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Outdated assumptions

September 27th, 2002

Policy debates are often based on outdated assumptions, and this is certainly true of the US. For example, most Americans believe that the US is a big donor of foreign aid and would be better off attending to problems at home. Fifty years ago, the US was a big donor. The Marshall Plan consumed between 2 and 3 per cent of the national income of the United States in the years immediately after World War II. But today, he United States is by far the least generous donor in the developed world, allocating 0.1 per cent of national income to official development aid, about one-third of the proportion for the EU
As the US Agency for International Development notes, a strong majority of Americans say that the United States is spending too much on foreign aid. But this attitude is based on the assumption that the U.S. is spending vastly more than it is, in fact. Asked what an ‘appropriate’ amount would be, the median level proposed is 5 times present spending levels. …Asked to estimate how much of the federal budget goes to foreign aid, the median estimate was 15 percent, 15 times the actual amount of 1 percent. The average was even higher — 18 percent. When informed about the actual amount of spending on foreign aid, a strong majority favors either maintaining it or increasing it.

Much the same is true of the belief that US military might protects those freeloading Europeans. A typical statement comes from Janet Albrechtsen , citing US analyst Robert Kagan, who says:

“Europe is a military mouse. Kagan points out that Europeans spend their money on socially progressive welfare and indulge in their transnational pursuit of collective security in the comforting shadow of the US’s enormous military muscle”

This was a defensible claim when the NATO and the Warsaw Pact were facing off along the East German border. But today it’s just stilly

There is still a large US military presence in Europe. But it’s there for the convenience of forward basing near the Middle East, not to protect the Europeans.
Moreover, the idea that Europe is a ‘military mouse’ is nonsense. Four of the top ten military spenders are EU members, and there is no potential adversary who comes anywhere near the collective spending of the Europeans (China and Russia together spend less).

It’s true that the Europeans still have a force structure that’s basically oriented to fighting the Red Army on the North German plain, so they can’t match the US capacity to deliver large armed forces anywhere in the world. But even in such activities as protection against terrorism, it’s far from a one-way street. The day after Albrechtsen’s story, the French (until last Sunday the prime targets of American derision) rescued a bunch of American schoolchildren from rebels in the Ivory Coast.

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