The Roles of Aid in Politics Putting China in Perspective


Chauvin, Nicholas Depetris and Kraay, Aart (2007), “Who Gets Debt Relief?” in Journal of European Economic Association, Vol. 5, No. 2-3, pp. 333-342



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Chauvin, Nicholas Depetris and Kraay, Aart (2007), “Who Gets Debt Relief?” in Journal of European Economic Association, Vol. 5, No. 2-3, pp. 333-342.

In this short paper we have presented new results on the cross-country and overtime allocation of debt relief in low-income countries. Although debt relief has become a highly visible form of assistance to low-income countries over the past 10 years, we as yet know little about how it is allocated across countries, or what its impact has been. This is in part due to weaknesses with existing published data on debt relief that we are trying to remedy in a ongoingwork [sic]. Using preliminary results from this project we document that debt relief is much less responsive to cross-country differences in per capita income, and somewhat more responsive to cross-country differences in policy and institutional performance, than are other forms of aid. We also find, somewhat surprisingly, that debt relief is in most cases not significantly associated with higher debt burdens, suggesting that reducing debt overhang per se is not a major motivation for debt relief. We also find some evidence that large debtor countries are more likely to receive debt relief, particularly from multilateral creditors. Finally, we have seen that the strong observed persistence in debt relief is primarily due to relatively persistent country characteristics. This in turn suggests that, unless debt relief changes these characteristics, it may be difficult for debtor countries—as well as creditors—to escape from repeated cycles of debt relief.



Chong, Alberto and Gradstein, Mark (2008) “What Determines Foreign Aid? The Donor’s Perspective,” in Journal of Development Economics, Vol. 87, No. 1, pp. 1–13.

Recently industrial countries have been hard pressed to reconsider their foreign aid policies by focusing on good policies and good institutions in the recipient countries and some influential research has studied the efficiency of aid disbursement in this regard. Interestingly, no attention has been given to the possible determinants of aid giving in donor countries despite the commonplace policymakers’ rhetoric to enhance it. This paper purports to fill this gap by examining the factors affecting the support for foreign aid among voters in donor countries.

The stylized theoretical model, which considers an endogenous determination of official and private aid flows, suggests that own government efficiency is an important factor in this regard, and also relates individual income to aid support, which has the implication that income inequality is detrimental for a political support for foreign aid. The empirical analysis of individual attitudes, based on the World Values Surveys, reveals that satisfaction with the own government performance and the individual income are positively related to the willingness to provide foreign aid. Furthermore, consistent with these results, when using donor country data we find that aid is linked with inequality, corruption, political leaning, and taxes in donor countries, but has little relationship with the economic conditions in the receiving country. It is worth emphasizing that aid generosity is found to be mainly affected by own government's efficiency and less by the recipient one.

Christian Aid (2004), The Politics of Poverty: Aid in the New Cold War, http://www.un-ngls.org/politics%20of%20poverty.pdf, accessed 19/11/2010.

Britain, the US and much of the industrialised world enter the summer of 2004 confronting the cold reality of a clear and present terrorist threat. For those countries with forces embroiled in Iraq, the menace is most keenly felt. In London, it is no longer ‘if’ a major terrorist attack will come – but ‘when’.

A chill wind, however, is also starting to blow across the developing world. It is being whistled up by the very people – rich aid-donor countries – who claim to do the most to alleviate strife and suffering in the poorest parts of the globe. For moves currently being made among members of the biggest and most influential ‘rich-country clubs’ betray a worrying shift in how they see aid commitments. Aid is viewed increasingly as a means of promoting and safeguarding the donors’ own interests, particularly their security, rather than addressing the real needs of poor people. Aid, in other words, is being co-opted to serve in the global ‘War on Terror’.

Aid has always, to some extent, been given with at least one eye on the self-interest of the giver – be it to secure influence, trade or strategic resources. But the past 15 years have seen a marked change, advocated for and applauded by Christian Aid, towards vital aid funds being far better targeted at alleviating poverty. Now, however, we seem poised to return to some of the worst excesses of the recent past, when whole nations and regions were blighted by the subsuming of their interests to a global crusade. Aid was then allotted on the basis of where a country stood in the great Cold War confrontation. Whether, indeed, a government was ‘with us or against us’.

Some nations did very well out of this. Europe was the recipient of the first great aid distribution – the Marshall Plan – which allowed the continent to work its way out of the devastation wreaked by the second world war. Even some countries given blatantly politicised aid used the opportunity to prosper, particularly in Southeast Asia.

Others, however, saw the irreducible logic of the Cold War blight their nascent futures. Proxy wars were funded and fought; corrupt and repressive regimes were installed and backed purely on the basis of whether the people involved were ‘ours’ or ‘theirs’. Particularly in Africa, the legacy of that period is with us still.

The language of ‘you’re either with us or against us’ used by President Bush in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, has an eerie, retro ring. Yet, as this report demonstrates, it is not just the language of the Cold War that is starting to return.

Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and with it the great divide that had dominated world politics for more than half a century, there was an opportunity to take stock and think again about the relationship between North and South, rich and poor. There was even a blueprint from the Cold War years to show the way ahead – the reports produced by the Brandt Commission in the 1970s and 1980s – and during the 1990s the language gradually swung away from rich nations pursuing purely selfish ends towards addressing the developing world’s pressing needs.

These changes were shadowed, and sometimes led, by an increasing public pressure to ‘do the right thing’. Mass movements, such as Live Aid in the mid-1980s and Jubilee 2000 in the late-1990s, moreover, demonstrated that there was political advantage to be gained in democratic countries from taking the issues of world poverty seriously. Or, from a more politically jaundiced point of view, the cynical use of aid budgets became less and less of an option. Media exposure of some of the worst abuses of politicised aid – for instance, that given in exchange for defence contracts – meant that they were progressively addressed.

In Britain, the new Labour government in 1997 went as far as changing legislation to ensure that government aid money was expressly and exclusively targeted at poverty. As the end of the century approached, the then 189 member countries of the United Nations signed up to the Millennium Development Goals – which aim to half world poverty levels by 2015.

This was by no means a golden age. Self-interest continued to play a significant part in aid provision. But the tide was definitely moving in the right direction. In the aftermath of 9/11, many of these gains seem at risk. This report argues that the tide is on the turn, and looks set to start running in the opposite direction.

The past couple of years have seen the US, the EU and a number of individual governments starting to use the rhetoric of ‘opposing terrorism’ as a basis on which to allocate aid. There have also been worrying developments at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), where the rules governing how member states give aid are being changed to include terrorism prevention and a range of military activities. Equally, ‘humanitarian’ language has been increasingly recruited to justify military operations linked to the War on Terror – particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The British government is also starting to make unwelcome connections. Aid to projects for poor communities in ‘middle income’ countries, particularly in Latin America, was last year overtly diverted to Iraq, despite previous assurances from none other than Prime Minister Tony Blair that this would not happen. In April, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was in Paris to garner support for his International Finance Facility – the only way, he said, that the Millennium Development Goals could still be met. He issued a ‘call to action’ to other international finance ministers, which Christian Aid can only support. In a deviation from his published speech, however, he also showed himself capable of singing from the War on Terror hymn sheet.

He said: ‘We understand that it is not just morally and ethically right that developing countries move from poverty to prosperity, but that it is a political imperative – central to our long-term national security and peace – to tackle the poverty that leads to civil wars, failed states and safe havens for terrorists.’

