The Roles of Aid in Politics Putting China in Perspective



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Lebovic, James H. (1988), “National Interests and U.S. Foreign Aid: The Carter and Reagan Years,” in Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 115-35, Sage Publications, Ltd.

The analysis has contributed to an understanding of foreign assistance allocations. Donor interests are shown to account for the largest portion of assistance allocations even while the means and ends of foreign policy are shown to vary: The interests that guide policy change with time as do the instruments by which they are pursued.

The analysis also permits specific insights into the factors behind US allocations: First, and perhaps foremost, political-military considerations are shown to have predominated in the foreign assistance policy of both the Carter and Reagan Administrations. Military inducements were the primary determinants of US aid in the Carter years, and country alignment was most important in the Reagan period. But economic interests play a significant role in US assistance policy, and they appear critical to US relations with the least-developed countries. In these countries, foreign aid may be aimed at fostering market expansion, resource acquisition, and economic penetration. Human needs played a secondary role in both Administrations. This is shown in the more limited capacity of human needs variables to explain foreign assistance, and in the limited circumstances under which these explanatory variables are important. The US has been most sensitive to the development needs of countries that are aligned with the US, and even the Carter Administration apparently denied aid most consistently to rights violators that were not aligned with the US. Though human needs explain some of Reagan's assistance allocations, the evidence is that the allocations involved followed from Carter Administration policy. In all, then, it can be said that a clear hierarchy among US foreign policy goals exists in the area of foreign assistance.

Second, this study has demonstrated the importance of disaggregating foreign assistance for analysis. Mistaken inferences follow from the combination of unrelated programs or the ad hoc partitioning of complementary ones. A distinction between military and economic assistance was appropriate in the Carter years, but it was unsound in the Reagan years where economic and military assistance programs appeared to substitute for one another. Moreover, economic and military assistance should not be thought to be, respectively, intrinsically ‘development’ or ‘security’ assistance. Just as the US does not measure its security only in military terms, it does not provide for its security solely in these terms. In sum, this study belies the analytical separation of political and military interests from development policies, and economic from military assistance.

Finally, this study has addressed the question of whether US foreign policy is primarily marked by continuity or change. Unfortunately, the answer evokes the notion of a cup that can be viewed as either half full or half empty. A great portion of Reagan policy can be explained by that of Carter, and even though aid amounts and recipients changed, some of the same interests prevailed in both Administrations. Changes between these Administrations are unquestionably apparent, but they can be considered to be largely changes in emphasis rather than in kind. The Carter and Reagan Administrations differed dramatically in their rhetoric and professed concerns, and the composition of the Congress changed as well. But the results of this analysis could be taken to suggest that policy resides less in the elected leadership than within the forces impinging on it. Despite claims that the US foreign policy consensus has broken down and the widespread questioning of the efficacy of foreign aid and the objectives it serves, policy continues to rest on the assumption that the US has important global responsibilities and faces serious international threats to its vital interests. For this reason, US assistance policy may be surprisingly impervious to change.

Lebovic, James H. (2005), “Donor Positioning: Development Assistance from the U.S., Japan, France, Germany, and Britain,” in Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 119-126.

In this study, I show that traditional models fail to account for a theoretically important, windfall profit that countries receive from their primary donors and that a consequence of neglecting this “bonus effect” is that models understate important (indirect) effects of donor interests on aid. Using a Heckman treatment model, I assess bilateral aid distributed to 101 countries, between 1970 and 1994, by the U.S., Japan, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, the OECD’s five largest bilateral aid donors. These five analyses assume that, for a prospective aid recipient, a donor makes two interrelated decisions: (1) how much aid to give that country and (2) how to position itself relative to other donors (i.e., whether or not to be the primary donor). The findings support realist and neo-liberal arguments about the sources of donor aid policy. […]

