Breath of Clarity

U.S. Economic Foreign Aid & Minimal Military Presence Breeds Security & Growth


The purpose of this essay is to identify global human rights deficiency as a major problem which drives dysfunction. Statistics from The United Nation’s International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) demonstrates the degree of deprivation which currently exists. For quality human rights to be attained worldwide, America must first be self-aware. Current American liberalist foreign policy is not authentic because humans’ inherent self-interest, not desire for democracy, fuels action. The report presents literature from Niccolo Machiavelli and John Mearsheimer to clarify the realist view of human nature. Therefore, although a solution which strives for self-sufficiency may be ideal because it would reduce conflict, Americans wouldn’t be willing to settle for anything less than a mission which necessitates expansion. A synopsis of The Fear-Empathy Theory demonstrates current measures taken to increase safety is driven by underlying fear and is consequentially unproductive. The current approach the nation takes to maximize power actually perpetuates their insecurity. Ted Gurr’s definition of national security, conditions where deprivation is mitigated and state capacity is maximized, constructs a framework for American action.

From this theoretical basis emerges the project’s thesis that America can attain maximum national security via limited military force and increased trade engagement with developing nations. Joseph Nye points to soft power’s benefits and Adam Smith portrays economics as a tool to counter unproductive military conflict. The Borgen Project demonstrates foreign aid not only perpetuates peace and humanitarian aid, but also benefits U.S. growth. By providing aid to the developing world, the United States will be able to improve their own consumer markets, as well as diminish national security threats. By making global poverty a foreign policy focus, the U.S. will efficiently allocate resources to satisfy impoverished individuals’ basic needs in areas which current unstable conditions make them vulnerable to corrupt terrorist leaders to rise. The essay also explores ways to maximize efficacy of micro-finance loans abroad in order to make a sustainable impact abroad.

Moving forward, decreased armed presence warrants concern for America’s ability to monitor other Great Powers, particularly China, from spreading nondemocratic practices. The United States can attain maximum national security and global human rights aims with limited military force. America’s influence on global human rights is most effective by loosening relations with China and collaborating with impoverished nations. A review of Susan Shirk’s book reveals that although America is knee-deep in a relationship with China, our dependency on the superpower can be gradually reduced by buying goods and natural resources from where they can be generated elsewhere. America’s foreign debt can be addressed by a slight decrease of the nuclear power budget when we no longer feel so insecure as our armed involvement decreases. This way, America can most effectively promote the major liberalist human rights principle it originally aimed to achieve.


Before attempting to tackle global poverty, we must identify the problem’s scale. 2.7 million newborns worldwide die within their first month of life and 3.2 million children under age fifteen currently live with HIV.1 Clearly, impoverished people’s basic needs are lacking. Almost 1 billion individuals lack access to clean drinking water. The number of people suffering from hunger is greater than America and Europe combined, and 58% of those individuals are living in the following seven countries: India, China, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Tanzania.1 While all people theoretically support human rights in impoverished nations, it’s difficult for foreign aid bills to acquire agenda-attention because Americans are inherently power-seeking individuals and prioritize policy concerns that more clearly benefit self-interest.

Niccolo Machiavelli frames human obsession with power via examination of a leader. The individual who holds admiration from his people, derived from a pre-constructed love, is no longer concerned with power because it is already certainly attained. It is necessary to carry out immoral action to rid of all uncertainty. The purpose of using gruesome techniques for power attainment is so the ruler can feel completely secure. The philosopher explains that it’s much safer to be feared than loved if a person can’t be both. Fear is more sustainable because it is held by potential for punishment. In contrast, love is reliant on obligation, which is more likely to be deceived. As people feel safe, they start to relax. If a person loves someone but is unsure of the reciprocity, the person is attentive motivated by fear of losing domination over the other. It creates codependence, which is dangerous when the other’s intentions are unclear.2 While economic engagement is based on a symbiotic relationship in which the opportunity costs weighed by both parties are straight-forward and mathematics based, Machiavelli and Mearsheimer assert decisions to forcefully invade are often emotionally-driven based on uncertainty about other actors’ motives. Machiavelli repeatedly asserts that impetuosity is the procedure for rulers to resort to when there are legitimate reasons to be cautious and pressing issues that support combat. With this claim, Machiavelli asserts that people respond to uncertainty with illogically extreme action.

John Mersheimer supports Machiavelli’s dark perception of human nature as fearful, materialistic, wired to dominated the other, fixed and immutable. The theorist attributes the world’s course of events to actions taken by The Great Powers, and asserts only the powerful can make small states move. Mersheimer is renowned for his creation of The Zero Sum theory which holds that the only way for one state to gain more is to take from another because the power pot cannot expand. For this reason, he claims states are prone to conflict. The security dilemma emerges while we consider the other’s intent is always unclear. Consequentially, states are always prone to uncertainty which cultivates fear and it motivates nations to build their defense. Incentive to militarize creates an arms race and insecurity becomes a key component of a violent cycle.3 Unwarranted danger is created when other states make assumptions that a great power is offensive and feels compelled to prepare a response.

