President Trump’s plan to cut foreign aid and development assistance deeply to help pay for higher defense spending is unwarranted: the relatively modest U.S. spending on Official Development Assistance (ODA) — which comprises most U.S. foreign aid — already lags most developed nations as a share of the economy, has fallen in recent years, is considered relatively effective, and has the support of many military officials.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) produces widely used information that compares the ODA — which funds “economic development and welfare of developing countries” — that 28 developed nations provide. The latest OECD data, for 2015, show that:
As for the effectiveness of U.S. development aid, here are two key points:
First, the United States administers its ODA more effectively than most other nations do, according to an index by the Center for Global Development (CGD). CGD says the United States is particularly effective at targeting its aid on poor countries and at being transparent about its efforts.
Second, military officials are frequently among the most supportive proponents of U.S. development aid, not only because of its humanitarian benefits but also because it addresses the root causes of many conflicts. Notably, in one immediate response to the Trump plan to cut foreign aid to help pay for military spending, 121 retired generals and admirals wrote in a letter to congressional leaders:
The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way. As [current Defense] Secretary James Mattis said while Commander of U.S. Central Command, “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.” The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism – lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.