The faltering U.S. economy has led to more scrutiny of government spending. Foreign aid has come under attack from both budget hawks and even mayors who claim money should be spent on infrastructure in America and not Afghanistan. In fiscal year 2010, the U.S. international affairs budget was almost $57 billion. The number seems astounding, yet this is roughly 1 percent of the total U.S. budget. According to Oxfam America, Americans spend more money on pet care each year than the government forks out in foreign aid.
Foreign assistance dollars are used to help promote democracy and economic stability; to lift people out of poverty; for security and military assistance; and for counter-terrorism measures. U.S. commercial interests and national security also come into play. In 1948 the United States created its first major foreign aid program — the Marshall Plan — to help rebuild Europe’s infrastructure and economy. Most countries outside of Western Europe, Canada and Australia are recipients of U.S. foreign aid, although some countries benefit more than others. Here are the top 10 recipients of United States foreign aid, based on fiscal year 2010 figures from the Congressional Research Service.
10. Nigeria ($614.7 million)
Corruption, poor governance, conflict and poverty have hampered Nigeria’s bid for democratic and economic progress and U.S. financial aid targets those areas. Additional aid is spent on security and addressing serious health and educational problems. A large portion of the money is used to treat and help prevent diseases, especially malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS. An interesting note: Nigeria is the fourth-largest exporter of oil to the United States.
9. Kenya ($687.7 million)
U.S. foreign aid to Kenya is spent on providing equipment and training to security forces, improving health care and fighting disease. It also funds efforts to combat poverty, promote democratic values and good governance, and for counter-terrorism efforts.
8. Mexico ($757.7 million)
Mexico shares a 2,000-mile border with the United States and is a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Although it is the third-largest trading partner of the U.S., a huge percentage of the population is poor. U.S. aid to Mexico is spent on development assistance, economic support, child survival and health programs, and combating drug trafficking.
7. Jordan ($843 million)
Jordan’s small size and lack of economic resources has made it dependent on foreign aid. The history of U.S. aid to Jordan dates to 1951, and levels have fluctuated depending on events. Since the Gulf crisis in 1991 aid has increased. Jordan’s location, locked between Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, makes it important strategically to the United States. Aid is spent on economic development, health education and governance, and a large portion of the money goes towards military assistance. This may come as a surprise to many, but Jordan has been a leading ally of the U.S. in the war on terror.
6. Iraq ($1.11 billion)
Reconstruction efforts in Iraq after the war has assured the country a place in the top 10, although assistance has declined significantly in the past couple of years, with the completion of many projects. U.S. funds have been used to help strengthen democracy, build infrastructure, help millions of displaced Iraqis reintegrate into their communities, promote economic growth, and improve security. With the U.S. military withdrawal slated for the end of 2011 many fear that some American-funded programs will collapse, as they feel the country is ill-equipped to keep them properly running.
5. Egypt ($1.55 billion)
The 2011 anti-government riots in Cairo raised many questions about why America was giving so much money to Egypt, and thus supporting the regime of former President Mubarak. Annual funding to Egypt has averaged about $2 billion since 1979 and until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it was the second-largest recipient. The vast majority of U.S. aid is earmarked for the military. U.S. officials argue that the funding promotes strong ties between the two countries’ militaries. Mubarak also supported U.S. efforts to advance the Middle East peace process with Israel.
4. Haiti ($1.77 billion)
Foreign assistance to Haiti more than tripled due to reconstruction efforts following the February 2010 earthquake. The country has been a major recipient of U.S. aid for quite some time, and was also among the top 10 recipients between 1998 and 2008. Through the years U.S. funds have supported such initiatives as economic development, health care programs, food assistance and agricultural development.
3. Pakistan ($1.8 billion)
Pakistan has been among the leading recipients of foreign aid, and the country is strategically important to the US. But the killing of Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan has strained relations, and the future direction of U.S. aid to the country is uncertain. Since 9/11, aid to Pakistan has steadily risen as the country is considered a U.S. partner in the Afghanistan war and in the fight against terror. Since 1948 America has pledged over $30 billion in direct aid to Pakistan, half of it for military assistance. Two-thirds of the aid was allocated between 2002 and 2010. Many question if there have been any significant gains, citing lack of accountability and reform by the Pakistani government.
2. Israel ($2.77 billion)
Since World War II, Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign aid, and from 1976 until 2004, it was the largest annual recipient. For more than two decades, Israel has received nearly $3 billion each year from the United States. Most of this aid takes the form of military assistance, and the country has also received significant economic help through the years. Israel receives some concessions not available to other countries, such as being allowed to use some U.S. military aid for research and development in the United States, and to buy military goods from Israeli manufacturers.
1. Afghanistan ($4.10 billion)
Afghanistan is a poor country and even under normal circumstances would qualify for aid. But as a result of the war, the country is a U.S. strategic priority, and has received almost $52 billion in total foreign assistance. The aid is used to rebuild the country, stabilize and strengthen the economic, social, political and security structure, and for anti-terrorism measures. More than half of U.S. assistance has been used to recruit, equip and train Afghan forces. The rest has gone for development and humanitarian needs. A congressional study has urged the Obama administration to make more effective use of this aid, to focus more on sustainability and long-term development. Many fear that when foreign troops withdraw completely in 2014 the country could suffer a severe economic depression.