Foreign aid has changed over the years, sometimes being an expression of one nation's altruism, at other times serving as a political tool, a former World Bank economist said Tuesday night at Whitman College.
Economist Inder Sud spoke as part of the school's global studies lectures sponsored by the O'Donnell Visiting Professorship in Global Studies Endowment.
Sud, who earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University and worked at the World Bank for nearly three decades, has an extensive background in the economics of developing countries. He addressed a group of students and faculty members in Olin Hall about the current challenges associated with international relief and foreign aid.
The widely-traveled economist and visiting lecturer -- who has worked extensively in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa -- started the evening by distinguishing official relief funds sanctioned by the United States government from humanitarian assistance. He continued with the history of foreign aid as used by the U.S. government, from the aftermath of World War II and the Marshall Plan to the current relief crisis in Haiti.
"The American public has usually been ambivalent about foreign aid," Sud said, "However there was a lot of controversy about the Marshall Plan, with many Republican officials thinking it was the problem not the solution."
Sud explained that while foreign aid to developing countries began as a type of governmental altruism, during the Kennedy administration it changed and began to be used as a strategy to contain the Soviet Union, as the United States wanted to increase their influence in the developing countries.
Sud explained that the political issues that surrounded foreign aid during the Cold War continued into the 21st century, especially after 9/11. Underdevelopment was seen not only as a contributor to poverty and disease but also security problems and foreign aid became a key tool in the War on Terrorism.
"Under a Republican administration we saw our first increase in foreign aid for many years," Sud said.
Sud spoke enthusiastically about the prospects of foreign aid in the 21st century, but was admittedly pessimistic and cautioned against overconfidence and assuming the job is already done.
"It's easy to talk about the future when you don't have to face it tomorrow," he said, "If you were to ask me where foreign aid is needed the most I would say Africa, its still nowhere near where you would consider to be a satisfactory state of affairs. It's not what needs to be done in some distant future but what has to be done today."