Posted by: cousindampier | 2 September 2010

Why do State’s give Aid?

“No Good Deeds Goes Unpunished” – Princeton N. Lyman and Stephen B. Wittels (subscription req’d)

Lyman and Wittels’ article covers the paradox in American foreign aid in regards to the amount which goes to HIV/AIDS programs. Because of the long-term and permanent nature of the aid, America gains diminishing leverage over countries because the denial of aid would cause people on AIDS medication to go without, and likely die.

Aid and influence is an interesting dichotomy. Aid, ideally, should be given out of a sense of nobleness; but while we don’t live in a purely Machiavellian world, we live in enough of one to ensure this isn’t true. America gives aid to a fair number of states, and while we don’t demand total compliance in return, we do ask for leverage.

(Ironically, we want leverage from the aid we give, but we ask that our politicians don’t give any extra consideration to those people who get them elected, which is mostly just another sign of the dual mindset of American culture.)

Lyman and Wittels state in their closing, “The notion that development and diplomacy will always reinforce each other, one of the principles of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s plan to make them the ‘twin pillars’ of U.S. foreign policy, is questionable on many fronts. For one thing, development efforts typically last much longer than the more immediate demands of diplomacy, a disconnect that is particularly acute in the case of PEPFAR. Thus, Washington will need to develop a diplomatic strategy to advertise humanitarian commitments such as PEPFAR as evidence of U.S. Goodwill, without hoping to use them to pressure recipient governments on unrelated issues.”

American strategy – Grand Strategy, how it will engage the rest of the world – is based around Defense, Diplomacy, and Development. The obvious problem is that three pillars are controlled by two departments, and one department has a substantially larger budget than the other. Defense costs more, so that makes sense, but finding the money for long-term, development projects is difficult in the best of times. Aid is already on the public chopping block, so increasing the budget is politically difficult.

Curing AIDS is a high-profile issue, which Congress will grant money for. Lyman and Wittels ask what happens when that amount begins to substantially increase, and where does it stop, as more new infections happen than people put on medication.

When a state is rich enough to allocate foreign aid, it is in a good position. Allocating that aid, however, is crossing a line it is difficult to return to. At some point, exactly how those 3D’s – and, specifically, how diplomacy and development interact, and the role defense has in regards to securing or creating the context for development projects, needs to be articulated. Actually, better than that would be a definition of where, exactly, America’s priorities lie, and an approach to each which uses a combination of the three.

America gives aid because of humanitarian and national interest. But why do states give aid, and at what point is it an accepted activity to do so?



  1. This is such an interesting question. Have there been comparison studies on why particular countries give aid and their respective motives? I wonder what Zarina would say about this article; she might know some answers because of her work at Eurasia Foundation….

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