Of course there is a genuine threat from terrorism and a duty on governments to do all they can to protect their citizens. But this should not and cannot be done by annexing the language and budgets of aid. This will not only fail to address the real issues of poverty. The risk is that if narrow security concerns are used to shape aid allocation, it could well lead to an intensification of terrorism. We have been here before.

We examine the case of Uganda, which illustrates how the Ugandan government’s manipulation of the War of Terror has led to an intensification of the conflict in the north of the country and so to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Hopes of a peace deal have dimmed, while succor has been given to an increasingly repressive regime. Sound familiar?

We also look at Afghanistan – the last battlefield of the Cold War and first in the War on Terror – to show how the hopes for stability and reconstruction that followed the fall of the Taliban have stalled. Security is the key to rebuilding post-war Afghanistan. But the emphasis placed on the US-led coalition’s goals – the hunting down of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces – has abandoned most of the country to lawlessness.

Here, the confusion between the roles of combat troops and peace-keepers, often under the same command, has also led to a shrinking ‘humanitarian space’ in which aid organisations can operate. For those, like Christian Aid and its partners, who are trying to build a better life for Afghanistan’s people, the situation has now become more dangerous than under the Taliban. A rising toll of murdered aid workers in the country is a tragic testament to this situation. The result is that whole areas of the country have been placed off-limits and aid programmes abandoned.

The growing politicisation of aid, then, threatens to obscure the goal of poverty reduction. The allocation of military aid to those perceived to be fighting the War on Terror also has the potential to encourage human rights abuses and to sow the seeds of future conflicts.

In this report, Christian Aid is calling for a strong and robust reaffirmation of the principle that poverty reduction should be aid’s primary driving force. The fortunes of the world’s poorest people must not be held hostage to the fortunes of the War on Terror.

Among the recommendations of this report are that:


  • the British government must use its leadership, weight and influence to halt and then reverse the trend towards linking aid to the War on Terror – starting by reinstating the funds it has already diverted from poor people in middle-income countries

  • British ministers should actively lobby members of the OECD to ensure that the definition of aid is not extended to include military or security-related assistance

  • the EU must stop the drift towards politicising its aid budget; the neutrality and impartiality of EU humanitarian aid must be maintained

  • donor governments, belligerents and military forces in conflicts around the world must respect and uphold the neutrality, impartiality and independence of humanitarian action.

In 2005, the British government has a unique opportunity to make its views heard. In the summer it will chair the G8 conference and then hold the EU presidency until the end of the year. Before that, the Commission on Africa, launched by Tony Blair this year, will have delivered its own blueprint for the future of the world’s poorest continent. Christian Aid calls on the Prime Minister to use this opportunity to re-focus the world’s richest countries on the plight of the poorest.

In this report we set out the mistakes of the past and show how they are already starting to be repeated. Our message, however, is that it is not too late to rekindle the noble, humanitarian aim of aid – to eradicate world poverty. It is also a warning: if the rich world fails in this endeavour, then our future security will also be undermined.

Already some of the world’s poorest people are paying for the War on Terror. Programmes designed to help them have been cut, budgets reallocated and hopes dashed as donor priorities have switched to addressing the needs of ‘global security’. This must not be allowed to continue. The needs of these people must not, yet again, be bulldozed by the contingencies of a global strategy in which they have no voice.

Cingranelli, David L. and Pasquarello, Thomas E. (1985), “Human Rights Practices and the Distribution of U.S. Foreign Aid to Latin American Countries,” in American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 539-563.

It is important to keep the findings of this research in perspective. The United States gives some type of economic or military assistance to approximately one hundred nations. A few countries like Israel, Egypt, India, and El Salvador receive disproportionate shares of that aid when compared with their neighbors. Our analysis says little about why those countries have been singled out for preferential treatment. Aid decisions pertaining to these most favored countries often involve national security interests, are nonroutine and controversial, and can probably be explained only on a case-by-case basis. However, we are confident that our analysis of the process by which the U.S. government makes more routine decisions regarding the distribution of foreign aid to Latin American nations is accurate, and may be extended to explain disbursements of U.S. foreign aid to nations in other regions of the world.

We found that decisions regarding the distribution of foreign aid to Latin America were made in two stages. Table 7 summarizes our findings concerning the role of human rights considerations during both stages of decisions pertaining to the distribution of U.S. economic and military aid. During the gatekeeping stage of economic aid decisions, more developed nations were excluded, and human rights records were not a consideration in determining which nations received economic assistance. When U.S. policymakers decided upon amounts of economic assistance, however, higher levels of economic assistance were provided to nations with relatively enlightened human rights practices. For military aid, nations with poor human rights records often were excluded at the gatekeeping stage, but once the decision had been made to provide military assistance, the level of assistance could not be explained by the human rights practices of the recipients. No simple generalizations about the role of human rights in the making of all U.S. foreign aid policies are possible.

We do not wish to exaggerate our findings concerning the role of human rights in the decision to provide U.S. military aid to other nations. Even at the gatekeeping stage of military aid decisions, human rights practices were not found to be as important as was expected. If our analysis had been confined to the relationship between a government's respect for rights of the integrity of the person, or what might be referred to as anti-torture rights, we would have found a weaker relationship between human rights practices and military aid disbursements to Latin American nations. The evidence regarding military aid allocations reflects a concern among U.S. decision-makers with respect for civil and political rights. For some (e.g., Leyton-Brown, 1983), the change in emphasis represents an abdication of U.S. human rights policy as it is applied to military aid allocations. For others, it only represents a change of emphasis in the implementation of that policy. In either case, the evidence suggests that the president retains substantial influence over the distribution of U.S. military assistance.

We were particularly surprised to find no consistent relationship between changes in human rights practices in Latin American nations and subsequent levels of U.S. foreign aid. Much of the policy debate concerning U.S. aid decisions has focused upon recent improvements or declines in practices. In fact, Congress sometimes requires that the State Department “certify” that selected countries have improved their human rights practices before it will consent to the provision of U.S. foreign aid. Though our results are not conclusive on this point, they do indicate that the relative levels of respect which various governments in Latin America give to the human rights of their citizens may be more important to U.S. policymakers than recent changes in their practices. This question merits further research, involving the measurement of human rights practices and aid levels at several points in time and the examination of responsiveness of aid to changes in human rights policies.

In general, our findings conflict with others which have demonstrated the importance of U.S. national security and trading interests in determining U.S. aid policies. In part our findings differ because our research was focused upon routine foreign aid decisions. Our findings are also based upon a research design that accounts for a wide variety of plausible alternative explanations of the distribution of U.S. foreign aid. Most previous research on this topic has utilized the case study approach. No previous systematic research explaining the distribution of U.S. foreign aid attempted to measure the importance of human rights practices and also controlled for competing explanations of foreign aid decisions. Bivariate relationships can be misleading. In addition, U.S. human rights policies have required important substantive and procedural changes in the way in which Congress and the administration make foreign aid decisions. Difficulties in implementing the new policies have been well documented (e.g., Bloomfield, 1982), and may help to explain the delay in policy effects.

