by Jim LobeInter Press Service
March 2, 2002
Despite past pledges to address poverty overseas, the administration of President George W. Bush has shown far more zeal for using military means to fight terrorism than for the less-spectacular tools of development and economic assistance to address its causes. When the administration recently unveiled its proposed 2003 budget, this assessment was made abundantly clear.
Bush left the total amount requested for economic, development, and humanitarian aid at virtually the same level as this year - under USD 10 billion - but asked for the biggest one-year increase in defense spending since 1966: from USD 331 billion to USD 379 billion in 2003. The 14.5 percent increase in what already is a larger Pentagon budget than the combined budgets of the world's next nine biggest military powers came to USD 48 billion, a sum greater than what Britain, Washington's closest military ally, spends on defense in a full year.
Guns, Not Butter
Adding to the impression that the administration sees guns as far more urgent than butter in its "war on terrorism" was the fact that Bush asked for a comparable increase in the military component of the foreign aid program. If he gets his way, the United States will provide more in loans and subsidies for poor nations to buy weapons with aid money next year - some USD 4.1 billion - than it will spend on bilateral development aid, overseas disaster and refugee assistance, and support for UN development programs combined for the first time in more than a decade.
The budget's release comes on the heels of the administration's outright rejection of a British-backed proposal for donor countries to double development aid to poor countries - from USD 50 billion to USD 100 billion a year. The proposal, sometimes referred to as a new "Marshall Plan," a reference to the huge US aid program to rebuild Western Europe at the outset of the Cold War, was aimed at cutting in half the approximately 1.3 billion people living in absolute poverty by 2015, an explicit goal agreed on by leaders who attended the Millennium Summit at the United Nations two years ago.
Ignoring Root Causes
These actions are fuelling the perception overseas that Bush has little or no patience for addressing the root causes of terrorism whose complexity may defy the good/evil categories which dominate his rhetoric. "Washington thinks primarily in terms of eradicating the symptoms of evil by military force," according to Dominique Moisi, deputy director of the Paris-based Institut des Relations Internationales, writing in the Financial Times. "Europeans, by contrast, underline the need for fairness in a less unequal world and concentrate on the roots of despair."
But the administration's actions are also creating growing unease in the United States, even among some conservative Republican lawmakers.
"We need to start thinking of the foreign assistance budget as part of the national security budget," says Rep. Jim Kolbe, chairman of the powerful Foreign Operations Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, who expressed frustration that the aid budget has actually fallen in real terms over the last 15 years.
"It seems to me there's just a real disproportion here," complained Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes in a recent exchange with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who made increasing the foreign aid budget a major goal of his tenure when he was sworn in on year ago.
"A little bit of extra money on your side, as opposed to the defense side, will go a long way in terms of achieving (US) objectives," he noted. "I mean, the (Pentagon's budget) is about 14 or 15 times larger than yours, so just a tiny fraction shifted over to you would make a big difference."
Good Soldier Powell
But Powell, ever the good soldier, would not bite, even though shortly before, he had told an audience at the World Economic Forum in New York that Washington must do more to defeat "poverty, despair and hopelessness" which he said breed terrorism. "I don't think you should make that kind of comparison," he told Sarbanes, stressing that it was Bush who decided how to apportion the budget.
Indeed, given Bush's still-astronomical standing in the public-opinion polls in the aftermath of the military campaign in Afghanistan, lawmakers and even aid advocates remain unwilling to speak out forcefully against what appears to be a growing militarization of US foreign policy. Even the development lobby has been both reluctant to criticise the allocations within the aid budget and resolutely silent on the huge imbalance between foreign aid and military spending.
"The polling shows that people support the president and the military," says one senior aid lobbyist. "There's no point in taking that on now."
Instead, the aid lobby is focusing on speeches by Bush and other top officials that appeared sympathetic to increased aid. Last November, for example, Bush pledged to the UN General Assembly, "In our struggle against hateful groups that exploit poverty and despair, we must offer an alternative of opportunity and hope."
"The rhetoric doesn't match reality," says Mary McClymont, president of InterAction, a coalition of 160 private development and humanitarian aid Agencies. She charges that the administration's aid proposals contain "serious inadequacies," particularly in failing to provide more money for health, education, and other programs which she says had achieved clear results over the years.
"We do believe that now is actually the right moment (to call for more aid)," she stresses. "People are increasingly seeing a link between our own personal safety at home and places like Afghanistan."
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