The evidence from the analysis is that the neglect of positional considerations renders traditional models incomplete. Indirect effects of primary donor relationships linked to donor interests exert substantial upward pressure on the foreign aid budgets of the U.S., Japan, France, and Britain in the 1970-94 period. Primary donor relationships were pursued by the U.S. to serve its Cold War priorities and security interests, by Japan to serve its trade interests, political concerns, and Asia-based strategy, by France to serve its trade interests, by Britain to serve its political and security interests, and by France and Britain to support their former colonies. In consequence, these donors acted as if giving aid in large quantities to priority countries was not enough, as if influence rested in preponderance. Although the evidence is less compelling that donor self-interest translated into net benefits for countries for which Germany was the primary donor, the reason lies, in all likelihood, in historical realities and Cold War-era preoccupations that left Germany less concerned with maintaining a visible global presence.

Supporting realist arguments, donors established themselves as primary donors within priority countries to capitalize on the prestige and symbolic benefits that come from being the largest contributor. But this apparent division of labor offers even stronger support for neo-liberal arguments: donors remained the largest contributor for countries in which those donors immediate economic, political, and security interests were not obviously at stake. Whether or not donors desire primacy for its own sake, they may stand by their primary commitments and expect others to do the same. In that sense, the findings also provide reason to probe the normative origins of state interest and not just settle for studying its effects.



Lebovic, James H. and Voeten, Erik (2009), “The Cost of Shame: International Organizations and Foreign Aid in the Punishing of Human Rights Violators,” in Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 79-97.

The statistical analysis provides strong evidence that UNCHR resolutions that condemn a country for poor human rights performance are correlated with large reductions in World Bank and multilateral loan commitments, but have no impact on bilateral aid allocations. Instead, bilateral aid responds mildly to short-term changes in levels of civil rights. These findings have a number of interesting implications for the broader literature in international relations.

First, they shed light on whether public shaming votes in international organizations actually ‘matter’. This issue was addressed heretofore with the circumstantial evidence that countries would not exert energy in shaming, and defending against it, if such actions carried no weight. A more convincing case is built around the practical consequences of these sanctioning votes, as they affect donor allocation patterns. We account for this finding, in theoretical terms, by arguing that public votes communicate information about actual norms violations and political preferences within the international community. This information can be useful to other IOs, such as the World Bank, that make consequential decisions under constraints imposed by the preferences of their political principals.

Second, the findings contribute to the large literature on material consequences that governments experience for failing to live up to human rights standards. This literature has focused mostly on bilateral aid or trade relationships and has reduced the role of IOs, at least by implication, to persuading or socializing donors to design their aid policies around the human rights practices of potential recipients. We argue that governments often do not have the incentives to punish norm violators bilaterally, even if these governments would prefer, in the abstract, to punish rights abuses. This gives governments incentives to delegate the enforcement of human rights norms to multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank – this is an important point, because prior research suggests that states might soften their abusive practices with the right foreign incentives, for example, preferential trade agreements (Hafner-Burton, 2005).31

Third, these insights contribute to the literature that asks why governments choose to delegate aid allocation to multilateral institutions. Milner (2006) argues that governments do so because their domestic publics will otherwise doubt that aid has a non-political character. Rodrik (1996) argues that, compared to individual donors, multilateral aid institutions can more credibly demand policy concessions from aid recipients. We provide an additional reason: multilateralism allows states to overcome a collaboration dilemma – based in the competitiveness of strategic-based aid allocations – that prevents states from deferring to normative principles when allocating aid.

Our findings are interesting, too, because the World Bank is not generally believed to engage in human rights norms enforcement. Although the World Bank is under considerable pressure from NGOs and governments to take human rights and other social/political factors into consideration when making policy, project, and programmatic decisions, and has adjusted its staff and priorities accordingly, it must also defer to the preferences of its principals. UN resolutions denouncing the human rights performance of an individual government provide a strong signal that project applications by that government can and should be evaluated with admonition. These signals are likely less important for the commission’s actions per se than what they represent – a glimpse or culmination of a larger political process through which countries are marginalized in international politics. By the time the UNCHR acts decisively against alleged violators, they could be well along in the process of global shaming. Notable, for instance, is that the commission contended with some cases (e.g. Israel) because they were symbolic cases and acted, then, in response to world opinion as much as to reinforce that opinion. Regardless, the implication remains that, in an important sense, multilateral institutions bolstered their interventions by ensuring that they had adequate international political support and, thus, that the World Bank acted as a selective enforcer of international human rights norms.



