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Why Cutting Foreign Aid Puts US National Security at Risk

On March 16, US President Donald Trump announced his “skinny budget,” which includes major cuts to help pay for a $54 billion increase to defense spending. These drastic cuts of 28% of the international affairs budget would have a significant impact on global development programs that save millions of lives each year.

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Many members of Congress have stepped up to oppose President Trump’s threats citing the positive impact that foreign assistance has on national security and trade. For example, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted, “Foreign aid is not charity. We must make sure it is well spent, but it is less than 1% of our budget & critical to our national security.” And House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) explained, "I am very concerned by reports of deep cuts that could damage efforts to combat terrorism, save lives and create opportunities for American workers.”

In sections of the world that present national security risks, investment in global development is critically needed.

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The Nigerian state of Borno has been severely impacted by insurgency-related insecurity since 2013. Within the region, the Nigerian military is leading a war against the radical Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Just last year, the United States government sent dozens of Special Operations advisors to the front lines of Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram in an effort to fight the Islamic State and its allies. This deployment pushed American troops into the heart of the battle that Nigerian forces are waging against one of the world’s most deadly terrorist groups.

History proves that development is much cheaper than defense. As Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis so poignantly said in 2013, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So I think it’s a cost benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.”

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Through foreign assistance, America is able to capture the hearts and minds of people living in conflict situations. Sen. Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, explains, “It's going to be a lot harder to recruit someone to ... anti-American terrorism if the United States of America was the reason why they are even alive today."

In states facing great insecurity, such as Borno, foreign assistance plays an essential role in addressing instability. Foreign assistance has a proven track record for improving security and local economies. For example, American assistance through Plan Colombia helped the country move from a cartel-ridden state to a strategic ally and economic partner, with trade between the United States and Colombia countries tripling in the past decade to over $14 billion. Aid isn’t the solution to all geopolitical conflict, but it has proven to be a helpful tool in promoting security and peace.

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America’s foreign aid is a vital part of our national security, of America’s influence in the world, as well as saving millions of lives. Cutting foreign aid is a deeply misguided move that endangers the security, health and future prosperity of America, and the stability of the world. It is critical that the United States protects funding for international affairs.