Given the somewhat regional orientation of the U.S. foreign assistance program, and the fact that the determinants of U.S. foreign policy may change, only further research can determine the extent to which our findings herald a more humanistic thrust in U.S. foreign policy. There was a time when Latin America represented a special case for the application of U.S. human rights policy. It was a region where the U.S. was dominant and could afford to criticize Latin American nations for poor human rights practices without much threat to U.S. economic or security interests. It is encouraging that human rights considerations have become a more important determinant of the distribution of U.S. foreign aid in this region during the same period that U.S. dominance has been severely threatened.



Cingranelli, David Louis (1993), Ethics, American Foreign Policy and the Third World, New York: St. Martin's Press.

Chapter 1: A Typology of Moral Positions [pp. 3-29]

One caveat: it is not my purpose here to argue that any particular position on morality and foreign policy is best. Although my own position is generally Progressive and I do not attempt to hide it, my goals was to conduct an objective, analytical, descriptive, and historical inquiring into what intentions have guided actual American foreign policies toward the Third World. The typology of positions presented in this chapter provides an analytical reference point for that inquiry. Chapter 2 explores in greater detail the mainstream debate among Nationalists, Exceptionalists, and Progressives. Chapter 3 is devoted to a similar in-depth exploration of the Marxist position, which is one important stream of thought that often leads to a Radical Progressive position on U.S. behavior toward the Third World. Taken together, these two chapters provide a fairly complete picture of alternative moral reasonings about foreign policy, that is, which “good” should be maximized and why.

Most of the remainder of the book examines different historical periods of U.S. foreign relations with the Third World, identifying the most significant goals during each period, with special emphasis on the post-World War II era. In each chapter, the rhetoric of U.S. policymakers is compared with actual U.S. foreign policy during their terms of office. Military interventions, known covert operations, and U.S. government responses to action-forcing events in the Third World are described.

The methodology employed is historical analysis, because history provides real examples of how U.S. leaders have responded to real moral dilemmas in the making of foreign policy. This approach allows us to identify the hierarchy of values and objectives that U.S. leaders have expressed in public statements on U.S. foreign policy toward the Third World, to look for patterns of congruence and divergence between public statements and foreign policy as actually implemented, and, based on this evidence, to draw conclusions about changes in the hierarchy of foreign policy values. An understanding of notable developments in U.S.-Third World relations also enhances our sensitivity to differences between other historical times and our own, increases our ability to perceive and explain significant changes over time, and heightens our awareness of basic continuities in policy.

Identifying foreign policy goals is an important and intellectually challenging task, but one that is also fraught with danger. The evidence is indirect, fragmentary, and open to alternative interpretation. Because motives can never be observed directly, they must be inferred from public statements and government actions. Since the foreign policy decision-making process itself tends to be secret (for good and obvious reasons), even the factual record about what actions were taken is incomplete. Moreover, the available facts never speak for themselves. Thus, different analysis viewing the same facts may draw different conclusions from them about the motives of the decision maker. These problems are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 4. If these problems are not overcome, discussions of the morality of foreign policies must be avoided altogether.

Chapters 5 and 6, which make up Part II of the book, briefly discuss the early history of U.S. foreign policy toward weaker nations. Chapter 5 begins at the beginning by briefly examining the relations between the U.S. government and the American Indians and Mexico between 1776 and the end of the nineteenth century, with special emphasis on U.S. involvement in the Philippines and Latin America. The term Third World, though of recent origin, is applied in chapters 5 and 6 retrospectively to countries that would have fit the definition in earlier times. Part III (chapters 7-9) provides a more detailed account of significant developments in U.S.-Third World relations between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Reagan and Bush era. As noted, this was a period of fairly rapid movement toward Progressive principles, especially during the Truman, Kennedy, and Carter administrations.

Part IV (Chapters 10 and 11) focuses on the Reagan and Bush administrations and the future. Chapter 10 in this section examines the most recent U.S. foreign policy choices and directions on North-South issues. It presents a snapshot of the present at a time in history when many of the rules of international relations are being rewritten. The final chapter is both retrospective and predictive. First, it reviews the evidence showing that there has been a long-term trend towards Progressivism in U.S. foreign policy rhetoric and behavior toward the Third World. Then, it examines three possible scenarios for U.S. foreign policy toward the Third World in the twenty-first century. [..]

Chapter 2: The Contemporary Debate [pp. 30-52]

Actual U.S. foreign policy toward the Third World since World War II has represented a blend of Nationalist, Exceptionalist and Progressive principles. These principles are closely related to perspectives on human nature, the international system, the most important targets of foreign policy, and the causes of poverty and instability in less developed countries. These different premises lead to different conclusions about the larger ends, concrete objectives, and acceptable means of foreign policy.

Although there is a lively debate over the proper ends and means of U.S. foreign policy toward the Third World, few American argue against the preeminence of national economic prosperity and military power goals. Since economic and military power are inextricably linked, both must be maintained at a minimum threshold. Nationalist and Progressive thinkers argue about the location of that minimum threshold, the definition of national interest, the intrinsic value of some Progressive objectives, the morality of unilateral intervention and counterrevolutionary policies, and the consistency of Nationalist and Progressive objectives. The Exceptionalist voice within the mainstream debate emphasizes the responsibilities of the United States to people living beyond its borders and urges a foreign policy that would make the world over in the U.S. image. The main thrust of the Radical Progressive positions to oppose unilateral intervention in the Third World under any circumstances; to support the implementation of a New International Economic Order; and to advance other reforms that would reduce poverty in the Third World and increase the voice of the Third World nations in international affairs. [..]

Chapter 3: The Marxists [pp. 53-68]

According to Marxists, throughout its history the United States has been guilty of bad motives when making foreign policy toward weaker states, because it has been concerned primarily with promoting its economic interests. Indeed, the United States’ foreign policy has been an extension of and a more subtle form of colonialism, ensuring that most Third World states remain fragile, repressive and dependent on the developed world for manufactured products, national security, and a substandard level of well-being. Poverty in the Third World is no accident; it is the direct result of activities orchestrated by the U.S. government. The Third World is not underdeveloped; it is overexploited. Capital investment in the Third World has not brought prosperity; it has brought deeper and deeper debt and ever greater inequality in the distribution of wealth and well-being within Third World societies.

Marxist theorists and Third World leaders would prefer a U.S. foreign policy that was based on multilateralism and noninterventionism. They would also prefer a policy in which the U.S. leaders cared equally about the welfare of all the world’s people, making no distinction between the people within U.S. territorial boundaries and people residing elsewhere. Marxists often argue that such a foreign policy would emerge as a natural consequence of world socialism.

The moral imperative behind Progressivism, the mainstream school of thought closest to Marxism, is “when it is in your power to do good for another who needs it at no serious risk to yourself, your duty is to do so.” Marxist theorists and Third World leaders reject this standard as too modest. In their view, because the United States and other advanced industrial states bear such great responsibility for the underdevelopment of Third World states, the exploiters must undertake an aggressive program of affirmative action benefiting Third World countries. This program is summed up by the Group of 77’s proposals for debt relief and a New International Economic Order that was described in the last chapter.

