Foreign Aid Does Not Guarantee Security (Human or Otherwise)

In the midst of Congress’s roaring debate over budget cuts, Assistant Secretary of State Eric Schwartz weighed in last week to decry any talk of cutting foreign aid in a letter he titled “Human Security Is National Security.” Civilian and humanitarian foreign aid, he argued, supports our national security interests and “reinforces our nation’s role as an international leader.”

Schwartz compared President Obama’s desire to boost foreign aid to that of President Reagan, citing Reagan’s famous line describing America as a “shining city upon a hill.” Schwartz said Reagan understood “that we serve our national interest best when we help to bring stability to others in their hour of need.”

In other words, Reagan wouldn’t cut foreign aid; we shouldn’t either. But this isn’t exactly a fair analogy.

Ronald Reagan used foreign aid to support freedom fighters and democracy advocates around the world and undermine communism. He intensely opposed large government that can take control of every human domain. He believed that human rights and dignity are ours by nature, not by government, and that governments that oppress their people have no legitimacy. He also knew that a nation without a strong national defense puts its people at risk. If the nation is secure, the blessings of liberty will flow for the people.

But the Obama Administration sees it differently. While it is determined to make deep cuts in defense, the Administration is seeking to preserve and boost foreign aid. In her March 1 testimony on the State Department’s budget, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress:

We are making targeted investments in human security. We have focused on hunger, disease, climate change and humanitarian emergencies because these challenges not only threaten the security of individuals—they are the seeds of future conflict. If we want to lighten the burden on future generations, then we must make the investments that will leave them a more secure world. Our largest investment is in global health programs … Our budget builds resilience against droughts, floods and other weather disasters, promotes clean energy and preserves tropical forests.

Clinton’s understanding of human security reflects that of the United Nations, as a 2006 Heritage study shows:

  • Human security is defined in the U.N. Development Program’s (UNDP) 1994 Human Development Report as including economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security, and political security.
  • In 2006, UNDP called the “notion” of human security “an operational approach to people-centred security that is able to identify priorities and produce important conclusions for national and internal policy.”

In other words, people wouldn’t have problems if governments and institutions controlled and distributed economic and environmental resources. Unfortunately, history shows that foreign aid and social entitlements do not secure human rights and advance freedom. Rather, they usually wind up inhibiting and restricting them for most people.

As Ronald Reagan said, “a government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you’ve got.” Congress would do well to remind the Administration that the federal government’s first obligation under the Constitution is to provide for the common defense; otherwise, it should leave people free to pursue their own happiness.

Scott Nason is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit:

Source material can be found at this site.

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