Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Headlines, North America, Poverty & SDGs

U.S.: Obama Calls for More Development, Counterinsurgency Aid

Jim Lobe and Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON, Feb 1 2010 (IPS) - U.S. President Barack Obama Monday called on Congress to approve major increases over the coming months in global health, development, and counterinsurgency assistance as part of a record 3.8-trillion-dollar 2011 federal budget.

The administration will ask for 58.5 billion dollars in total non-military international affairs-related spending for fiscal year 2011, which begins Oct. 31, according to a budget summary released by the State Department.

Of that total, nearly 39 billion dollars will consist of funding for bilateral and multilateral aid programmes and agencies. The balance will cover the costs of State Department and related operations.

It will also request another 4.46 billion dollars in a supplemental FY2010 appropriations bill, most of which will be devoted to security and development assistance for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, according to the summary document.

Overall, State Department funding to those “front-line” countries is set to increase by 7.5 percent, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who noted that the rest of the international affairs budget, which includes State Department operations, as well as foreign aid, will rise by 2.7 percent.

But spending on development and health in poor countries will exceed that percentage if Congress goes along with the administration’s request.

Thus, funding for global health and child-survival programmes, including Washington’s multi-billion-dollar campaign to fight AIDS, will rise from 7.8 billion dollars for the current fiscal year to 8.5 billion dollars in 2011, an increase of nearly nine percent.

Funding for development assistance, including programmes for agriculture, rural development, and education, will rise from 2.52 to 3.0 billion dollars over the same period, although much of the increase will be taken up by Washington’s 408-million-dollar contribution to a new Global Food Security Fund whose creation was agreed at last summer’s Group of Eight summit in L’Aquila, Italy.

The increases in development and global health assistance drew praise from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) active in poor countries.

“The President’s FY 2011 budget request, with its increased investments in poverty-focused development, reveals a profound understanding by the Obama administration of the tremendous impact these programmes have on global security, stability, and prosperity,” said InterAction, a coalition of more than 150 U.S. humanitarian, relief, and development groups.

“We applaud President Obama and his decision to prioritise these programmes in such a difficult budget environment,” InterAction said in a statement.

The administration is also proposing hefty increases in U.S. contributions to multilateral environmental agencies.

Under the budget proposal, the World Bank-based Global Environment Facility would get 175 million dollars, more than double this year’s total, while Washington’s contribution to the International Strategic Climate Fund would nearly quadruple, from 75 million dollars this year to 235 million dollars.

While the highest on record, the proposed international affairs budget is more than 12 times smaller than the administration’s proposed Pentagon budget for 2011.

If approved, the Pentagon’s budget would total some 703 billion dollars, of which about 160 billion dollars would be devoted to ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other “overseas contingency operation(s)” related to Washington’s efforts to suppress al Qaeda and like-minded groups.

The overall Pentagon budget, which also includes much of the U.S. intelligence budget, would increase some 3.4 percent over current levels.

The proposed defence budget disappointed a number of observers who had hoped that Obama’s decision to cancel a number of expensive weapons systems last year would create momentum for further cuts in military spending, particularly given growing popular concern about the record-setting budget deficit, an estimated 1.6 trillion dollars.

“They didn’t follow up on last year’s cuts to major weapons programmes and they’ve actually made the security balance between military tools and non-military tools worse,” said Miriam Pemberton, a specialist at the Institute of Policy Studies.

“The administration’s decisions probably reflect the perennial concern about retaining jobs in congressional districts around the country in an election year,” she added.

Indeed, despite the increases in funding for development, health, environmental and other non-military programmes, the State Department’s proposed budget also includes aid for military and para-military programmes, particularly in the Greater Middle East and South Asia.

Thus, about 10 percent of the total international affairs budget will be spent by the Department’s Foreign Military Financing Programme (FMF), which helps funds the purchase of weapons and other equipment for U.S. allies. Of the nearly 5.5 billion dollars earmarked for FMF next year, more than 90 percent is earmarked for Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Pakistan.

The State Department is also increasing its “Pakistan Counter-Insurgency Fund” – which is used to train and equip Pakistani military and security forces – from 700 million dollars this year to 1.2 billion dollars in 2011.

Pakistan will also receive 1.3 billion dollars from the Economic Support Fund (ESF), which the State Department said will be aimed at promoting economic development and democratic institutions, especially along the border with Afghanistan.

Altogether about 20 percent of the State Department’s total budget will be devoted to Afghanistan (five billion dollars), Pakistan (3.16 billion dollars), and Iraq (2.5 billion dollars), according to the budget documents.

The budgetary levels of most major U.S. international-affairs programmes, including contributions to U.N. and other international agencies, counter-narcotics programmes, and food aid, will remain more of less static in 2011, according to the proposed budget.

Aside increases in development, health, and environmental spending, the State Department will seek to increase its own capacity to deal with overseas crises of the kind the Pentagon has assumed ever-greater control since the end of the Cold War.

Thus, the Department is proposing to increase spending on its “civilian stabilisation initiative” – an effort to develop better inter-agency coordination in reconstruction and stabilisation crises – from 120 million dollars to 184 million dollars and its “complex crisis fund” – which seeks to defuse growing crises or prevent their escalation – from 50 million dollars to 100 million dollars.

At the same time, however, the administration is calling for a five percent reduction in its migration and refugee programme – from 1.7 billion dollars to 1.6 billion dollars.

It also intends to halt funding of the Democracy Fund, a U.N. initiative and favourite of the administration of President George W. Bush, and reduce funding for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), from 118 million dollars this year to 105 million dollars in 2011.

In her remarks in introducing the proposed budget, Clinton stressed that the Department had not had time to include estimates for spending on Haiti in the wake of last month’s devastating earthquake.

Substantial requests for additional funding for Haiti’s reconstruction, officials said, were likely to appear in the supplemental bill. Officials said Washington has already spent well over 300 million dollars on rescue efforts – mostly carried out by the Pentagon – since the quake.

*Charles Fromm contributed to this article.

Republish | | Print |