In contrast, most U.S. leaders have proudly proclaimed the economic foreign policy objectives that Marxist critics and some Third World leaders find so reprehensible. For them, the real issue is not whether the United States has pursued economic interests in the Third World. Of course it has. Mainstream thinkers differ with Marxist theorists mostly over the morality of economic and cultural expansionism, the degree to which economic objectives have motivated U.S. foreign policy, the ethics of unilateralism, covert action and coercion, and how and whether the hierarchy of U.S. foreign policy objectives has changed over time. […]

Chapter 4: Knowing Motives; Reconciling Means and Ends [pp. 69-84]

Most political scientists avoid analyzing the motives of policymakers because motives are not directly observable. Instead, they must be inferred from other kinds of information. However, since this book is about the morality, or, at a minimum, the goals of American foreign policy toward the Third World the problem of inferring motives cannot be avoided in the analysis that follows. The efforts and impact tests described in this chapter, though imperfect, are the best tools available for the task and are loosely applied in the chapters that follow.

Machiavelli’s advice to the Prince about foreign policy methods was that “He should not depart for the good if he can hold to it, but he should be ready to enter on evil if he has to” (emphasis added). This advice would be sufficient to prohibit the U.S. government from engaging in covert campaign activities abroad, but it is too vague to be of much help in guiding action in other circumstances. Most, if not all, U.S. leaders have recognized that they could not avoid using violence, deception, and broken promise to achieve good ends, but they have differed a great deal in their willingness to resort to such methods. Nationalist and Exceptionalist leaders in the United States, having less respect for the universal value of nonintervention and multilateralism, have been more willing to engage in overt and covert unilateral actions in the Third World. Progressives have been less willing to engage in such actions, and Radical Progressives deem them morally unacceptable. […]

Chapter 11: The Past, Perestroika, and the Future [pp. 217-235]

Over time and especially since World War II, U.S. policymakers have increasingly recognized the relative importance of universal values and of the duties to people living in other nations. This trend has not been linear, but it is visible in the changing rhetoric, actions, and consequences of U.S. foreign policy toward the Third World over the past two hundred years. As the history of the U.S.-Third World relations reviewed in Chapters 5-10 illustrates, the Progressive evolution in U.S. foreign policy has been caused, in part, by the United States’ changing place within the international power structure, by the longstanding rivalry with the former Soviet Union over alternative conceptions of the “good society,” by the lessons learned from the Vietnam War, and, most importantly, by the institutional changes in foreign policy decision-making structures and processes wrought by Progressive administrations. The evolution toward a more Progressive foreign policy is likely being fueled by a shift in American values as well.

We sometimes lose sight of the trend toward Progressive foreign policy values and objectives because of a fixation on notable exceptions, cycles of party control that can obscure longer-term developments, and inability or unwillingness to step back from current events to see the larger historical picture, and an adherence to absolute rather than relative standards of performance. In this chapter, the main pieces of evidence supporting this thesis are viewed along with some alternative standards that might be used to evaluate it. Then, three scenarios of future U.S.-Third World relations are developed, leading alternatively to greater isolation of the United States from North-South issues, a regression to previous patterns of gunboat diplomacy, or accelerated Progressivism.

Past Patterns

Since World War II, the number of Progressive objectives expressed in relevant symbolic policy statements has increased. The record of U.S. actions in the Third World, whether unprovoked or in response to action-forcing events, demonstrates that the emphasis given to Progressive values and objectives in the making of U.S. foreign policy toward LDCs has also increased. The change in priorities guiding action has not been steady; it has been halting and cyclical, but over a long period of time, the overall direction of movement seems clear.

For the first 125 years of the United States’ existence as a nation, there was little, if anything that was Progressive about its foreign policy goals, objectives or methods in conducting relations with its weaker neighbors. In the last century, U.S. leaders have continued to place primary emphasis on Nationalist objectives in conducting those relations, but, at the margins, they have pursued others that are not solely connected with the national self-interest. Even since the beginning of the Cold War (and partly as a response to it), U.S. foreign policy has become increasingly affected by Progressive elements of the foreign policy agenda.

Progressive thinkers might argue over what sets of values and objectives should guide U.S. foreign policy and, within that set, certainly would argue over which ones were most important. For almost all of them, the set would include support for human rights, self-determination and autonomy, economic development, and social justice. It would also include adherence to the structures of international law, generally, and the principle of nonintervention, specifically. Over the years, at least some U.S. presidents have recognized all these elements as worth pursuing. Jimmy Carter was probably the only one who attempted to increase the priority of all of them in relation to other economic and military objectives in U.S. foreign policy. Still, with the possible exception of his administration, the overall record of adherence to the spirit of international law has been abysmal.



The order in which different values were introduced into the foreign policy debate is important, because a kind of primacy principle is at work. Nationalist goals of maintaining sovereignty, security from external threat, and national macroeconomic prosperity are fundamental. In the early years, when the United States was itself a developing country, they were the only mainsprings of foreign policy. These values were not replaced by later, more Progressive ideals. Instead, later objectives were added and generally have not been pursued vigorously except when prior goals have been satisfied or at least have not been seriously endangered. Similarly, the order in which Progressive values and objectives were interjected into U.S. foreign policy rhetoric is also significant – support for democracy, economic development, social justice, and human rights, in that sequence. The earliest ones accepted as part of the U.S. foreign policy debate continue to dominate over those introduced later.

Self-determination. Support for democratic or, at a minimum, for elections in LDCs has been a feature of foreign policy rhetoric at least since the Spanish-American War, when it was used as an important rationale for freeing Cuba from Spanish rule and then granting that state independence. This theme is so old and has been so persistent U.S. foreign policy that it would be difficult to argue that a particular administration initiated it.

Economic development. Although many U.S. leaders had expressed compassion for people living in poverty in the Third World, Truman, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, was the first to initiate a substantial public program to do something about it. The foreign aid and technical assistance programs his administration initiated and the international lending agencies it helped form provided the foundations for contemporary U.S. policies designed to foster Third World economic development.

Social Justice. By 1960 U.S. policymakers recognized that aggregate economic development, by itself, would not necessarily have a beneficial effect on the poorest people in Third World societies. The Kennedy administration, through both its rhetoric and its deeds, heightened U.S. concern for issues of social justice and political reform. During his brief tenure in office, Kennedy dramatically expanded the food aid program, established the Agency for International Development and the Peace Corps, and was the first U.S. president to sanction South Africa for its policies of apartheid.

Human Rights. In 1976 Jimmy Carter added promotion of human rights to the by now substantial Progressive foreign policy agenda. For Carter, protecting human rights primarily meant ensuring that individuals would not be abused by their governments. The Reagan and Bush administrations have chosen to emphasize the protection of individual’s civil and political rights. Today the term human rights encompasses much of the Progressive foreign policy agenda. As a result, much of the current empirical research on ethical issues in U.S. foreign policy focuses on whether, to what extent, and in what way human rights considerations affect U.S. foreign policy toward the Third World. Recently, a few studies have also been conducted on whether U.S. foreign policy has any impact on the human rights practices of the Third World targets of those policies.

Progressive values and objectives have become more numerous in the rhetoric of U.S. foreign policy. They have also become more explicit in the legislation that guides the implementation of that policy and, arguably, more important in shaping the reality of that policy as well. However, the record on other important aspects of the Progressive agenda – general adherence to international law, reliance on a multilateral approach to international affairs, avoidance of the use of covert action except as a last resort, and observance of the principle of nonintervention, in particular – has not been impressive. Among U.S. presidents since World War II, only Carter worked had to adhere to these Progressive goals and principles. And Carter’s four short years in office were not enough to make much progress in these areas.