Andrew Price-Smith and Jackson Porreca argue global health governance is flawed because institutional responses are irrationally based on psychological processes. Specifically, they assert, “effective political responses to contagion are often limited by the Fear/Apathy Cycle, an incessant oscillation between fear-induced (and often draconian) responses to emergent pathogens, and subsequent periods of apathy wherein policy makers (and civil society) become excessively sanguine about threats to public health”.4 The cycle involves periods of apathy towards the microbial realm, followed by panic when an epidemic is finally no longer so distant. The writers include a recent example when, despite no Ebola cases were recorded in West Africa, 65% of hotel reservations and 50% of incoming flights were cancelled during the first quarter of 2015. According to The World Bank, it cost Sub-Saharan Afria $550 million in forgone GDP.4 Most relevant to my project, the fear/empathy cycle is detrimental to military decision-making.

The authors attest Mersheimer’s claim that anarchy is instigated by fear of the ‘other’ when intentions are not explicit. For example, they attribute the Peloponnesian War to a Spartan fear that the Athens were rising to power. Further more, the authors claim the primary cognitive process is intuitive and highly experience-based. Most importantly, people develop a unreasonable and rapid reflexive response to available stimuli. The article cites legal scholar Cass Sunstein’s assertion, “policymakers inaccurately compare a current crisis to those of the past and consequently effa in their assessment of the problem, and in their recommendations for alleviation”.4 Price-Smith and Porreca also introduces a case, heightened by uncertain circumstances, wherein leaders deny the probability the worst outcome will happen. Sunstein attributes it to humans’ lack of calculation under emotionally intense conditions. Specifically, the media establishes a tone with simplified information about a given issue which constructs public opinion and influence government officials. The fear-induced destabilization that results from shocks instigates major resource allocation shifts towards the development of international surveillance.4

Ted Gurr sparked the conversation which currently defines “national security” by suggesting the relevance of deprivation.5 The worst combination is when nations are informed about human rights but are still not getting their basic needs. However, Gurr was incorrect, evidently because educated Africans are not full of rebellion. State capacity is a chief actor in the determination of whether or not violence manifests. It’s the ability of government to enforce contract to obey laws and get taxpayers to pay money. The cruciality of state capacity is exhibited by China, which has a lot of deprivation but strong state capacity (exhibited at Tiananmen Square). America has a high state capacity attributed to military force deployment threat and the constitution. Although “group identity” is a weaker variable than the prior two, it still impacts the probability of violence. Societies which contain multiple ethnicities and religions are more prone to conflict. So, religiously divided impoverished nations with authoritarian government structure are in deep trouble.5

Under this proposition, the United States self-interest is to improve unstable conditions abroad so that others’ insecurity doesn’t result violent outbreak. The Wealth of Nations acknowledged war as a pressing issue and economics as a tool to counter unproductive military conflict. Economist Adam Smith asserted trade breeds international cooperation.6 If we trade for goods instead of killing each other over them, we would maximize mutual benefit instead of working with a fixed territorial power quantity. It’s a method to establish interdependence and lessen the chance for war because costs are so high if any party disengages. Specifically, engagement with developing nations will halt other Great Power’s influence similar in the way Mersheimer describes the power of creating military alliances to indirectly counteract other nations power.

Political scientist Joseph Nye introduces “smart power” to explain why diplomacy must complement force. Nye explains that “in 2007 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called for soft power tools such as diplomacy and economic assistance because the military alone couldn’t defend U.S. interests around the world”.7 In the information age of globalization, the means to acquire dominance changes. Contrary to Nye’s smart power notion which asserts there’s a need for hard and soft collaborate, Gates proposes military presence may not even be necessary. Gates noted at a different moment, “development contributes to stability. It contributes to better governance. And if you are able to do those things and you’re able to do them in a focused and sustainable way, then it may be unnecessary for us to send soldiers”.8 Nye’s liberalist approach brings non-state actors into the arena, for example, NGOs who can specialize in constructing effective aid programs. Although Nye suggests their power, it is most optimally coupled with the international affairs budget.

