With hard power assets stretched thin and confronting unprecedented global challenges of transnational threats, poverty, and pandemics, America must reform its weak aid infrastructure to leverage its soft power more effectively. While foreign assistance funding has seen the greatest increase in four decades, this has brought a proliferation of programs, policy incoherence and organizational fragmentation. Moving around the organizational boxes or increasing aid will do little to boost impact, unless there is broad agreement around a unified framework designed for 21st century challenges. This requires integrating the national security perspective of foreign assistance as a “soft power” tool intended to achieve diplomatic and strategic ends with that of a “development tool” allocated according to policy effectiveness and human needs.
OBJECTIVES FOR FOREIGN ASSISTANCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY. U.S. foreign assistance should be guided by a unified framework that fuses America’s objectives – supporting capable foreign partners and countering security, humanitarian and transnational threats–with differentiation based on governance and economic capacities.
- Supporting the Emergence of Capable Partners. America deploys foreign assistance to strengthen societies imprinted with shared values and similar economic and political systems– who are aligned with America’s interests by virtue of their intrinsic nature rather than through sometimes short-lived bargains. This is the highest yielding investment of American soft power – and merits far greater prioritization, intelligence in policy design, and constancy of purpose than it currently receives.
- Countering Security Threats from Poorly Performing States. America deploys foreign assistance to counter security threats that emanate from dysfunctional states—currently the highest priority of foreign assistance measured in dollar terms. The experience of the past decade makes clear that America needs to invest far more systematically in soft power tools for conflict prevention in the future or risk finding its hard security assets increasingly drawn into post conflict stabilization and reconstruction.
- Countering Security Threats with Foreign Partners. America deploys foreign assistance to counter security threats by working with governments whose goals are aligned and capabilities are up to the task (rather than around them, as with dysfunctional states). But aid to advance counterterrorism, counternarcotics, counterproliferation, and coalition building often evidences a tension between supporting repressive governments in order to achieve short term vital interests and promoting open, democratic societies that will better promote U.S. interests over the long term. This calls for a major rethink of the traditional approach to security and strategic assistance.
- Countering Transnational Threats: HIV/AIDS. Foreign assistance is increasingly vital in countering transnational threats that defy national borders and require concerted action. Sustaining America’s commitment to the global fight against AIDS will require maintaining the president’s personal commitment through successive administrations; strong public support for providing life-saving treatment to a growing population of foreigners for an indefinite period at considerable cost; increasing support for an evidencebased prevention agenda; and tailoring programs to rapidly evolving and complex situations on the ground.