It is too soon to gauge President Bush’s position in these previously neglected areas. Certainly, his handling of the Panama situation violated the spirit of international law, U.S. prohibitions against using covert action to assassinate foreign leaders, and the norm against unilateral military intervention. However, his administration’s response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was quite different. At least during the early stages of that crisis, administration actions were consistent with (though at times they anticipated) pertinent resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. However, during those early stages the Security Council adopted, with minor modifications, every resolution advanced by the U.S. representative. The real test will come when the United States is forced to choose between its own foreign policy preferences and those expressed by the United Nations or by a conference of regional leaders.

There has been continuity in U.S. foreign policy since World War II in the sense that Nationalist objectives have maintained their preeminent places in the hierarchy. Progressive objectives, because they are newer and their positions less fixed, have received slightly different priorities by different administrations. The statements and actions of the Reagan and Bush administrations seem to reflect the following priorities among Progressive goals: (1) encourage the development of democratic institutions and civil and political liberties; (2) assist (free market) economic development efforts; (3) promote human rights of the integrity of the person; (4) promote social justice; (5) respect international law; and (6) avoid unilateral over or covert intervention.

Various U.S. administrations have differed not only on the relative positions of different Progressive objectives of U.S. foreign policy toward the Third World, but also on the willingness to make tradeoffs between Nationalist and Progressive values. As noted at the outset, ethical choices rarely involve choosing between good and evil. Rather, one must usually choose between good and better or between bad and worse. Foreign policymakers must choose among inconsistent goals. As an example, anti-expropriation policies may promote the United States’ short- and long-term economic self-interest, but such policies may also impede the ability of some underdeveloped nations to control assets such as natural resources within their own jurisdictions. This hurts the ability of Third World states to achieve either economic development or social justice. As another example, providing large amounts of military aid to a less developed country may allow it to cooperate more effectively in the United States’ own military defense effort, but it may also increase the power of the military sector of a Third World society to the point where civilian leaders are unable to rule effectively. Under such circumstances, democracy will fail or will exist only as an empty form.

Since World War II, U.S. foreign policymakers have been increasingly willing to make tradeoffs that place Nationalist foreign policy values and objectives at significant risk. The Carter administration was criticized for taking too many risks of this type. But even the reactions of the Reagan administration to democratic movements in South Korea, the Philippines, and Haiti are all examples of risks taken by an otherwise risk-averse administration to promote democratic movements in the Third World.

The historical record since World War II also illustrates that Democrats have expanded the Progressive foreign policy agenda rhetorically and have made greater efforts to follow through on that rhetoric. Democratic presidents, presidential candidates, and members of Congress generally have advocated


  1. Giving more foreign aid to developing countries.

  2. Providing a higher proportion of economic (as opposed to military) aid.

  3. Placing more emphasis on aiding self-determination and true democracy, not just on establishing regular elections.

  4. Giving less emphasis on private investment as a foreign policy tool.

  5. Using less military intervention and covert action.

  6. Relying more heavily on need and human rights performance as criteria in the disbursement of economic aid.

  7. Giving a higher proportion of foreign assistance in the form of multilateral (as opposed to bilateral) aid in the form of grants (as opposed to loans).

  8. Relying more heavily on regional and international (as opposed to unilateral) solutions to problems.

Republican administrations have tended to be more Nationalist in their approach to foreign policy. Hence, when Democrats have controlled the U.S. government, there has been a ratchet effect on the place of Progressive moral principles in U.S. foreign policy toward the Third World. If progress is measured as the addition of new foreign policy objectives related to improving the welfare of the poorest people in the Third World or as a willingness to take greater risks in the attainment of Nationalist objectives to achieve Progressive objectives, then Democrats have tended to ratchet the policy toward Progressivism during their tenures in terms of both rhetoric and actions. Republicans have tended to allow that upward progress to erode somewhat during their terms of office, but they have not turned the clock back completely. Thus, despite the current cycle away from the trajectory set by Carter, the trend over time since the end of World War II still is moving toward higher priority for Progressive foreign policy principles as guides for the conduct of U.S.-Third World relations.

Standards of Evaluations

Evaluation of any policy requires establishing an implicit or explicit measurement standard. The presentation of historical material about U.S.-Third World relations in this work implies the use of past foreign policy behavior as a standard for evaluating present behavior. Most people who addresses the issue of ethics in international affairs do not use past behavior as their standard of evaluation. Instead, they have absolute standards of ethical behavior in mind. Nations like the United States either achieve or do not achieve them. U.S. foreign policy, as explained earlier, it is not yet truly Progressive in any absolute sense. Thus, when absolute standards are used, the United States will fail. Instead, we employ relative comparisons. Then, we should ask whether, in the United States, Progressive policies have been implemented (the efforts test) and whether Progressive goals have been achieved (the impact test). These tests are still demanding, but they are more realistic.



Relative Comparisons. One reasonable way to evaluate the extent to which U.S. foreign policy toward the Third World adheres to Progressive principles is to compare U.S. policies to those of other developed nations. With regard to promoting human rights around the world, Jack Donnelly, who is generally a critic of U.S. foreign policy, admits that “It is difficult to find countries that have done much more than the United States.”1 A brief examination of the foreign policies of the former state of the Soviet Union and present-day Canada will serve to illustrate this point.

No other nation except what was formerly the Soviet Union has been a military superpower in the international system since World War II. Superpower status places constraints on U.S. foreign policy options that other nations with fewer international responsibilities do not face; therefore, a comparison with Soviet policies from 1950 to 1989 is instructive. The former state of the Soviet Union viewed the international system as it presently exists as fundamentally unjust. In the view of its leadership, since capitalism and colonialism had caused underdevelopment in the Third World, fundamental revolutionary change was the best and perhaps the only way the Third World could receive justice. A nurturing foreign policy toward LDCs would only have supported the unjust structure of power and prolonged the inevitable.

Thus, the vast majority of the Soviet Union’s foreign aid to Third World states was in the form of military assistance to communist or pro-communist allies, helping them to make the transition from capitalism to socialism in a politically and economically hostile international environment. Historically, the Soviet Union’s main objective was to develop a network of Third World allies who would be willing to adopt the Soviet economic and political model. There is little evidence that the Soviets had humanitarian objectives or even that they generally embraced the goal of assisting the economic development efforts of less developed countries. Doing so would have forced them to prop up the world capitalist system. The Soviet position was that economic aid was compensation paid by former colonial powers for past exploitation. Never having been a colonial power itself, it owed no such compensation. Consistent with its philosophical position, the Soviet Union, unlike the United States, contributed little to international development agencies.2 Instead, Soviet economic relations with LDCs were presumed to be mutually beneficial and were structured by what they called economic cooperation agreements.3 Usually, the agreements presaged loans from the Soviet Union to Third World signatories a t concessionary rates of interest. Such loans were often repayable in the form of local commodities.

The Soviet Union was more Progressive in its relations with Third World countries in its choices of methods to achieve its own foreign policy objectives. More than the United States, the Soviet Union showed respect for international law, for the sovereignty of other weaker states, and for the principle of nonintervention. With the notable exception of the invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union generally did not use military force against Third World states. It is not clear whether this practice resulted from adherence to ethical principles or from fear of retaliation by the United States and its Western allies. Many accept the “fear of retaliation” explanation, because the Soviet Union, like the United States, was willing to use covert methods to achieve preferred policy outcomes in militarily weaker states.

