Post 9: A Case for the Importance of US Foreign Aid to National Security

 photo ddf2785b-c74e-4a5f-909c-013440492616_zpsm7udbnxi.jpg
Delivery of food to South Sudan from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). (Ahnna Gudmunds, World Food Programme).

“Food can be a powerful instrument for all the free world in building a durable peace.”

– President Dwight D. Eisenhower

When Americans think of national security, they often envision supersonic warplanes and intrepid soldiers battling for the ideals of free society. Events in US history, such as the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II and the War on Terror, have likely posited these ideas within our national conscious.

However, the US government’s plan for national security involves more than military power. Each year, the US spends billions of dollars on foreign aid to meet its national security goals. In fact, in 2015 the US provided over $30 billion in foreign assistance, [1] representing about 1% of the federal budget. [2] Although it accounts for a fraction of federal expenditure, the US provides more foreign aid than any country in the world. [3]

So, why is foreign assistance an important component of US national security? In short, the money serves as a preventative measure against global instability. In order to promote geopolitical security, the US government funnels aid into several categories. [4] For example, humanitarian assistance is provided for natural disasters and displaced persons, with the goal of providing relief and preventing disaster victims from becoming refugees in need of a new homeland. [5] Additionally, money is spent to fight global health epidemics and to keep foreign maladies from reaching US shores. [6] Lastly, the US provides security related assistance [7] to help other countries combat common enemies such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. [8]

That said, government officials and private organizations often point to the effectiveness of foreign aid and warn against relying solely on military force to ensure national security. [9] In fact, many experts point to Afghanistan as an example of how failure to provide financial assistance can lead to regional instability. [10] In the 1990s, the US largely failed to support Afghanistan after its war with the Soviet Union. [11] This allowed the Taliban to gain regional control and foster the development of Al-Qaeda. [12]

 photo a76b7a99-2fe2-4f86-81f2-fae8cbc9b94f_zpscgiyictl.jpg
Regional instability can create political vacuums that are often filled by extremist groups, such as Boko Haram in Africa. (SSR Resource Centre).

Despite the common refrain that foreign assistance promotes national security, the Trump administration recently proposed a 28 percent budget cut to U.S. diplomacy and foreign aid. [13] Instead, the administration seeks to increase military spending by $54 billion. [14] Thus, President Trump’s budget addresses global security with military capability instead of ‘soft power’ [15]countermeasures such as foreign aid and diplomatic relations.

Even more, President Trump’s proposal comes amidst the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in 70 years. [16] The combination of conflicts in South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia have created famines that place 16 million people at risk of imminent starvation. [17] “We are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations,” said Stephen O’Brien, the U.N. humanitarian chief, to the U.N. Security Council last month. [18] In order prevent mass starvation in these countries, the UN says $4.4 billion is needed immediately. [19]

Perhaps more well-known is the European refugee crisis. Beginning in 2015, migrants from war-torn countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq boarded crudely built rafts to cross the Mediterranean Sea in order to reach European soil. [20] As refugees continue to arrive and governments scramble to accommodate them, European society has struggled with ethnic tensions and the social and economic integration of the migrants.

 photo 4bfd835b-8fa2-4efc-baff-d9d47d6a5f85_zpse2g8dqcl.jpg
A combination of American military power and humanitarian aid is required to maintain US national security and global stability. (Fidel C. Hart, AP).

So as humanitarian crises occur across the globe, how does President Trump’s proposed foreign aid reduction impact US national security? At first glance, President Trump’s budget would break with decades of national security policy. After the Axis power surrender in 1945, the US helped rebuild Japan and Germany in hope that they would become allies and economic partners. [21] As a result, US support of post-war Europe and Japan forged a beneficial relationship that survives to this day.

Similarly, many of the issues faced by the US after WWII are present today. War damaged countries like Syria and Afghanistan require financial assistance to promote social stability, economic rebuild and support for citizens fleeing conflict. In African countries like South Sudan and Somalia, aid is required to prevent starvation and political vacuums that are likely to be filled by extremist groups.

In all, since 1945 US foreign policy has combined military power with humanitarian aid to promote the self-fulfilling goal of global stability. Over that time, foreign aid has strengthened geopolitical security by investing in the viability of foreign countries. Further, campaigns such as the War on Terror have demonstrated that military action alone cannot solve international crises. So, in addition to its armaments, the US must continue to fund humanitarian causes around the globe to achieve its national security goals. Now more than ever, the world order depends on it.

[1] Myers, J. (2016). Foreign Aid: These Countries are the Most Generous. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from

[2] Wall Street Journal. (2017). How Much Does the US Spend on Foreign Aid and Why? Wall Street Journal Video. Retrieved from

[3] Myers (2016).

[4] WSJ (2017).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] (2017). How is Foreign Assistance Categorized? Retrieved from

[8] WSJ (2017).

[9] Toosi, N., Dawsey, J. (2017). Critics Warn Trump that Gutting Foreign Aid Will Endanger US. Politico. Retrieved from

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Mohammed, A. (2017). Trump Plans 28 Percent Cut in Budget for Diplomacy, Foreign Aid. Reuters. Retrieved from

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Lynch, J. (2017). Donald trump wants to Cut Foreign Aid During the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis. Time. Retrieved from

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] BBC News Europe. (2016). Migrant Crisis: Migration to Europe Explained in Seven Charts. BBC. Retrieved from

[21] WSJ (2017).

2 thoughts on “Post 9: A Case for the Importance of US Foreign Aid to National Security

Add yours

  1. Aaron,
    Another area where the Trump admin may be causing some trouble is the reduction in funds for the USDA, which spends significant sums trying to improve the world’s food production. Within a not to distant time in the future, at even increased levels of production, there will simply not be enough food to feed the world population. A very dangerous proposition.


    1. I agree, and your comment aligns well with President Eisenhower’s statement above. Food security is component of US humanitarian aid and national security, but may well be the most important. Food shortages cause people to go too extreme lengths to avoid starvation, and in turn that may quickly lead to political and social instability.


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