Lensink, Robert and White, Howard (2000), “Aid Allocation, Poverty Reduction and the Assessing Aid Report,” in Journal of International Development, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 399–412.

The Assessing Aid report, drawing on work by Collier and Dollar, argued that to prioritize poverty reduction aid should be reallocated to countries with large numbers of poor and which have good policies. We entirely endorse the notion that aid could be better targeted to poverty reduction by removing the factors that distort the aid programme, in aid allocation as well as project selection and design. However, we would argue strongly against donors adopting the Collier-Dollar model as an aid allocation rule. On theoretical grounds the model fails to appreciate that growth is only one channel through which aid can affect poverty. On those grounds alone the importance of the policy environment, whilst not irrelevant, is weakened. But the argument that ‘aid works better when policies are right’ is also seen to be empirically flawed, so that the relationship between aid, policies, growth and poverty reduction becomes rather more ambiguous.

The notion that selectivity should be applied, and so the poor abandoned in those countries who have the misfortune to live under bad governments, no longer follows once the aid plus policies equals growth formula is broken. This is perhaps just as well as there should be wider recognition that there is not agreement about what are the ‘right policies’ for either growth or poverty reduction, and that the same set of policies may not be appropriate in all times and all places. In general Assessing Aid gives weak guidance to policy makers on how to improve the poverty impact of their aid. The discussion of aid allocation is no exception.

Liska, George (1960), The New Statecraft: Foreign Aid in American Foreign Policy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Loescher, Gil J. and Nichols, Bruce (1989), “Introduction,” in Loescher, Gil J. and Nichols, Bruce (eds), The Moral Nation: Humanitarianism and US Foreign Policy Today, pp. 1-6, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

In the editorial pages of the New York Times in 1985 Sydney Schanberg wrote that the United States was a “moral nation.” He claimed that U.S. leaders often appeared lost in “geopolitical balancing acts” and seemed to lose “the memory of the great strength that is derived from being a ‘moral nation’.” A striking example of this national conscience is the sense of guilt many American felt when boatloads of Jewish refugees were refused in the 1930s, or Haitians were turned back in the 1980s. Schanberg insisted that “the humanitarian tradition in the United States as not a myth,” and that many Americans wanted its ideals reflected in government policy.

Humanitarian activities and tenets form an integral part of America’s dominant ideologies and moral traditions. While these values compete with self-interest and realpolitik, their importance to many citizens’ sense of legitimacy and purpose in foreign policy is such that no definition of the nation’s long-term interests which wholly excludes these values is likely to be adequate. Thus, Americans frequently call upon their political leaders to demonstrate solicitude for the misfortune of outsiders and to contribute materially to the amelioration of natural and other disasters which occur in distant nations. Annually tens of thousands of Americans may be found outside the country’s borders working for nongovernmental bodies and performing various acts of mercy traditionally described as humanitarian. In many cases these private bodies work unquestionably alongside U.S. government agencies. Yet in Central America, the Horn of Africa, and in many other places, private agencies and their employees are increasingly forced to take sides, choosing whether to target humanitarian efforts with or against governmentally sponsored goals.

The dimension of humanitarian assistance addressed in this volume, humanitarian relief, may be broadly defined as the provision of assistance to victims of natural or political disasters. Its exponents, both in government and in nongovernmental bodies, have traditionally aspired to elevate the needs of the victims over limitations imposed by short-term political concerns. Yet humanitarianism in action – whether in efforts to assist displaced persons following World War II, airlifts of food to Biafra in the late 1960s, or famine relief to Ethiopia in the 1980s – has involved a combination of moral good and politically useful objectives. Far from representing a purely moralistic approach to the world, humanitarianism has been pragmatically incorporated into aspects of U.S. foreign policy.