Canadian foreign policy provides an opportunity for a different kind of comparison. Its policies, like those of the United States, are affected by a recent frontier experience and by Anglo-American values and traditions. Many of its people and leaders favor Progressive foreign policy principles. Consequently, Canadian leaders must face many of the same kinds of tradeoffs as those considered by U.S. policymakers. However, because of its geographic location and its place as a middle power within the international power hierarchy, its interests in the Third World are less intense and narrower in scope.

We would expect this combination of attributes to make Canada a leader in the application of Progressive thinking to foreign policy toward Third World states, but it has not. Canada has adopted Progressive principles regarding the methods, but not the goals and objectives, of foreign policy. Canada probably seldom uses covert actions and has never used direct unilateral military intervention to achieve its foreign policy objectives in the Third World. Neither has it assumed a leadership role in national or international forums to promote Progressive objectives in the Third World. Indeed, Canada has lagged well behind the United States in the use of foreign policy statements or actions to promote improved human rights practices by Third World regimes. In most other respects, Canada has shown about the same mix of Nationalism and Progressivism in its foreign policy objectives in the Third World as the United States. Canadian foreign policy toward the Third World has been designed mainly to further its own national economic objectives; to fulfill Canada’s obligations stemming from its membership in various Western security, political, and economic alliances; and to avoid conflict with and maintain independence from the United States, the leading power in many of those alliances. Canadian foreign policy toward Central America has been independent of U.S. policy but not necessarily more Progressive. According to Rhoda Howard and Jack Donnelly, the three cornerstones of Canada’s foreign policy toward Central America are a recognition that the instability in this part of the world is a product of: poverty, the unfair distribution of wealth, and social injustice; a preference for regional and multilateral solutions to unrest rather than unilateral intervention by the United States; and a focus on maintaining relations, especially trade relations, will all states, regardless of the practices of their governments.4 On the basis of these criteria, over the past decade the Canadian government has maintained generally friendly relations with El Salvador, Honduras, Cuba, and Nicaragua.

One criticism of U.S. economic aid policies is that much of the aid provided is tied to the condition that it be used to purchase U.S. goods and services.5 This proviso reduces the purchasing discretion of the recipient, and, therefore, the value of the monetary transfer, by as much as 20 percent. However, justifying foreign aid partly on the basis of developing markets for the donor country’s goods and services is one way an executive administration in a democratic government maintains a winning legislative coalition in favor of its foreign aid program. The United States is not unique in this respect. More of Canada’s economic aid is tied to the purchases of its own products and services than any other donor in the world except Australia.6

In absolute terms, the United States provided about six times as much official development assistance to Third World states in 1986 than did Canada, but Canada gave a higher amount as percentage of GNP (0.44 percent to 0.22 percent).7 Only since 1987 has Canada had a requirement linking economic aid to the human rights performance of potential recipients, and that requirement is much more ambiguous than the one stated in U.S. legislation. It appears as a statement in an obscure Canadian Development Agency report, and it states only that human rights protection is now one criterion of eligibility for foreign aid.8 Implementation of the new policy will be impeded because, unlike the United States, Canada does not require any agency to measure the human rights practices of other nations and then report periodically to policymakers. Indeed, only two other governments in the world compile reasonably comprehensive reports on the human rights practices of other countries – Norway, since 1985, and even more recently, the Netherlands.

Apparently, as in the United States, there is some gap between human rights rhetoric and actual practices. A recent study concluded that Canada gives far more foreign aid in absolute terms to countries with poor human rights records than to countries with good ones.9 And, perhaps because of a concern about disrupting trade relations, Canada has been even more reluctant than the United States to impose trade sanctions on South Africa.10 As in the United States, promotion of Canadian arms sales to Third World countries has become an important objective of the Canadian government. Canadian law on military assistance is similar to U.S. law, prohibiting the export of arms to “countries whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens, unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.”11 However, according to Project Ploughshares, in 1986 Canadian arms were sold to the repressive governments of Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Indonesia, Pakistan, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Korea, and Syria.12 Whereas U.S. law requires reasonably full disclosure of all arms sales, Canada has no such obligation.13

Unlike the situation in the United States, Canadian representatives on the boards of international financial institutions such as the World Bank are not instructed to consider the status of human rights observance in the applicant’s country when making loan decisions. In this case, the Canadian government’s policy against promotion of human rights is based on principle. In 1988 the minister of finance wrote: “I believe that the introduction of the human rights criteria would politicize the World Bank’s decision making with negative consequences for its activities.”14



The Efforts Test. Yet another approach to assessing whether or not Progressive principles have motivated U.S. foreign policy behavior is to employ the efforts test. As described in this text, to see whether stated policies actually have been implemented, it is necessary to examine the patterns of actual foreign policy behavior. A total lack of effort or only minimal effort to implement a publicly states policy would be evidence of official deception and immorality. Much research have been conducted on the extent to which the United States has a more favorable foreign policy toward states with better human rights records, as is required by existing U.S. legislation, but the evidence is not conclusive. There have been several statistical studies of the relationship between the human rights practices of LDCs and the amounts and kinds of U.S. foreign aid they have received. Studies of this type tend to measure human rights in a way that is consistent with Carter’s emphasis on respect for rights of the integrity of the individual. The findings from Cingranelli and Pasquarello’s research on the relationship between human rights practices and the distribution of economic and military assistance among Latin American countries in FY1983 indicated that no simple generalizations about the role of human rights in decisions regarding the distribution of U.S. foreign aid were possible.15

We found that decisions regarding the distribution of foreign aid to Latin America were made in two stages. During the gatekeeping stage of economic aid decisions, when certain countries may be excluded from the pool of potential aid recipients in a particular budget year, more developed nations often were eliminated, and human rights records were not a consideration in determining which nations received economic assistance. When U.S. policymakers decided on amounts of economic assistance, however, higher levels of economic assistance were provided to nations with relatively enlightened human rights practices. For military aid, nations with poor human rights records often were excluded at the gatekeeping stage, but once the decision had been made to provide military assistance, the human rights practices of the recipients could not explain the level of assistance.

In other words, we found that the human rights records of potential recipients played a role in some decisions but not in others. Pasquarello replicated this research, this time focusing on the distribution of foreign aid among African nations, and found that human rights considerations played a role, but a different one than was found for Latin America.16 Steven Poe recently conducted research adopting our “gatekeeping-level” distinction, but examining a wider sample of countries. He also found statistical evidence suggesting that human rights concerns affected some aspects of foreign aid allocations, in ways prescribed by existing U.S. human rights legislation.17

Many other studies have reported no relationship between the human rights records of Third World states and the level of foreign assistance provided by the United States.18 In doing so, some have criticized our Latin American case study on methodological gorunds.19 But the debate contains some philosophical differences as well. Some analysts prefer to draw their conclusions from observing the human rights conditions that prevail within the boundaries of the largest recipients of U.S. economic assistance. In Latin America, for example, economic assistance to El Salvador accounts for approximately 25 percent of all U.S. aid supplied to the region. Human rights conditions in El Salvador are terrible, and some of the worst violations have allegedly been perpetrated by elements of that nation’s military. The military itself is not under unified control and is not especially responsive to the civilian authorities. If we consider only or mainly U.S. foreign policy toward El Salvador, it is hard to argue that the U.S. government has more favorable economic assistance policies toward nations with good human rights practices. If, on the other hand, we admit the lesson of U.S. involvement in El Salvador, but then look at the distribution of U.S. economic assistance among the other Latin American nations, we find that in these less visible, more “routine” cases, nations with better human rights records receive higher levels of aid.

