US foreign aid cut would worsen global woes

By Li Yincai Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/28 19:03:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Since Donald Trump took office, the US has undergone a sharp withdrawal from global obligations, including a significant cut in external aid spending. According to a New York Times article written by former US secretary of state Colin Powell, the US would eliminate economic and development assistance t0 more than 35 countries. The Trump administration is also eyeing $1 billion in cuts to UN peacekeeping operations. The cuts still need to be approved by Congress, but whatever adjustment is made to the specific amounts, the overall trend will remain unchanged.

Before WWI, the US overtook the UK to become the world's largest economy. Under the influence of isolationism, the US evaded global obligations until it got involved in WWII. After that, it implemented the Marshall Plan in Europe and the Point Four Program in Third World countries, which helped the recovery of major economies and boosted global stability and prosperity. Assistance to Third World countries became a policy tool of the US in its competition with the Soviet Union.

The US established a self-dominated world order featuring liberalism, viewing the world as an inseparable and interdependent unity. Countries, especially major powers, are obliged to provide assistance to weak ones. As China gradually becomes the second-largest economy in the global system, the argument of former World Bank president Robert Zoellick to make China a "stakeholder" has become a mainstream. 

The assistance of the US is not solely out of moral responsibility to the international community. External aid spending is a way to expand and consolidate the power and influence of the US, allowing it to change the policy preferences or even governmental system of beneficiary countries.

The proportion of external aid is not high compared with the huge federal spending of the US. The aid budget in 2015 was $43 billion, accounting for only 1.1 percent of the federal budget and 0.24 percent of GDP, far below the level required by international community of 0.5 percent of GDP.

Cutting external aid spending is in accordance with Trump's merchant mentality. Policy tools are placed on a scale of utilitarianism, and as a result the power and influence of the US will be reduced.

Rampant terrorism worldwide has pushed the number of refugees to its peak. Meanwhile, the recovery of the global economy remains sluggish and the development of emerging markets has slowed.

Under these conditions, the absence of US leadership will lead to a more uncertain future for global problem solving.

Take UN peacekeeping expenses as an example. Its budget of $8 billion per year is unable to improve the deteriorating security situation in areas like Mali, South Sudan and Somalia. The US used to cover 20 percent of total expenses and the anticipated sharp cuts will surly put the UN in a difficult situation.

Refugees are creating a bigger challenge. The number of refugees remains high due to continuous civil conflicts. The outflow of refugees will cause more problems, making the recipient countries suffer greatly. A large number of refugees have gathered in relatively poor areas like Turkey and Kenya. Without sufficient funding, these people will exacerbate the conflicts and humanitarian crises.

At this critical juncture when the global order is experiencing a fundamental transformation and adjustment, inward-looking and utilitarian tendencies of a leader are obviously not a good thing. China can play its part, but certainly cannot replace or fulfill the role of the US.

The author is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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