In today’s culture wars, no issue is spared from being given a partisan twist – even when lives are at stake. It is, therefore, rather unfortunate to see people argue over cutting foreign aid without a proper understanding of its purpose and objectives. Indeed, much of these arguments arise because foreign aid is often inaccurately viewed through the lens of foreign affairs and geopolitical developments.
As a country that is traditionally recognized across the globe for being a voice for the voiceless and vulnerable, it is imperative that Canadians understand the significance of foreign aid and how it impacts them and their future generations.
Foreign aid is not only one of the greatest humanitarian efforts we can make in our lifetime, but it’s also an important investment for our future. By investing now in the welfare of those with little or no means and improving their economic conditions, we create hundreds of millions of future consumers of Canadian goods, and jobs and opportunities for next-generation Canadians that would far outstrip what we are currently paying in foreign aid. Therefore, cutting foreign aid is both a waste of potential investment and counterproductive to all our efforts to create a better Canada.
According to Van Der Veen, the reasons as to give or lend resources and aid are divided into two main camps with polarizing approaches which dictate the very function of it, namely, the “humanitarian” approach and the “interest of the donor state” approach. The humanitarian approach defines aid as “a response to world poverty which arose mainly from ethical and humane response”1 which essentially means that as global citizens, countries ought to help each other out. On the other hand, aid has been defined as simply being “shaped with the interest of the aid-giving countries primarily in mind”2.
Consequently, experts have classified a range of categories that could benefit either the donor state or the recipient countries to “transcend this problem”3. The elaboration of the possible reasons, the categories, and benefits enhances the understanding of the critical nature of foreign aid. The goals of foreign aid, although a very broad spectrum, works to reconcile both. The goals are framed into seven categories: security for donor state, power and influence, economic self-interest, enlightened self-interest, self-affirmation and reputation, obligation and duty, and humanitarianism.
Although some observers have commented that reconciliation is possible, considering helping a country for their own good can be economically beneficial for the donor state, they, however, point out the incredible leverage a donor state has over the recipient and often how the development objectives of aid have been compromised by the use of aid dollars for commercial and political advantage. Human rights activists have cited several instances wherein countries have often used the guise of foreign aid to push their ideals or to establish their socio-economic structures onto developing countries.
Nonetheless, the possibility of foreign aid abuse does not mean that it should cease to exist. The economic self-interest of donors can serve the interests of “developing or securing export markets, safeguarding supply of valuable imports, and providing employment for donor state nationals”4.
Such is the impact of foreign aid that it creates a vacuum if a donor state does not partake in it. The option of doing nothing as a country jeopardizes trading, alliances, and relative peace. With that said, the question should not be whether or not a country ought to give resources or aid to another, but rather the true motive behind the act.
1 D. H. Lumsdaine, Moral vision in international politics: The foreign aid regime, 1949-1989, 3.
2 E.S. Mason, Foreign aid and foreign policy, 3
3/4 A. Maurits Van Der Veen, Ideas, Interests and Foreign Aid