But which piece of evidence is more revealing of the efforts of U.S. policymakers to achieve Progressive outcomes in the Third World? U.S. policies toward El Salvador and Nicaragua since 1981 reflect the preferences of two Republican administrations with the reluctant cooperation of Congress. Foreign policy toward most of the other nations in Latin America, on the other hand, is less the subject of press reports and congressional debates. Instead, it is the product of longer standing decision rules, institutional arrangements, and policy processes.

Presidential administrations have great control over the making of foreign policy except in those areas where Congress, through legislation, has ensured a role for itself. Because of the existence of human rights legislation, during the Reagan administration of Congress was able to use hearings and to enact numerous pieces of country-specific legislation to alter or at least to call into question U.S. foreign policy toward many countries including El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and South Korea on human rights grounds. Congress can prohibit human rights violators from receiving any military assistance, but it exercises much less control over how much a country will receive if it does not implement that prohibition. Not surprisingly, therefore, no study has shown the level of military aid a country received to be proportionate to any measure of the human rights practices of the recipient country’s government during any president’s administration. The existence of a legislative platform does not guarantee close congressional oversight of administrative actions, but the absence of one makes such oversight almost impossible.



The Impact Test. Since morality is bound inextricably to consideration of consequences, the impact test is important too. Although we can find some anecdotal bright spots in the impacts of U.S. efforts to achieve Progressive foreign policy goals in the Third World, especially during the Carter administration, there has been very little systematic research on the impact of U.S. foreign policy on underdeveloped countries. And the limited work that has been conducted on this question shows very little evidence that Progressive objectives have had much impact. There are four possible reasons for these disappointing findings.

First, in order for foreign policy to be effective, it must provide resources or apply sanctions that are significant to the target.20 The United States has lost some of its significance to many Third World countries because it has shifted much of its aid from bilateral to multilateral programs. Wealthier Third World nations like Brazil, Venezuela, and Singapore rely less on bilateral aid and more on loans from private international banks and public multilateral development banks (MDBs). Although the United States remains a strong voice in the lending policies of MDBs, its own priorities much be tempered by the need to persuade other voting members. Moreover, although the United States is still among the largest providers of official development assistance to the Third World, Japan has exceeded the United States in its absolute level of giving. The gap between the United States and other contributors is shrinking as well. In some Third World countries, the U.S. aid program is so small that manipulating its size marginally is not likely to have any effect.

Second, to have any systematic impact, the U.S. policymakers’ commitment to Progressive foreign policy objectives must be clear, sincere, and consistent.21 The Reagan and Bush administrations gave anti-communist and other Nationalist objectives such high priority that Progressive objectives did not have a consistent impact on foreign policy rhetoric or actions. The Reagan and Bush pattern has been to provide foreign aid and other foreign policy benefits to noncommunist, market-oriented Third World regimes, pushing for Progressive reforms only when it was relatively safe and convenient to do so. Furthermore, their commitment to a domestic policy of trickle-down economics led them to subtly move away from aid programs directly benefitting the neediest in Third World countries to programs designed to stimulate macroeconomic growth instead. By pushing hard only when there were extraordinary targets of opportunities for democratization, the Reagan and Bush administrations have sent mixed messages to Third World leaders about their priorities.

Third, it is hard to measure the short-term impact of foreign policy. Most foreign policy is conducted through quiet, routine, low-intensity instruments. Its impacts are expected to be durable and long term. The symbolic emphasis of promotion of human rights through U.S. foreign policy is very new, so it is unrealistic to expect dramatic results. It would be difficult enough to identify the impacts of high-priority U.S. foreign policy goals on the behavior of Third World states. It is especially unrealistic to expect to find compelling evidence of the impacts of medium- and low-priority goals on policy outcomes, because much of the time they will be overshadowed by higher priority ones.

Finally, employing the impact test leads to disappointment because the instruments of U.S. foreign policy in the Third World are based too heavily on sanctions rather than on positive reinforcements. Congressional legislation designed to promote human rights around the world has not carrots in it, only sticks. The language of the legislation implies that human rights can be measured, so that the human rights practices of all nations can be at least ranked from best to worst. It also implies a threshold for the tolerance of human rights violations. When cross the implied threshold, the statutes require the U.S. government to react by voting against loans or by stopping bilateral foreign aid. The policy would have greater impact if nations received levels of rewards in proportion to the extent to which each exceeded the threshold. Nations with the best human rights practices, other things being equal, would receive higher levels of benefits from U.S. foreign policy than those just above the threshold. Those below the threshold would receive no benefits at all. Or the policy could reward improvements in practices regardless of the initial rank or starting point.

The few statistical studies of the impact of U.S. foreign policies on the targets of those policies have not found much evidence of achievement of Progressive goals. In a crude test of the effectiveness of U.S. human rights policy in improving the human rights conditions in LDCs, David Carleton and Michael Stohl selected a sample of 59 LDCs (from which the United States admits refugees) and found that political terror in 9 of the 59 countries lessened, but in 4 of the 59 it worsened. In the first five years of the Reagan administration, the number of cases where political terror worsened and where it improved was nearly equal. While the Carter record is a little better, the difference in impact between the two administrations could be due to chance rather than to the effects of different foreign policies.22 On the basis of such slim evidence, it is hard to argue that the Carter administration had much impact on improving human rights performance. But Carleton and Stohl note that the foreign policy rhetoric of the Carter administration had profoundly positive effect on the oppressed and downtrodden in Third World states by providing them with hope. The authors noted that the Reagan and Bush “quiet diplomacy” approach, on the other hand, offers the victims much less hope.23



Future Trends

The United States emerged from the Second World War as the richest and least damaged of the major world powers. Using these advantages, it helped finance the reconstruction of Europe, was the first nation to develop a substantial bilateral foreign aid program to assist development in the Third World, and was a leader in the establishment of several international development agencies. In recent years, however, things have changed dramatically. Today the United States has severe budget problems, and its economy is second to Japan and is losing ground to Germany. As recently as 1983, the United States was the world’s largest creditor nation, but by the end of 1989, it was the world’s number one debtor, falling $644 billion in the hole to foreigners, primarily the British and Japanese. In this environment of resource scarcity, new demands were made to cut back on the use of U.S. tax dollars to finance social, economic, and political improvements in the less developed countries. While the budget resources were shrinking, potential demand on U.S. foreign aid skyrocketed.

Beginning in 1989, in the domestic arena, the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, took a sharp turn away from political authoritarianism and economic central planning toward democracy and free market economies. In the area of foreign policy, Gorbachev proposed an end to the Cold War, advanced major new agreements limiting the development and deployment of nuclear and conventional weapons, pulled the Soviet military out of Afghanistan, and reduced its support for revolutionary movements in the Third World. At least some of these momentous changes will be long lasting. Indeed, the Soviet Union, the United States’ principal ideological and military rival for more than half a century, no longer exists, having been replaced by a loose confederation of national called the Commonwealth of Independent States. So a total reexamination and reorientation of East-West foreign policy is taking place.

