Tons of basic food supplies such as grains, flour and protein powders, donated by the U.S. Agency for International Development, are kept in secured buildings to provide for the hundreds of thousands of people at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Portola High School

Opinion: Foreign aid must be given strategically

Every year, the United States spends billions of dollars on foreign aid, specifically directed toward developing countries. As the United States illustrates the global dominance of economic and military power, foreign assistance has now become a moral obligation.

Moreover, the media promotes these ideas by exposing humanitarian crises not only raising awareness but also indicating the competency we possess to make a change. From the young age that we encounter this type of media, these acts of compassion and good deeds have been engraved in the minds of millions of Americans.

We believe that the key to triggering growth initiates with money — the exact reason why we choose to give so much foreign aid. 

Surprising as it seems and despite the good intentions, foreign aid does not always help developing countries, the main reason being that often this money does not actually reach the people but instead either go to the corrupted government or back to the donor country.

As a government functions on the concept of getting taxes from the people and in return, providing service, foreign aid essentially breaks this relationship.

If a government derives the majority of their income from a foreign country, their ability to provide for their people rests solely on the will of the other. This has the potential to lead that country into a despotic path.

Development of a country is not dependent on the amount of money a country has, but rather the strength of its political and social systems.

Even if the money were to somehow get out of the dictator’s hand, it would eventually flow back to the donor country. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, every year, $200 billion are transferred from poor countries to rich countries.

A foremost case identified is Syria.

As the successful Arab Spring that overthrew Tunisia and Egypt’s president gave hope to Syrian pro-democracy activists, peaceful uprisings in Syria soon began to prevail on March 15, 2011.

Dissimilar to hopes, this birthed the massacre and imprisoning of hundreds that would continue for years beyond, the perpetrators behind this being the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad.

A few months later in July, military defectors united to form the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group under the motive of overthrowing the government. With two opposing sides, Syria was now completely under civil war. 

Because the United States was founded on the belief of people governing themselves, it is in our national security interest to provide this aid, especially when aware that conflict can easily spill over its borders and create a chain effect.

Thus, when we are getting ourselves involved in the Syrian conflict, we are ultimately advocating for democracy not just particular to Syria, but globally. 

Since the beginning of this conflict, USAID has been providing humanitarian aid, totaling up to more than $7.7 billion, according to USAID’s Fact Sheet of U.S. Assistance for the People of Syria.

Though the USAID itself claims that this assistance has been reaching four million Syrians every month, the international sanctions and assistance imposed on Syria have only added to Assad’s growing power.

The reason lies behind the UN-led humanitarian aid by attempting to implement capacity building and peace-building, which is furthermore supported by USAID.

Because UN agencies permit the massive amount of money to flow directly into the hands of the Assad regime, aid is being used to subsidize war efforts on the government’s side, skirt sanctions or other purposes unaligned with its original intentions, according to Foreign Affairs.

Not only that, even local aid such as food and medical supplies cannot reach certain areas in which the Syrian government blocks.

Although the international humanitarian law governs aid to be neutral, meaning that it is directed towards all people in need regardless of their stance, the Syrian government’s policy steers aid away from besieged communities.

Only 27% in opposition held areas have received aid based on 2017, according to the United Nations.

Clearly not an act of peace-building, the money that we fund to the UN is becoming a weapon for the government to use unjustly against its civilians and furthermore worsening the Syrian crisis- perhaps a reason why this war is persisting. 

The United States may have a moral obligation of peace-building in foreign nations, but it is not always within its capability, disregarding the huge amounts of money.

This type of foreign aid only hurts the country and even if the reason is within our national security interests, stepping back is something the best option. Stepping back will not solve the problem immediately, but rather increase the chances of solving the problem.

Besides, the same method of peace-building is not guaranteed to succeed in one country because it did in the other.

Nonetheless, foreign assistance should still persist but just implemented strategically. By choosing to give the money in a more steady condition or executing assistance, not in the form of money are both options.

The real key to triggering growth initiates with being able to differentiate situations that we can step into and those we cannot.