From the beginning of modern humanitarian efforts in the late nineteenth century, it has been a constant struggle to inject principles into politics. While there have been marked American successes, beginning with aid to Cuban victims of the Spanish-American War and famine relief in the Soviet union in the 1920s, the presumption of the complementarity of privately sponsored humanitarianism and government objectives in foreign policy has always been present. As long as we judge America to be a “moral nation,” this complementarity makes sense. In the late 1940s and 1950s, for instance, the national assent to anticommunism in foreign policy support the belief that aiding refugees from Eastern Europe was a humanitarian task the United States and its citizens should shoulder. Aiding these refugees provided both symbolic and instrumental gains for American foreign policy during the cold war. Consensus was much less evident when the refugee population consisted of Palestinians, Chileans fleeing Pinochet, Haitian boat people leaving Duvalier regimes, or Salvadorians fleeing war and repression.

This book constitutes a study of humanitarianism as a significant component of American foreign policy. It examines current relations between nongovernmental organizations and the U.S. government in overseas operations and illustrates some of the difficulty of reconciling principles and politics in the administration of U.S. humanitarian policy. The topics covered in this book are among the most pressing foreign policy issues facing the United States in the 1980s and beyond. The authors include academics, journalists, human rights specialists and activists, former government officials, and leaders and representatives of voluntary agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and foundations.

The first section of this book concentrates on the moral and political philosophy of humanitarianism and its relationship to the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Sidney H. Schanberg, the journalist whose wartime experience in Cambodia in the 1970s were depicted in the film The Killing Fields, describes with simple eloquence the importance of humanitarian traditions in U.S. foreign policy. However, Schanberg’s plea for foreign policy grounded in moral traditions raises fundamental questions of political philosophy and strategy. Henry Shue, an ethicist at Cornell, and Roger M. Smith, a political scientist at Yale, take sharply divergent perspectives on how best to answer these questions.

Both Shue and Smith agree that nations, particularly the United States, define themselves by their ideals. Both find that an emphasis on national interests at the expense of broad ideals of humanitarianism is unacceptable. They disagree, however, on whether to base humanitarian action on communitarian, national, or universalist principles.

Shue describes humanitarian activity as work that “must be done.” This is true, he argues, because the nation interest of the United States cannot be defined without reference to moral principles. In his ordering of such principles, an absolute and fundamental commitment to justice is essential, and priority is given to cosmopolitan or universal principles over national aspirations and ideas. While Shue acknowledges that constraints and conflicts are inevitable in the pursuit of ideals, their importance in the lives of individual victims of political or natural disasters is obvious. Further, Shue notes “the usefulness of a good reputation” that accrues to the United States through its involvement in such efforts. Through a strong commitment to humanitarian goals, the United States goes beyond being a “moral nation,” and helps to establish universal standards of humanitarianism.

Smith, on the other hand, places more emphasis on morality rooted in communal and national aspirations and ideals rather than in cosmopolitan or universal ideals which Shue and others assume to be morally superior. Smith argues that the world is made up of individual nation-states which do not treat humanitarianism as moral truth above the fray of politics but as a political perspective which needs to take into account national actors with a diverse range of interests and beliefs. He believes that the United States would do better to begin with a sense of what America values, with its moral aims and purposes, and to see how these moral requirements could best be furthered in the world as we find it today. Smith distinguishes between the universal views held by humanitarian agencies and the national views of U.S. policymakers. Because of their different perspectives and values, U.S. government officials and private humanitarian agencies almost inevitably will clash. Perhaps the most striking difference between the two involves action that “U.S. officials see as buttressing political forces hostile to liberty.” Thus, for example, permission to send private humanitarian assistance, including school supplies to schoolchildren in Cambodia, was denied by the U.S. State Department in the early 1980s because such aid constituted help to a government hostile to U.S. interests. Nevertheless, Smith argues that these contrasting perspectives can be “truly useful” and that the U.S. government and the private agencies can serve “to correct the characteristic blind spots of the other” and to engage in more “open-minded critical dialogue with each other.”

