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U.S.: Obama Boosts Foreign, Development Aid Spending

Jim Lobe*

WASHINGTON, May 8 2009 (IPS) - True to his promises to bolster Washington’s “soft power” abroad, President Barack Obama released details of his fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget that included significant increases in development assistance and other civilian-oriented tools of U.S. foreign policy.

If approved, the 2010 budget, combined with a pending FY09 supplemental budget that Congress is likely to approve in the coming weeks, would also go a long way to paying U.S. arrears to the United Nations and its peacekeeping operations and, for the first time in some 25 years, would ensure that Washington pays its dues to the U.N. body in a timely fashion, rather than one year late.

“We’re very pleased with this budget. It’s as good as could be expected,” said Don Kraus, director of Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), a national group that supports greater U.S. involvement in international organisations.

Under the proposed budget, which now must be considered by Congress, overall spending by the State Department and related agencies would rise to nearly 54 billion dollars in 2010, a nine percent increase in the money to be spent in FY 2009.

While that remains a tiny percentage of the total proposed federal budget of 3.4 trillion dollars, the percentage increase in State Department spending, if approved, would be more than twice the proposed increase in the Pentagon’s budget – up four percent from the current year to 534 billion dollars in FY 2010, which begins Oct. 1.

The proposed Pentagon budget, however, does not include some 130 billion dollars in additional funding for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010, according to the budget details released Thursday by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). For the first time since 2002, war expenditures in Afghanistan will exceed those in Iraq, according to the budget.


The budget proposals announced here Thursday were largely consistent with the general outlines of the budget released by the administration in late February – in terms of both total amounts and their allocation. Details about specific programmes and countries, however, were put on hold.

Increases for the State Department and related international programmes will put the administration on track to double total U.S. development and economic aid by 2015 and hire hundreds of new foreign service officers, as well as bulk up a badly depleted U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) staff. The total allocation for USAID, for example, will rise from 1.25 billion dollars approved for FY09 to 1.7 billion dollars in FY10.

The goal is to begin narrowing the yawning gap between Washington’s vast military apparatus, some of which has encroached deeply into areas traditionally run by the State Department or USAID, such as development and humanitarian assistance, and the civilian agencies.

If the new budget is approved, development assistance will be increased sharply – from 1.5 billion dollars in FY09 to 2.73 billion dollars in FY10, according to the request.

Most of the increase will be parceled out to sub-Saharan Africa (450 million dollars), with major boosts in aid to Burundi, Ghana, Guinea, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia; and the Americas (175 million dollars), where Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua will be major beneficiaries.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which was launched by former President George W. Bush to provide additional development aid and debt relief for poor countries that have implemented significant political and economic reform, would receive 1.425 billion dollars under Obama’s budget, up from the 875 million dollars approved by Congress for FY09, but less than what had been requested by Bush at this time last year.

Aid for global health and child survival programmes will increase from 7.2 billion dollars to 7.6 billion dollars, with most of the increased designed to address more common, but often deadly, health problems such as diarrheal diseases, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, rather than to more-prominent afflictions, notably HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, will remain more or less constant next year.

The projected “flat-lining” of funding for these diseases and particularly Obama’s failure to propose increasing the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (900 million dollars) have already drawn strong protests from a number of AIDS activists this week.

The proposed budget also includes increases of more than 10 percent for international disaster assistance (from 350 million dollars to 880 million dollars) and other humanitarian activities, such as demining programmes and aid for refugees overseas, drawing praise from Samuel Worthington, the president of InterAction, a coalition of nearly 180 non-governmental relief and development groups.

“An alarming number of humanitarian crises require our attention, such as the escalating situation in Pakistan,” he said. “Given the current economic climate, this request is a solid step toward addressing these crises in long-term global stability and prosperity.”

On U.N. and other specialised international organisations, contributions will remain largely the same as last year, although funding for the U.N. Development Programme, a long-time U.S. favourite, would be reduced from 100 million dollars to 75.3 million dollars under the new budget.

On the other hand, Washington’s contribution to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), which Bush refused to fund, will be increased from the 30 million dollars approved by Congress for this year to 50 million dollars in 2010 under Obama’s proposal. Overall, total contributions to the U.N. and its agencies would increase from 1.07 billion dollars to 1.23 billion dollars.

The proposed budget also calls for Washington’s contribution to the U.N. Democracy Fund to increase from three million dollars to 14 million dollars, even while it calls for reducing the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy by a comparable amount.

On military funding controlled by the State Department, the budget request calls for a 20 percent increase in military training funds – from 93 million dollars to 110 million dollars – and a more modest increase in foreign military financing (FMF) – from five billion dollars to nearly 5.3 billion dollars – which provides credit to countries to purchase U.S. weapons and related equipment.

For FMF, Israel and Egypt – Washington’s two biggest aid recipients by far for the past 30 years – will between them receive more than four billion dollars of the total.

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.

 
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