Rajiv Shah Responds to House Republicans: Foreign Aid is Key to National Security

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah visits Argandab, Afghanistan, in early April 2010. Shah has warned that defunding USAID will have an adverse effect on the U.S.'s national security. Photo by: USAID Afghanistan

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah emphasized that development and foreign aid programs are crucial to the country’s national security and slammed the proposal by some Republicans in the U.S. Congress to defund the agency. 

A proposal by the Republican Study Committee, which includes more than 170 House Republicans, would cut funding for USAID in a bid to save USD1.39 billion annually.

>> Conservative House Republicans To USAID: Drop Dead

“That first and foremost puts our national security in real jeopardy because we are working hand and glove with our military to keep us safe,” Shah told The Cable in an interview in response to the proposed congressional cuts to overseas aid. USAID has missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, the Horn of Africa and Central America.

The cuts “would have massive negative implications for our fundamental security,” said Shah. “And as people start to engage in a discussion of what that would mean for protecting our border, for preventing terrorist safe havens and keeping our country safe from extremists’ ideology … and what that would mean for literally taking children that we feed and keep alive through medicines or food and leaving them to starve. I think those are the types of things people will back away from.”

Shah is expected to unveil next month the agency’s first-ever policy on combating violent extremism and implementing counterinsurgency. USAID’s efforts are expected to target volatile nations such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and parts of sub-Saharan Africa, according to Josh Rogin of The Cable.

Apart from advancing national security interests, foreign aid programs also boost the economy and generate job opportunities in the U.S., Shah said.

Explained Shah: “If we are going to be competitive as a country and create jobs at home, we cannot ignore the billions of people who are currently very low income but will in fact form a major new middle-class market in the next two decades.”

While Republicans are pushing for cuts in the U.S. foreign aid budgets, spending on defense have not been touched.

U.S. foreign aid “is one of the easier parts of the budget to target. Its recipients are not voters, it is actually a very small part of the budget, voters believe it is an enormous part of the budget, they overwhelmingly support cutting this funding because they imagine that getting rid of it would significantly reduce the deficit, and it usually funds projects that can be easily portrayed and dismissed as ‘nation-building’ or worse,” according to Daniel Larison of The American Conservative.

Adam Serwer of The Washington Post offered this explanation: “The reason why Republicans want to entirely defund USAID but avoid touching a hair on the defense budget is that they see every single matter of foreign affairs as a nail, and so they don’t understand why we should be spending money on anything other than hammers.”

About the author

  • Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.