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ED042497a: U.S. Not Getting It's Money's Worth

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In the battle over whether to cut funding for America's foreign-aid program -- and its main dispenser of funds, the Agency for International Development (AID) -- the Clinton administration always insists cuts would be a mistake. Foreign aid, the White House claims, helps the United States gain influence with countries around the world and builds to gaining international support for U.S. foreign policy.

But if that's true, why do most countries receiving U.S. foreign aid vote against the United States most of the time?

During the 1996 session of the United Nations, 68 percent of countries that receive foreign aid voted against the United State a majority of the time. The United States' top 10 foreign-aid recipients will receive more than $6 billion from the United States this year. Despite this support, six of them cast their U.N. ballots against the United States in more than half of the votes last year.

For example, India, the sixth largest recipient of U.S. aid, will receive more than $154 million in 1997. Yet, last year it voted against the United States 76 percent of the time. Egypt, the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid at nearly $2.1 billion, cast its U.N. ballot against the United States 61 percent of the time.

Other examples of just how little respect U.S. foreign aid earns from other nations:

  • Laos, which was cut off from U.S. aid in 1992 for human-rights abuses, will receive nearly $2.5 million in U.S. foreign aid this year. Yet, in 1996 it cast U.N. votes against the United States 74 percent of the time -- more than even Libya.
  • Bangladesh, which received $70 million in U.S. foreign aid in 1996, voted against the United States 65 percent of the time.
  • The Philippines, despite remarkable progress in economic reform, will still receive $65 million in U.S. foreign aid this year. Yet, in 1996 it voted against the United States 61 percent of the time.
  • Mexico, whose economy was bailed out by President Clinton to the tune of $40 billion in 1994, will receive nearly $26 million in U.S. foreign aid this year. Yet, last year Mexico sided against the United States in the United Nations 61 percent of the time.
  • Colombia, twice decertified by the Clifton administration for not cooperating with the United States in the fight against international drug trafficking, voted against the United States 61 percent of the time. Still, the Clifton administration requested $2 million in U.S. aid for Colombia in fiscal year 1997.
  • Ethiopia, receiving $106 million in U.S. foreign aid this year, stood against the United States in the United Nations 57 percent of the time last year.
  • Haiti, where President Clinton sent U.S. troops to restore deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1994, will receive almost $110 million in U.S. foreign aid. Even so, Haiti voted against the United States 56 percent of the time in 1996.

U.N. votes give a good indication of a member government's foreign policy views. And despite its many problems, the United Nations continues to be a forum in which the United States seeks international support and cooperation on vital U.S. interests.

There are many reasons for a country to vote with or against the United States in the United Nations. But when we are dispensing, out of the goodness of our hearts, literally billions of dollars every year, is it too much to expect the nations we help to help us in return?

It's not. Why are we sending out all this money when it is abundantly clear that U.S. foreign aid does not win friends where it counts: supporting U.S. foreign policy initiatives? Maybe if we cut them off, we'll start getting some respect.

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Note: Bryan T. Johnson is a former international trade and economics policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

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