Will U.S. aid Afghanistan?

Rating: NNNNNnow that the world's only superpower has chased a ragtag band of religious fundamentalists out of Afghanistan, the western.

Rating: NNNNN

now that the world’s only superpower has chased a ragtag band of religious fundamentalists out of Afghanistan, the western leaders who oversaw the military campaign are pledging a massive reconstruction of that country. Some of them have even offered money. Several, including the U.S., have reopened their embassies in the capital, Kabul. And this week the United Nations will discuss the deployment of a significant multinational force to keep the peace. The head of U.S. Aid is also flying to Brussels this week to take part in planning a massive aid effort. The pieces are being put in place, or so it seems, for the long haul.

But somehow I am not optimistic. Afghanistan was liberated once before from a dictatorial yoke — a Marxist one. Yet the rebuilding process then didn’t unfold as per the initial hopes of the realpolitik spin doctors.

Quite a few other countries have been “liberated” by a munificent West under similar circumstances, yet the brave new era of hope and light always seems slow in coming. Nicaragua. Somalia. Grenada. Bosnia. Panama. These and other “rescued” countries are still poor and tumultuous today, thanks, largely, to the U.S. This time, though, the political balancing act is even more delicate. The U.S. has indicated that it will contribute indirectly to the rebuilding of Afghanistan through multilateral institutions, rather than take a direct role in reconstruction.

“What the U.S. is trying to say is that it won’t do what it did in 89 and irresponsibly walk away,” says U of T foreign policy expert Arthur Rubinoff. “But there’s a division within the government. Under ordinary circumstances, Central Asia wouldn’t be a high priority for the administration.”

Indeed, in contrast to their booming military budgets, the donor countries that have committed themselves most enthusiastically to the “war on terrorism” have in recent years done the least, proportionately, to help the world’s less fortunate.

The ratio of bombs to bread, in other words, is depressingly high.

Consider that the U.S. spent a grand total of $9 billion (all figures in U.S. dollars) on foreign aid in 1999, an amount equal to 0.1 per cent of the country’s GDP — by far the lowest giving rate of any OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country. The United States spends 30 times more on its military than on foreign aid.

America’s partners in the “war on terrorism” don’t do much better.

The UK allocated $3.4 billion to foreign aid in 1999, or 0.23 per cent of its GDP, while spending 11 times as much on its military.

Canada spent $1.7 billion on foreign aid in 1999, or 0.28 per cent of its GDP.

Australia gave less than $1 billion, 0.26 per cent of its GDP. Both Canada and Australia promised years ago to increase aid flows. We’re still waiting.

France allocated $5.6 billion to foreign aid in 1999, equal to 0.39 per cent of its GDP, proportionately more than any other G7 country.

Germany, which sits in the middle of the G7 pack, donated $5.5 billion, or 0.26 per cent of its GDP.

All these amounts are appreciably less than the 0.7 per cent recommended by the UN.

Three other industrialized countries — Belgium, Ireland and Switzerland — donate more than 0.3 per cent of their GDP to overseas assistance, a total of $17 billion. The Netherlands alone allocates $3.1 billion to aid, more than Canada and Australia combined.

These countries didn’t sign up to help bomb Afghanistan. But when it comes to making a positive contribution to the development of the world’s poorest countries, they do their part in a manner that should embarrass the U.S.-led coalition.

Amnesty International secretary general Alex Neve says it’s vital for the U.S. and its allies not to turn their backs on Afghanistan lest another human rights tragedy occur.

“For too long Afghanistan has been a playing field for other countries to achieve geopolitical goals,” says Neve. “There now exists a vital opportunity to get it right for the first time: institution-building, the right kind of development programs, the rebuilding of the education system. Huge amounts of resources will be needed.

“It’s long-term work, and U.S. intervention and resources will be crucial. It’s obviously important that they be very much on site and play a central role in delivering what’s needed.”

With the “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan reaching a pivotal phase, let’s see if those who conquered Afghanistan will put their money where their mouths are.

Jim Stanford is an economist with the Canadian Auto Workers.

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