In the second section of the book, two chapters examine the political and legal factors which must be addressed in looking at U.S. humanitarian policy today. David P. Forsythe, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska; and Peter Macalister-Smith, a jurist at the Max Plank Institute in Heidelberg, offer analyses of these two related topics. Forsythe looks at the evolution of American institutions, private and governmental, given over to international humanitarian action and places them in the context of an evolving international system for delivery of assistance. As his analysis indicates, while enormous progress has been made in the last forty years, institutional and political factors at times overwhelm the best efforts to sustain humanitarian standards Macalister-Smith examines the evolution of international humanitarian law in the twentieth century. While offering a frank appraisal of the limits of humanitarian law, he remains cautiously optimistic that humanitarian principles in international law will continue to achieve incremental growth.

In the third section of the book, several authors examine refugees, the closely related topics of asylym and sanctuary in the United States, and the role of private humanitarian organizations in pressing human right claims with U.S. and regional officials. Doris Meissner, former acting director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Michael McConnel, an activist with the Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America, examine the issues of asylum and sanctuary for Central Americans who have sought refuge in the U.S. and explore how we might evaluate these issues in the context of U.S. and international law, morality, and church-state tensions. Few recent events in the humanitarian realm have erupted with such force on the American domestic scene as has the sanctuary movement. For many Americans, this issue more than any other has captured the confrontation between humanitarian ideas and politics.

Gil Loescher, a political scientist at Notre Dame and the co-editor of this book, addresses the issue of refugee policy in Central America, examining in detail the situation of refugees in Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica and the various actors, their interests, and the ways in which they are affected by geopolitics, ideology, and ethnic politics. He analyzes the attitude of the United States and its impact on refugee policy, the role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the problems faced by voluntary agencies in their struggle to preserve humanitarian “space” for their activities. A closely related chapter by Lowell W. Livezey of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton examines the role of nongovernmental human-rights organizations and the conduct of American foreign policy in Central America in the 1980s. Livezey discerns a growing rift between those organizations that emphasize the political and cultural rights associated with American views of freedom and those that press for more expansive views of human rights that focus on the “tangible welfare” of individuals and groups in need. This latter group views the convergence of governmental and private ends in humanitarian assistance as increasingly unlikely.

In the Horn of Africa, famine and refugee problems have intertwined in recent years to create one of the most complex scenes of human need anywhere in the world. Each of the chapters in the final section of the book address the actual mechanics of how assistance is organized. As Henry Shue points out in his earlier chapter, Lawrence A. Pezullo and Jason W. Clay offer strongly contrasting views of the Ethiopian famine. Starting with different premises, they reach different conclusions. Pezullo, formerly a career State Department officer and now executive director of Catholic Relief Services, accepts the view that the famine is largely natural, and that accommodations to the Ethiopian regime, however distasteful, were necessary in order to provide any assistance at all. Clay, an anthropologist at Cultural Survival, a Cambridge Massachusetts, research and advocacy organization, believes that private humanitarians, in their rush to capitalize on public sympathy for hungry Ethiopians, failed to understand the overwhelmingly political nature of the famine, the uses made of food supplies, and the meaning of the forced resettlement of untold thousands in the midst of Ethiopia’s civil war.

Frederick C. Cuny, a disaster relief specialist who heads the Dallas-based consulting firm INTERTECT, points to many of the hidden political dimensions at work in famine relief operations. Sadly, many of these same forces seem to be repeating themselves in the Horn of Africa in early 1988 as this introduction is being written. Finally, Bruce Nichols, co-editor of the book and director of studies at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, turns to a unique operation designed to surreptitiously move 25,000 Ethiopian Jews, or Falasha, to Israel. When the private sector efforts of Americans and some Israeli officials broke down in eastern Sudan in 1985, the U.S. government was obliged to provide millions of dollars in covert aid to move endangered refugees and resettle them in Israel. The Falasha operation, like many other U.S. refugee relief and resettlement activities, points directly to the importance of prior foreign policy commitments and communal (versus international) norms in setting humanitarian policy.


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