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Foreign aid, defined as technical assistance and capital grants and loans to underdeveloped countries for non-military purposes, has in the past decade become an important feature of the foreign policy of the United States. Yet, surprisingly, few serious writers have dealt comprehensively with the rationale, the theory of foreign aid.
In his study, American Foreign Aid Doctrines, Professor Banfield critically examines the premises of aid doctrines as to both fact and value. As a critique of present aid doctrine, his study suggests that the time is long overdue for a reappraisal of our foreign aid programs in terms of more realistic doctrine. First, he considers two doctrines of foreign aid which are based upon promotion of the national security of the United States. According to the first, the doctrine of indirect influence, foreign aid will bring about fundamental changes in the outlook and institutions of the recipient societies. These changes, resulting mainly from a rise in per capita income, supposedly will lead to others–especially the spread of freedom and democracy–that will promote peace and thus, indirectly, U.S. national security. The author cites some of the literature of the social sciences dealing with problems of the developing nations, and notes the conditions likely to hinder the economic and political development that U.S. aid seeks to promote.
The second doctrine, that of direct influence, accepts cultures as they are but seeks directly to influence the recipient governments and peoples to act as U.S. interests require or, more often, to refrain from acting in ways injurious to the United States. Aid under this doctrine is designed to achieve one or more of the following ends: business friendship, maintenance of friendly governments, enhancement of U.S. prestige, encouragement of good will toward the United States, and the exertion of moral force. Linking prestige with power, Professor Banfield is not impressed by the argument that an increase in our reputation as a non-military power, necessarily enhances our prestige. Also, he sees “good will” and “moral force” as making their effect only by working upon public opinion rather than upon governments, and public opinion in most of the recipient countries comprises a small intellectual elite in the cities, not the mass of people. Furthermore, he states that the extent of the influence of public opinion on many of the recipient governments is questionable.
The author regards as unrealistic the assertion that the failure to extend non-military aid to underdeveloped countries will lead to their takeover by the Soviet Union and eventually to the destruction of the United States. He feels that military aid or the threat of it can be more efficacious than economic aid in holding these countries from Communist domination.
Professor Banfield also considers doctrines which seek to justify aid on grounds other than national security. These include the doctrines of altruism and world community. Pointing out that the idea that a nation should promote the welfare of other nations is new in the history of political thought and of international relations, Professor Banfield sees two especially grave difficulties in altruism as a basis of aid. One is that “doing good” may be impossible either because we do not know what is “good” or because, if we do know, we cannot bring it about and may, despite our best intentions, bring about “bad instead. The other is that it may not be a proper function of our government to do “good for people who are not its citizens.
Discussing the contention that aid ought to be designed to promote a world community, he observes that the world is very far from agreeing as to what constitutes its common good, and that it is entirely unwilling to let the United States decide for it. Moreover, the goal of achieving world community is not perfectly compatible with that of preserving liberal democracy in the West.
The final section of the study offers an explanation of why, after more than ten years, the theory of aid has not been better worked out, the arguments for it have not been subjected to hard scrutiny, and the factual premises of aid doctrines have not been tested. In Professor Banfield’s view, much of the writing on aid has consisted of moralizing instead of realistic analysis of the economic, social, and political problems of the nations receiving American aid.
The late Edward C. Banfield (1916–1999) taught government at Harvard University. He is the author of many articles and several books, including Government Project, Political Influence, and The Moral Basis of a Backward Society.
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