To begin with, we should focus on the most crucial part, which is: what is actually meant by humanitarian assistance and/or intervention? According to Danish Institute of International Affairs, humanitarian intervention constitutes for: “the theory of intervention on the ground of humanity (...) recognizes the right of one State to exercise international control over the acts of another in regard to its internal sovereignty, when contrary to the laws of humanity”. Why is it so crucial for that to be the right? Without the option of having right of intervention, also called in law "droit d’ingerence”, the states and international and national non-governmental organizations would be unable to act on the problem, as the operation must be carried on the territory of the other state. That also requires the agreement of the state officials for the help to be brought in. Without it almost nothing can be done, simply because the humanitarian aid will not be delivered to the ones in need. That is what we face now with the case of Yemen, which is being torn away by the internal conflict, leaving many of its citizens without access to water or food. The UN WHO is not able to hand them out the supplies they need, as the authorities constantly deny access to the territory, where these groups live. Kids are getting sicker out of malnutrition, and the photos of ubiquitous famine in poor countries is the source of constant nightmares to the majority of the developed world. Sometimes there are many other problems like local rebels, who are intercepting the food and destroying it, just to get the people on the verge of extinction, such as Houthi group in Yemen.
Now, that I explained the legal regulations standing behind the humanitarian aid, time has come to explain some basic rules of how it should be performed. There are seven basic rules, which are mentioned by the International Committee of Red Cross and Red Crescent, according to which it provides assistance: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. Why are they so important? Firstly, as a donor of humanitarian assistance, you help everyone in need, not only the part, you think should be taken care of. Impartiality is also absolutely indispensable, as without it you can be easily targeted by the enemy of people you help. If a group of humanitarian workers remains impartial, they will be able to serve each and every person in need as well as avoid being killed for helping civil population and treated like enemy by foreign troops. That is why if you are not engaged in any conflict politically, it is easier to help human beings begging for it.
In 2017, as of one of the consecutive years, the United States of America have been the biggest donor of humanitarian action, sacrificing aproximately $6.6 billion towards it. Most will think that such amount of money is uniquely impressive, but the truth is that it contributes only for 0.4% of its national gross income, hence it is possible to donate way more than that. The countries that are or were the biggest humanitarian aid takers at the time are the following: Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Palestine and South Sudan.
Here we reach the main thesis of this essay: The big majority (as big as 66%) of Americans wants to help poorer, less developed countries, yet they do not want to pay for it. They want to be perceived as donors, yet some way less than half of the ones questioned are in favour of increasing the taxes, which would be donated to that case. The main cause of Americans being a little bit fixated on taxes is the fact, that they do not possess knowledge on how much their country actually spends on humanitarian aid. When General Marshall Fund conducted a survey on how much of the federal budget the US government actually spends on humanitarian assistance, and whether it is too much, just about right or too little, the vast majority expressed the opinion of their government spending way too much on that kind of aid, and chose 31% as the part of budget given to help poorer countries. When asked about the right amount that should be spent on humanitarian aid they claimed, that 17% would be accurate. The funny thing is that, when they tried to pick the amount of money that in their opinions should be spent on foreign aid they actually brought in the number, which is more than twenty times bigger than reality! That only proves the statement that Americans are one of the top uninformed nations in the world, and they have completely no idea, where the money they give goes.
The article of the Council on Foreign Affairs also shows us the poll, in which Americans compared to the representatives of other six countries were to choose, what, in their opinion, are the crucial reasons standing behind their countries eager to help. While the opinions of the citizens of all seven countries were similar on the fact of helping others because of: “alleviating poverty”, “fighting health problems like AIDS”, “supporting economic growth” and “helping with natural disaster relief”, the opinions were completely different about other issues, with Americans choosing as one of theirs priorities to ”contribute to global stability”, while Europeans tended to choose ”promoting democracy” aspects. The biggest difference was about the option of “gaining political allies”, as this statement gained support of as much as 13% of Americans, whereas it gained interest of only 5% of Europeans, which is almost three times less in comparison with their west neighbours. In my opinion, it shows that the approach to humanitarian assistance of each country is different, but especially the United States’ citizens express bigger tendency to acquire new friendly countries, especially well-militarized ones. Also, it may be the proof of the Europeans’ much more peaceful approach. It is probably shaped by the fact that Europeans are connected with many allies outside of Europe, as their former colonies and other countries somehow related to them. On the contrary Americans used to separate from others for years, before the establishment of the United Nations, especially concerning the League of Nations joining procedure failure after the President’s, who was one of its main projectors, contribution.
What is fascinating is the fact, that according to the Council of Foreign Affairs publication, when it comes to the role of multilateral institutions and aid for developing countries: ”There is strong U.S. support for multilateral institutions taking the lead in setting aid policies and delivering development assistance, but not in dealing with refugees.” I think that such statement is probably connected to the fact that most of the Americans are in favour of delivering humanitarian aid in the place of conflict and catastrophe. They try to avoid the problem of waves of refugees seeking to enter their territory, as they are having troubles with assimilation of the migrants nowadays. Most of the Americans according to the poll conveyed by the WVS in 2005 think that the United Nations is the organization that should take lead in the humanitarian aid. Such poll leads me to the conclusion that neither of the countries, which citizens were polled, wants to take care of delivering aid to people in need. I think that it is caused by the fact that with help walks the responsibility, which is huge, when it comes to such missions. Of course, humanitarian aid should never be conducted on the auspices of one state, but even if within the UN the coordinator (country) would be chosen for one- or two-year cadency, it would be easier to perform this aid donation faster and more effectively.
Also, what is interesting in the Americans’ opinions is that the humanitarian aid, which is impartial and immediate, should be adjusted to the recipients’ behaviour. That means that when a country is not supporting the States enough through the diplomatic relations, money for such country should simply be cut. It is reasonable, on the basis of the state of country’s democracy because, when we are giving our help to the ones, who are haunted by their governor aspirations for an autocratic regime, there is a much lower chance of help being given to people in need.
As I described views of people representing different nations, I will now move on towards the aspect of how great politics shapes the help and its size with public relations and searching for the allies in developing countries. In the article of Kenan Malik, the author compares the list of countries, which are the biggest recipients of humanitarian and development aid, funded by the United Kingdom and by USAid program, to the list of five countries considered to be the poorest out of all in the world. What is interesting is the fact that among the list of all the top recipient countries, the poorest countries are not even marking the list’s top ten! This leads the author towards the conclusion, that humanitarian aid is in fact the geopolitical instrument of finding supportive allies on international area. Further, the author explains, that even the USAid website proclaimed once, long before actual President Trump, that: “The principal beneficiary of America’s foreign assistance programs has always been the United States. Close to 80% of the US Agency for International Development’s contracts and grants go directly to American firms.” That means, that all the aid is basically used to the USA’s bigger influence on international politics, and that the aid is in fact used to support the country’s market, instead of the idea of ”just being good.” According to the author, even the US Congressional Research Service in their report of 2014 considers the aid as the thing that: “can act as both carrot and stick and is a mean of influencing events, solving specific problems and projecting US values.” That is by far the biggest proof of the fact that foreign aid, now even more often given out as loans, is just the method of doing business. After being devastated by his discoveries, Kenan Malik puts it as: ”as a global system, foreign aid is a fraud. It has become a means not of ameliorating inequality, but of entrenching it.” I think that humanitarian aid is still needed, and the one that author is describing is mostly not exactly humanitarian assistance, but rather the aid sacrificed for the development, that is why he seems so depressed about the fact of ”humanitarian aid”, which is rather development one, that is so tied up with profit, when it comes to the biggest players in the area.
But what is the difference between foreign and humanitarian aid? Foreign aid is mainly associated with the country’s government, which decides to give the financial subsidies to the government of the other country. According to the wikipedia.org, the majority of Americans believe that such kind of foreign aid should target African countries as top recipients. This is because, probably, the American population believes in the duty of helping the poor, and feels paternalistic towards the African society. What is interesting is that the tendency is rolled over in comparison with the Eastern European countries, which foreign aid subsidies should be cut up to 40%. I think that this phenomenon is caused also by the stereotype of African countries to be undeveloped, backward, and all kind of not adapted to the modern world. This opinion descent from the fact that because countries on the African continent were decolonized only from 60 to 40 years ago, the majority of citizens living the Global North still considers them not developed enough. Though, the Eastern European countries should be as well perceived as the main recipients, because the time, when they were included in USSR, should never be counted as the part of independent existence.
As one of the experts says: the main focus of the USAid now should be on Central and Southern American countries, as: ”dollar for dollar, individual by individual, programs designed to give Central Americans a better future at home are arguably much more cost-effective than the thousands of dollars it can cost per capita to detain, prosecute, and then deport them.” Currently, one of the biggest goals of American administrations is to isolate USA from Mexico to prevent unwanted immigration. However, it is never going to be achieved, unless some programs will be conducted in the place, where these people live, because as the author said, it is crucial to prevent them from leaving their homes, as it is much cheaper for the US government to pay for the domestic help in the reality of South America than it is to maintain them on the USA’s soil. The author also suggest that we can achieve two goals by only one aid, because when we do offer enough help, we will not have to deal with the immigration problems haunting the North-America’s continent, so that the caravans of them will not have to enter the US.
In the short film by the Wall Street Journal, an expert explains that USAid has cut its budget by 28% in the 2018, but it was not a good decision, as this money is an investment in the countries, that are to become the USA’s customers, just like Germany did after America’s aid in the post World War II era.
But how does USA currently spend its foreign aid budget? Before answering this question, we should start from the fact that it is based on the legal act which is named: “1961 Foreign Assistance Act”. Before Donald Trump started running his office, aid provided by the USA with all the military assistance had reached 1.2% of federal budget. When the current president took over his office he proclaimed, that there was a need to cut this budget by one third and to limit the money spent on the humanitarian aid to, as he called, ”America’s friends.” However, the major part of currently reigning Congress disagreed with the president and decided to oppose his decision. When it comes to the latest history evolution of the foreign aid of the United States, experts say that now it is on one of its highest levels since the end of World War II. Just after it, the most of the assistance was given to rebuild European states, but from time to time, the aid was reduced. Then in the 1990s it was of the lowest value out of whole American history, reaching only 0.8% of federal budget. Then it rose again after 9/11 attacks, as the American government understood that without it, counter-terrorism actions might be ineffective. Again, in 2007 Bush’s health programs implementation produced the need for money and peaked it at 1.4% of federal budget, mainly focusing on Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently, the foreign aid of the United States is divided in different sections, which are: Long-term development aid (42 percent), Military and security aid (33 percent), Humanitarian aid (14 percent) and Political aid (11 percent).
Which countries are main recipients now? These are, according to the James McBride: Iraq ($5.3 billion), Afghanistan ($5.1 billion), Israel ($3.1 billion), Egypt ($1.2 billion) and Jordan ($1.2 billion). What is important is that vast majority of it goes towards military and security providing activities, so that actual development help may be even two times less than that. Consequently, we should distinguish between those dedicated to the actual help, and those contributed for military cases.
But why are the Americans opinion such divided concerning the topic of foreign aid? Firstly, because many experts’ or influential people’s opinions are separated. The approach is divided because experts consider other values crucial when providing foreign aid. On the one hand, there are those, who think that it is the only way of stopping illegal and legal immigration. On the other hand, there are those, who believe that it is actually not in favour of countries that are helped to take the foreign aid provided by the USAid, as it makes them addicted to such subsidies, and sometimes may result in the economy collapsing after cutting it. The second argument of those in favour is the fact that the USAid stopped the spreading of serious diseases such as polio, HIV/AIDS, and it is the way of increasing political stability. It is the opinion mainly of billionaires such as Bill Gates, and several people of economic background. Those against express their opinion in the fact that the level of people’s life in Africa has not increased since the 1970s, so they consider it wasteful spending.
There are many more arguments on both sides, but main question is why are Americans so eager to be perceived as donors of humanitarian assistance and do not want to pay? Firstly, they do not know what is the amount of money spent on the aid. Secondly, they are convinced that the additional tax should be made in order to pay more. As of why they want to be perceived as donors is the fact that they are strongly emotionally attached to the vision of being “the Nation of Doctors”, ready to solve all the problems of contemporary world. Secondly, they donated a substantial sum after World War II and now are willing to protect their status. But what is the perfect solution? We should just make them aware of what is the real American spending on that type of aid, and that it only requires President and Congress’s decision, on whether to increase or decrease the amount of money spent on it and it does not always require an extra tax.
Author: Agnieszka Starczewska