Two Sides of the Foreign Assistance Coin
The world we live in today is more interconnected than ever before—though we may not share soil or language, religion or currency, we are neighbors in this global community. Together, we face challenges that are more complex than any we have ever encountered: violent extremism that threatens our core values of democracy, equality, and freedom; conflicts and natural disasters that devastate and displace; diseases that unroll in waves across entire regions.
As a leader of our global community, the United States drives international efforts to tackle these challenges, while simultaneously protecting American interests in this complicated landscape. Facing these dual tasks is almost like holding a coin in our palms—on one side we see unprecedented challenges, but we cannot forget that opportunity gleams up from the other side. We have the opportunity to lead the world in providing dynamic solutions, to strengthen the framework of our country and stimulate our economy here at home, and to empower the nations that are developing today, so that we can broaden our partnerships with them tomorrow.
We can only fully leverage these opportunities, though, when we invest in foreign assistance—a powerful tool integral to advancing our foreign policy goals to build and sustain a more secure, peaceful, and prosperous world. At only one percent of the federal budget, foreign assistance reaps benefits far beyond our investment.
Foreign assistance helps us provide holistic solutions and support the President’s top foreign policy priorities, like keeping the American people safe. Threats to our shores and those of our allies are intricate and knotted, and protecting our people and our values can take time and investment. Foreign assistance helps lay the groundwork to untangle complex challenges, and has proved effective time and again. Since 2005, our Global Peace Operational Initiative has facilitated the deployment of over 200,000 peacekeepers from its partner countries to numerous UN and regional peacekeeping operations around the world. Our Conventional Weapons of Destruction program has made substantial progress in fighting the illicit trafficking of Small Arms/Light Weapons (SA/LW), reducing over 34,000 man-portable air-defense systems, destroying 1.8 million SA/LW and 95,000 tons of munitions worldwide. Our security assistance programs complement the capacity-building activities of our military—the world’s premiere fighting force—and promote American values among foreign forces.
Our countering violent extremism (CVE) programs complement our security assistance work by engaging civil society, breaking the life cycle of recruitment and radicalization, and building community resilience against the broader spread of violent extremism. As part of this effort, we are expanding our youth-led CVE interventions to empower young people as change agents in preventing violent extremism in their communities. We are also elevating the role of women in these efforts. A prime example is the “Mothers School” program, which brings together women in South and Central Asia to develop strategies for detecting warning signs of radicalization to violence in their communities, and for taking preventive measures. We also support civil society-led dialogue, mediation, and reconciliation initiatives among traditional and faith leaders, youth, security forces, and government officials in communities identified as susceptible to violent extremism.
Foreign assistance programming that bolsters the economies of developing nations is also an investment in US foreign policy. These activities help us build a more prosperous world, which in turn creates expanding markets for US exports, supports more well-paying jobs, and strengthens the middle class here at home. Partnerships like Trade Africa are an example of this mutually beneficial relationship. This program increases internal and regional trade within Africa, and expands trade and economic ties between the continent, the United States, and other global markets. Such programs help countries to achieve international standards with the potential to help increase economic and political stability regionally, and to better position the United States to access the world’s fastest growing, dynamic economies.
Our world can only be prosperous if citizens of our global community are healthy, and helping to eradicate diseases globally is a top foreign policy priority. Our foreign assistance allows us to respond to illnesses that we have been fighting for decades, like malaria, as well as those that suddenly become epidemic, like Zika. We are committed to supporting a full range of efforts to detect, respond to, and prevent further spread of the Zika virus globally, while taking every step necessary to protect the American people here at home. Our fight against malaria is decades old, and we are coming ever closer to eliminating it—a priority of our administration. Malaria disproportionately affects the poor, particularly pregnant women and children in Africa, and traps families in a vicious cycle of disease and poverty. Through foreign assistance programming like the President’s Malaria Initiative, deaths from the disease have dropped in Africa by 66 percent in all age groups, and 71 percent among children under the age of five since 2000. That translates to millions of lives saved; millions of people who can continue partnering with us in our efforts to sustain our peaceful, prosperous global community.
This investment in foreign policy begins and ends with the American taxpayer—our most important stakeholder. At a fraction of the total federal budget—just one percent—our foreign assistance funds multifaceted programs that range from stabilizing communities liberated from Daesh, supporting dynamic climate change initiatives, responding to global humanitarian crises, and aligning resources to strengthen US alliances and partnerships with emerging powers. These examples are just a few of the myriad programs and initiatives that piece together this powerful foreign policy tool at an extremely low cost, and that provide a powerful return on investment.
As we work with foreign governments to help them strengthen institutions and increase accountability, we lead by example. The Department of State recently expanded its evaluation policy, requiring each bureau to conduct evaluations every year and post results publicly. We also expanded the quantity and quality of data available on ForeignAssistance.gov. Here, users can freely access the aid data of the US government agencies that implement foreign assistance activities on behalf of the American public.
As leaders in our global community, we must learn from our past as we look to our future. What will the next ten years of foreign assistance look like? What about the next 50? In September 2015, the US government joined all 193 countries represented at the United Nations to set ambitious, global development priorities for the decades ahead, known as Sustainable Development Goals. These objectives, which include ending poverty and reducing inequalities, represent unprecedented global commitments to investing in our collective future and achieving progress on the world’s most significant social, economic, and environmental challenges. These Goals apply to all countries—developed and developing—and every one of us has a stake. A continued investment in US foreign assistance is an investment in these Goals, and in our leadership position in our global community.
Right now we hold this coin in the palm of our hands, that shiny side gleaming up at us. Investing in foreign assistance is critical to our foreign policy toolkit and should not be a coin toss. Through continued partnerships with other government agencies, and inviting the private sector and nonprofit community to join the conversation, our foreign assistance can become an even more agile and effective tool that America can continue to rely on to help us lead and further our foreign policy goals.
Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources