Strategic US Foreign Assistance: The Battle between Human Rights and National Security

  • Published

Strategic US Foreign Assistance: The Battle between Human Rights and National Security by Rhonda L. Callaway and Elizabeth G. Matthews. Ashgate Publishing Company, 2008, 236 pp.

Rooted in scholarly research, this fascinating book by Callaway and Matthews, both college professors, address the actual effectiveness of US foreign assistance as a means of advancing human rights within aid recipient nations. Over the years, US foreign assistance has been utilized to promote human rights around the world. However, no scholarly assessment has ever been conducted to determine whether this assistance actually produces positive human rights outcomes.

The authors profess that foreign aid has done little to improve the conditions of the assisted nations; in fact, it has actually been generally counterproductive. They want to know if US aid policy leads to further human rights abuses in recipient countries, or should it not be looked at as unethical and therefore inappropriate. Callaway and Matthews test their thesis through two approaches. First, empirical analysis is conducted employing pooled cross-section time series analysis that quantitatively identifies the extent of any relationship between foreign assistance and human rights conditions. Second, qualitative analysis was performed through an historical overview and case study analysis assessing US foreign assistance to Columbia, Pakistan, and Turkey against human rights outcomes. The authors analyze three differing perspectives: US motivation in providing aid; consequences of US foreign aid on recipient nations; and US ethical responsibility of consequences.

Callaway and Matthews begin their analysis by providing a purposeful and thorough history of US foreign aid beginning with the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 through its evolving linkage to human rights facilitated by successive presidential administrations. In doing so, they clearly surmise that despite congressional legislated linkages, foreign assistance legislation has evolved so that it has too many escape clauses built into it that essentially nullifies tying aid to improving human rights conditions. In essence, pragmatic US national security interests over the years (e.g., combating communism, promoting Middle East peace, and fighting the global war on terror) have outweighed human rights ideology.

The authors repeatedly demonstrate that other actions dominate where the US government professes a human rights agenda. They provide a well-articulated example in the US brokered peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in which the United States conceded Egyptian human rights concerns for a greater peace agenda. Callaway and Matthews then empirically and qualitatively prove how foreign assistance is negatively associated with human rights. They noted that foreign aid is not an effective tool in human rights diplomacy but rather a mere political and economic tool to buy a nation’s influence. Other notable examples detailed in the book are Pakistan’s poor human rights record relative to its historical alliance with the United States in combating the spread of communism and terrorism; Turkey’s poor human rights record relative to escalating US foreign assistance (increasing from two million dollars in 2001 to one billion dollars in 2003) allowed the Turkish government to combat terrorism and to facilitate domestic economic growth; and assistance provided Columbia to combat drug proliferation/trafficking and human rights abuses. In the case of Columbia, the authors highlight how Columbia’s human rights record has continued to deteriorate since the 1970s in spite of ever-increasing foreign assistance packages.

Other significant findings resulting from this comprehensive work included the following: (1) Countries with the worst human rights records, on average, receive more aid from the United States; (2) Military aid is far more detrimental to human rights than economic aid; (3) Economic scarcity creates instability that leads to government repression and in turn supports the continuation of human rights abuses; and (4) The more democratic a nation, the less repressive and abusive the government.

The authors conclude that the pragmatic US foreign assistance policy application ends do not justify the means and eventually erode US national security instead of securing it. If the United States wants to maintain international credibility within the realm of advancing human rights, it must find a better way to effectively practice what it preaches. This will require delinking foreign assistance from the human rights issue that, in practice, has already happened.

Although the authors fall short in providing a viable way ahead, they clearly demonstrate the ineffectiveness of linking foreign assistance to advancing human rights, thus giving government officials insight on what not to do in the future. This book is a necessary read, or at least review, for all strategic and upper-operational level leaders, planners, and policy makers throughout the US government. Despite the book’s high cost, it would also serve well as an addition to any academic and professional library accessible to international relations and political science students, field-related scholars, and mid-level military and State Department professionals.

David A. Anderson, PhD

Fort Leavenworth, KS

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."