- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Since September 11, some proponents of increased foreign aid have claimed that the United States has decreased its aid budget and that this must be reversed in order to help secure us from further terrorist attack.

Their implication is that had U.S. foreign aid spending not declined, the September 11 attacks might have been avoided. Allowing such arguments to go unchallenged not only ignores the U.S. contribution now and over the last 30 years to the world community, but also offers a dubious direction for future foreign policy.

The apologists' arguments for increased foreign aid can be distilled into three main points. First, they claim that foreign aid has dropped dramatically in recent years. The resulting destitution of the world's poorest nations ala Afghanistan and Somalia make them likely to incubate and harbor terrorists. Therefore, increasing foreign aid dramatically will increase U.S. security. Regretfully, this explanation falls apart on close examination.

Proponents of more foreign aid neglect to mention other U.S. international expenditures and contributions. These include providing a military force that has kept a post-World War II peace in stark contrast to the preceding period, and it includes private investment that is a far more efficient provider of economic development than foreign aid. Likewise, they skip over the fact that an aid recipient's behavior has a greater impact in determining development than does the amount of aid.

These omissions aside, U.S. spending on foreign aid has not dramatically declined but has rather been a model of consistency over the past three decades. According to the Office of Management and Budget's estimates, spending on development and humanitarian assistance will be $7.8 billion in inflation-adjusted (constant 1996 dollars) in 2001. That is slightly ahead of the 1993-2002 annual average of $7.7 billion, 1983-1992's $7.4 billion average, and 1973-1982's $7.39 billion. All in all, current spending over the last 30 years has been roughly the same.

Looking at broader data, official development assistance information as submitted to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reveals the same static spending story. Again, using constant 1996 dollars, we see that average foreign aid spending since the end of the Cold War (as measured from the Nov. 9, 1989, collapse of the Berlin Wall) was $11.5 billion annually. Measuring in 11-year increments prior to the collapse reveals averages of $11.5 billion from 1979-1989, and $11 billion from 1968-1978.

The fact that there hasn't been a dramatic drop in foreign aid spending over the past 30 years undercuts the thesis that this has caused an increase in world poverty. In fact, just the opposite has occurred: Since 1980, the number of people below the poverty line declined by about 200 million while the world's population grew by 1.6 billion.

Of course, the connection between wealth disparity and terrorism was already tenuous.

Certainly it is possible to name poor countries such as Afghanistan and Somalia terrorist havens. However, it is also possible to name countries that are not destitute by world standards that are also linked to terrorism: Syria, Libya, Iraq and Iran spring readily to mind.

Nor in Afghanistan's link to terrorism should it be forgotten that Osama bin Laden was not a home-grown product but from relatively affluent Saudi Arabia, whereby he financed his activities.

The wealth disparity argument is also undercut on the other side of the coin by looking at the victim side of terrorism's equation. Britain, Sri Lanka, Ireland and Israel have all been victims of terrorism longer than the United States, yet no one would say that these nations were terrorism's victims because of their relative wealth.

While poverty may be a contributing factor, it is far from the only or even the leading cause of world terrorism. That ignominious distinction goes to the ideologies of hatred that truly fuel terrorists. Poverty and wealth are relative terms and inherently complex. Ideology deals in absolutes and in doing so simplifies reality into a distortion. Why people hate, let alone choose to do so, has bedeviled us well beyond the last few months or even the last few centuries. It is enough we should know that it was not the lack of aid that is to blame for September 11, much less is it the United States, but the terrorists themselves.

J.T. Young is a deputy assistant secretary at the Treasury Department.

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