Much of the efforts made to help states avoid being subject to terrorism is by creating healthy state capacity and security through development platforms created by the government. The Borgen Project, a nonpartisan national nonprofit campaign working to make foreign aid a U.S. policy focus, stresses that military actors collaborate with NGOs to achieve significant impact abroad. According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, 50 retired reputable generals called on Congress to increase funding for the International Affairs Budget.9 The Generals noted these investments foster economic and political stability on a global scale by fighting terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The underlying premise is foreign aid can weaken the influence of terrorist groups in poor regions where public access to basic needs is deficient.9

Some of the poorest countries in the world (Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia) are also the places we have huge national security concerns. So, when people have no hope and opportunity, it creates conditions of instability when corrupt actors operate freely and in many cases come to power. We’ve learned this lesson historically. Particularly, after WWI with the bismal conditions in Germany lead to Hitler coming to power. We saw it in Afghanistan, where the conditions there enabled Al Qaeda to operate freely and the Taliban to take over as the government. We most recently saw in Somalia where Al Shabab was actively growing in ranks. Their methodology was to recruit famine victims and they’d give people small amounts of money or food in exchange for helping out this terrorist group. So, it’s in our best interest to serve the world’s poor so that they’re not placed in this position.

The United States wants stable democratic partners that are reliable allies in the long run. Aid builds these relationships, even when the countries we help don’t support us in the short run. For example, the Reagan administration didn’t approve when Costa Rica inserted itself into multiple conflicts raging in Central America during the 1980s.8 But U.S. assistance to Costa Rica helped that nation become a champion of democracy and human rights as well as of regional trade agreements. Involving South America via international commerce can weaken China’s economic status because the United States would not rely on China as much of their goods. Similarly, the United States and India were badly estranged at different points during the Cold War, but U.S. assistance to India helped spark the “green revolution” that prevented massive famine in the late 1960s. Today, India is one of America’s most important allies in Asia.8

The Borgen Project features a specific investment explaining a situation where international commerce alone benefits human rights. In November of 2011, when Boeing announced the largest deal in the company’s history to date, 230 jets. Most people were shocked to learn that the deal wasn’t with a North American or European Airline. The $22 billion deal went to Indonesia’s Lion Air. Once among the poorest countries in the world, aid investments by the U.S. and it’s allies have improved living conditions for millions of people in Indonesian resulting in a rising middle class. Aid investments have not only improved life for millions of people in the region, but as the world’s fourth most populated country, with over 248 million people, Indonesia’s poverty-reduction has created millions of new consumers of U.S. goods and products.9

Foreign aid is clearly effective at sustainably rebuilding other nations’ economies. In 2015 The United Nations completed The Millennium Development Goals which began in 1990. The total number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half from 1.9 billion to 836 million. The number of underfed people has been almost cut in half from 23.3% to 12.9%. 1 out of 5 U.S. jobs is export-based and 50 percent of our exports now go to developing nations.10 Currently, 43/50 top consumers of American agriculture products were once U.S. foreign aid recipients. Forty-three of the top 50 consumer nations of American agricultural products were once U.S. foreign aid recipients. Between 1990 and 1993, U.S. exports to developing and transition countries increased by $46 billion. With the help of USAID, 21,000 farm families in Honduras have been trained in improved land cultivation practices which have reduced soil erosion by 70,000 tons. Breakthroughs in agricultural technology and practices resulted in the most dramatic increase in agricultural yields and production in the history of mankind, allowing nations like India and Bangladesh to become nearly food self-sufficient. U.S. exports of food processing and packaging machinery have increased from about $100 million in 1986, to an estimated $680 million in 1994. This huge increase is due partly to USAID-funded projects that have increased supplies of agricultural raw materials for processing and have given potential processors the information, technical assistance and training they needed to start or expand their businesses.9

Moving forward, as we aim for sustainability the efficacy of micro-finance loan distribution enters the discussion. Millions of entrepreneurs around the world (many of them women) have started or improved small businesses through USAID assistance. After initial USAID start-up support for loans and operating costs, Banco Solidario (BancoSol) became the first full-fledged commercial bank in Latin America dedicated to micro-business. BancoSol serves about 44,000 small Bolivian businesses, with loans averaging $200 each. The bank now is a self-sustaining commercial lender that needs no further USAID assistance.9

A case study from Safietou Kane’s dissertation explores whether micro-credit loans are effective in an overpopulated urban region where the majority of women struggle to fulfill their basic needs. The study is conducted in Grand-Yoff, an area in the middle of the capital city of Dakar. The study evaluates the effectiveness of this specific international aid approach by measuring 166 female participants’ outcomes of nutrition and health. The results varied based on each individual’s economic standing before the study was conducted.11

The study concludes that the microcredit’s impact is a direct result of the borrowers’ preexisting household capital. The women who were financially secure enough to satisfy their basic needs in the midst of their business pursuits profited from the program. They were able to acquire invaluable business experience and expand their professional networks. In contrast, other participants desperately needed to invest their loan money into basic survival needs because they weren’t in a financially stable enough position to take on the business project. These families were still able to benefit from the program, as it empowered them in a different way from the intention of the program. Since children were less needed at home to serve the family, they were able to attend school on a consistent basis. The pressing issue, though, was that the adults struggled to be able to pay back the money and found themselves in the midst of a vicious cycle of debt. This issue is definitely conquerable by lowering interest rates on a need-based circumstance and adjusting repayment schedules. In addition, these micro-credit loans should only be offered in conjunction with other US AID and World Bank programs that are pivotal to their basic well-being.11

