January 6, 2005 | Commentary on International Organizations
With U.S. aid to countries devastated by the Dec. 26 tsunami now
exceeding $350 million, hardly anyone is calling the United States
"stingy." But did the charge -- leveled by Jan Egeland, U.N.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency
Relief Coordinator, when the U.S. aid pledge was smaller -- ever
Hardly. Yet some in the international aid business cannot seem to shake their reflexive criticism of America, despite ample evidence of our generosity.
Mr. Egeland's criticism was based on his belief that America isn't providing enough development assistance -- specifically, aid as a percentage of gross national income (GNI). According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. is dead last in aid as a percent of GNI, at 0.15 percent. Mr. Egeland's native Norway has a ratio of 0.92 percent.
But there are several problems with using Mr. Egeland's formula:
Foreign aid cannot replace domestic will to adopt good policies,
without which long-term development is impossible. Instead of
focusing on the amount of assistance, the United States is trying
to maximize results by targeting aid to countries that adopt
economic freedom, bolster the rule of law, and build the strong
institutions necessary for aid to be effective.
But even without this record, the fact that the U.S. aid pledge started small and grew larger is entirely defensible. By nature, humanitarian aid must be tailored to individual crises: Every single famine, earthquake, flood or other disaster is unique and requires different types of aid and different strategies. As death tolls climbed in the wake of the tsunami disaster and the needs of the survivors became clearer, the United States upped its humanitarian aid commitments to the region as quickly as necessary. Other countries, it should be noted, did the same, gradually increasing aid offers as the scope of the tragedy became apparent.
Criticisms of America's generosity fly in the face of reality. International aid experts do their organizations no favors when they criticize American largess -- especially since they would find it impossible to follow through on their good intentions without it.
Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham fellow in international regulatory affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
First appeared on National Review Online