systematic hierarchy -- from saving lives, to promoting economic development, to preserving the environment. Achieving these ends was desirable, but not necessary to justify continued appropriations. The end of the Cold War made the former Soviet Empire a new target for U.S. aid, adding the transformation of authoritarian states into democracies to foreign aids mushrooming responsibilities. Goals multiplied until the Foreign Assistance Act came to prescribe as many as 33 objectives and 75 priority areas. For many American taxpayers and legislators, foreign aid became a losing proposition, because the aid inevitably failed at some, if not all, of its diffuse tasks. Dwindling support reduced American foreign assistance budgets to the smallest proportion of GNP among the industrialized members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. While the dwindling quantity of foreign aid dollars worries many foreign affairs specialists, the most pressing task is to define what we expect the budget to buy. The qualities of aid as a strategic tool for the next century must be clarified. This essay proposes four aid categories to replace the myriad purposes outlined in current legislation Security Assistance, Humanitarian Assistance, Assistance Combating Global Threats, and Liberalization Assistance.

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  • Government and Political Science

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