Another concern of the micro-credit system is that it fails to propel women to move out of the informal business sector. The structural boundaries limit women to thrive in larger business markets. Lack of education, particularly illiteracy, especially makes it difficult for women to enter high-level markets, even with good ideas and motivation. About 35% of the total study population can’t read or write, and 13.5% went through training to develop skills useful to their business field.12 Examples of women who excelled in the study, Marie and Khady, were among the few who both had high school diplomas and previous professional experience. Therefore, workshops and financial guidance for the women who lack basic training would definitely be useful in avoiding complications with inability to pay back loans which is a primary issue the U.S. itself faces.

The U.S. dollar is liquid all over the world and it’s easily translatable. While cutting off economic relations with China would be a highly effective way to demonstrate firm human rights support, it’s difficult because they own much of America’s government savings bonds. Capital flows currently supply American bonds and China is floating American debt. If Chinese sold bond position, it would cause U.S. inflation so America would need to charge increased interest rates which reverberates the national economy. If China were to sell bonds, it would also be tougher for the United States to borrow from other countries because other nations would get suspicious and increate their own interest rates. For example, this situation occurred between Italy and Greece and resulted in the latter’s internal economy to collapse. Without Chinese assistance, America would face a military threat, which has been ongoing inevitably because both are Great Powers, while suffering from internal inflation. According to Susan Shirk, “even democratization and the promotion of human rights, must take second place, must as we find China’s still-repressive practices abhorrent. Constant finger pointing at China’s failings triggers resentful reactions from the Chinese public, making it more difficult for Chinese leaders to act in concert with America […] Heavy-handed efforts to push democratization look to the Chinese like a form of containment designed to keep China weak”.13 Although it’s tempting to arm Taiwan, it would be unproductive in jeopardizing a nuclear war with China because it would negatively impact the rest of the world. America is better off being engaged with areas where China is less concerned (Africa). The U.S. Defense Budget is $612 billion and that can definitely be minimized to show China we must stay away from conflict.9 While it’s useful for Americans to hold nuclear arsenal, the excessive amount the United States currently contains is unnecessary and potentially problematic. Slowly transferring money from the defense budget to start paying off debt to China will be a stellar compliment to trade engagement with developing nations. America can still maintain interdependence with China in order to avoid unbearable complications, without increasing reliance on them in the process.


Nations cannot be satisfied with a self-sufficient security because humans are inherently materialistic and territorial. However, military endeavors is not the most logical way to fulfill the desire. Actions are fueled by fear reacting from perceived opponents’ intentions that are not certainly accurate. So, it’s most optimal for America to forcefully engage minimally because it truly strengthens their national security. This instigates the need for complex interdependence. In order to bring in new actors to counteract other powerful states, developing third world nations is a stellar approach. The essay exemplifies how international aid expands U.S. consumer markets. The United States impact on human rights will come from proactively targeting aid towards nations under unstable conditions to decrease the chance of a terrorist regime’s rise. While it would be optimal to decrease engagement with China in order to make a statement about their improper state capacity regulations, America cannot afford the backfire which would result. Therefore, international aid is the most productive vehicle America can use to build their economy and security.


1 “UNICEF | United Nations Children’s Fund.” UNICEF. Accessed July 08, 2016.

2 Machiavelli, Niccolò, W. K. Marriott, Nelle Fuller, and Thomas Hobbes. The Prince. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 1955.

3 Mearsheimer, John J. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: Norton, 2001.

4 Price-Smith, Andrew, Porreca, Jackson. Fear, Apathy, and the Ebola Crisis (2014-2015). Global Health Governance, Volume X, No. 1. Spring 2016.

5 Gurr, Ted Robert. Why Men Rebel. Princeton, NJ: Published for the Center of International Studies, Princeton University Princeton University Press, 1970.

6 Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. London: Dent, 1981.

7 Nye, Joseph S. The Future of Power. New York: PublicAffairs, 2011.

8 Norris, John. Five Myths about Foreign Aid. The Washington Post, 28 April 2011.

9 “The Borgen Project.” The Borgen Project RSS2. Accessed July 08, 2016.

10 “U.S. Agency for International Development.” U.S. Agency for International Development. Accessed July 08, 2016.

11 Kane, Safietou, Women and Development in Senegal: Microcredit and Household Well Being, 2011.

12 Haslam, Paul, Jessica Schafer, and Pierre Beaudet. Introduction to International Development: Approaches, Actors, and Issues. 2nd ed. (Ontario: Oxford UP, 2009), 86-102.

13 Shirk, Susan L. China: Fragile Superpower. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.