Major changes in the former state of the Soviet Union touched off similar reforms in many Eastern European countries, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany, highlighted by the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Most U.S. policymakers want the United States to be an active participant in these transformations. If current reforms succeed and become permanent, the result will be a safer world for the United States and its NATO allies. In the wake of these major changes in what used to be called the Soviet bloc, the United States confronts new demands to help finance democratization and free market reforms in Eastern Europe and the nations making up the Commonwealth of Independent States. A less hostile international environment may allows a decrease in the percentage of the annual U.S. budget allocated to national defense, from about one third during the early 1980s to as low as 20 percent. These “windfall” savings could be used to offset the large budget deficit, attack problems of poverty and environmental degradation domestically, or finance substantial new foreign assistance programs aimed at Eastern Europe and the Third World.

These dramatic developments in East-West relations are likely to alter the rules of the game for North-South relations as well. With respect to the world distribution of military power, the United States now holds a larger share. However, in the distribution of economic power, the United States is losing ground. The movement towards a single economy in Europe and the free market reforms in the former Soviet bloc are sure to produce even more economic competition in the near future. Because of these poor economic conditions, it is unlikely that transfers of tax dollars from the United States to Third World states will grow any faster than the rate of inflation for at least a decade.

Beyond that, three alternative models of U.S.-Third World relations in the twenty-first century seem possible and illustrate the range of choices. One possibility – the isolation model – predicts that the United States will lose interest in the Third World and drastically cut the level of bilateral and multilateral economic assistance it provides developing countries. Another scenario – the regressive model – is that the United States, now unchecked by its previous superpower rival, will take even greater license in manipulating Third World nations to achieve its own self-interested ends. Yet another possibility – the Progressive model – is that U.S. leaders, now freed from viewing Third World nations as prizes in the balance of power among the superpower, will give greater weight to items on the Progressive foreign policy agenda.



The Isolation Model. Now that the threat of Russian aggression has declined, U.S. leaders could begin to think about national defense beginning at the U.S. border. This would mean that the United States would be less interested in the internal political, social, and economic affairs of weaker states. Instead, U.S. resources would be used almost exclusively for domestic programs. Assuming the world is a relatively peaceful one, the United States will continue to provide foreign aid at about the same level as before, shifting the balance gradually away from military aid and toward economic aid. Of course, some of this aid will be siphoned off to help Russia and the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Eastern Europe, so the Third World’s share will be diminished. Moreover, it is likely to be even more concentrated on allies whose cooperation is important for the continued macroeconomic prosperity and military security of the United States. Consistent with this model, Senator Robert Dole, majority leader in the Senate, suggested in early 1990 that the United States reduce its foreign aid to the top five recipients – India, Egypt, Pakistan, Israel, and the Philippines – and redistribute the “savings” to the less developed, newly democratizing nations of Eastern Europe.

Several pieces of historical evidence support this scenario. The U.S. foreign aid program was initiated when the U.S. economy was healthy, after the great depression and World War II had ended. In times of economic decline, the United States has not been particularly generous in providing tax dollars to poorer, less fortunate countries. Moreover, just as the Marshall Plan diverted foreign aid to Western Europe that might have been used for economic development in the Third World, U.S. participation in the reconstruction of Eastern Europe may have the same effect.

What is more, aid levels to the Third World might even be reduced without a dramatic shift toward relative emphasis on economic aid. World peace would make it easier for the United States to make such a shift, but Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait will make U.S. policymakers wonder whether there really will be much peace in the Third World. Just as the Korean War caused a shift from economic development aid to military aid, the confrontation between Iraq may stir fears of future wars with Third World dictators.

The Regressive Model. Confronted by a militarily weaker, less resolute superpower adversary, U.S. leaders might be emboldened to become more imperious in relations with Third World states. Some observers see evidence of this strategy in recent U.S. interventions into Lebanon, Libya, Grenada, and Panama, in the support of the Contra war against the government of Nicaragua, in the patrolling of the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, and the in the quick and militant U.S. response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

As further evidence, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney has argued that in a world where nuclear weapons are less likely to be used, the United States must be more concerned about other threats from lesser powers including biological, chemical, and conventional warfare. The new buzzword at the Pentagon is LIC, for low-intensity conflict. Planners in the Department of Defense are advocating that the United States further develop its capability for the rapid deployment and projection of highly mobile military forces to fight limited wars. If they get their way, there may be no peace dividend after all.

In short, the United States may return to a model of foreign policy resembling the diplomacy of a century ago – the moralizing, big stick, make-the-world-safe-for-democracy variety.24 The two military confrontations with Third World states in the post-Cold War era (with Panama and Iraq) have some characteristics in common and may be a preview of U.S.-Third World relations in the twenty-first century:


  1. An obnoxious Third World dictator. More dictators will certainly emerge, and many like Saddam Hussein will have chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons.

  2. An absence of superpower stakes in the conflict. It is a one-superpower world. Balance of power concerns are no longer particularly important.

  3. A lack of U.S. inhibitions. Note the lifting of the prohibition against assassinating foreign leaders prior to the invasion of Panama. Observing those events, Graham Fuller of the Rand Corporation observed that “The Soviets feel deeply unhappy about unilateral American power projection. Moscow’s worry is that the United States will treat the current disarray in the East Bloc as an unfettered opportunity to use our power.”25

  4. A tendency toward overkill. If ten thousand troops could do the job, send fifty thousand to intimidate the opposition and minimize the risk of losing.

  5. Little respect for Third World leaders. Just as Adolfo de la Huerta of Mexico had been a “plug ugly” to Woodrow Wilson, Manuel Noriega was presented to the American public as a “thug” and Saddam Hussein as “sick.” The implication in both recent cases was obvious: there is no need to negotiate with uncivilized people like that.

The Progressive Model. Finally, the easing of tensions between East and West should lessen the concern about the expansion of Soviet-style communism, leading U.S. policymakers to be more tolerant of communist movements, socialist experiments, and instability in the Third World. Under these circumstances, foreign aid and other types of active U.S. assistance will be provided mainly to democratic governments that have an equitable distribution of political power and wealth within their societies, good human rights practices, and peaceful relations with their neighbors.

U.S. leaders will give more attention to North-South issues and will work to facilitate necessary reforms in the Third World. These actions will increase the security of the United States from external threat and law the foundation for mutually beneficial economic relations between the United States and less economically developed countries. As a first step, U.S. leaders will convince the public that the foreign aid program is essential to world peace and, therefore, to national defense. Following the guidelines suggested by the New International Economic Order, the United States gradually will increase its foreign aid from a meager 0.22 percent of GNP to 1 percent or more. Congress will insist that cover action and unilateral military intervention not be used except under the most extraordinary circumstances and will insist on the right to veto proposed covert actions. It will censure any president who does not abide by the spirit as well as the letter of international law.

Each of these scenarios represents a different combination of choices with respect to many value dimensions. How much should the United States try to affect the internal affairs, including the domestic policies, of less developed countries? To what extent should scarce U.S. tax dollars be used to finance economic, social, and political reforms and economic development in Third World states? Under what conditions and to what degree should Nationalist objectives of expansion of U.S. military and economic power be risked in order to achieve Progressive objectives in the Third World? The three scenarios do not reflect all the possible permutations, but they do describe three distinctly different, yet possible, courses of action. A Progressive tradition in U.S. foreign policy toward the Third World is emerging, but there is no guarantee that it will continue.




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