Atwood promotes U.S. foreign aid

J. Brian Atwood, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, urged more U.S. aid to developing nations in a speech in Stuart Hall Friday.

The United States supplies the least foreign assistance of any industrialized nation in relation to its gross national product, Atwood said in a speech that was part of the Elliott School of International Affairs’ Prominent Speaker series.

“This is terribly shortsighted as our future prosperity is inextricably woven with the rest of the world,” he said. “If we desert the developing nations we invite more chaos, more suffering, more civil wars and more terrorism.”

Atwood, who was recently nominated as the U.S. ambassador to Brazil, said while progress has been made in helping the developing world, a more remains to be done.

Atwood said international development began more than 50 years ago with the great experiment of the Marshall Plan, which infused billions of dollars into post-war Europe.

“I call these programs an experiment because throughout human history, nations have lavished vast amounts of money to conquer one another, but never before, to my knowledge, have great nations spent their treasure trying to build up less developed nations,” he said.

In 1968, 17 industrialized nations came together to plan a stronger and more coordinated approach to international development, Atwood said. They focused on disease, public health, education and family planning.

In the last three decades, the literacy rate in developing nations rose 50 percent, the average woman has half as many children and infant mortality has been cut in half.

In addition, the supply of clean water has tripled, the average per capita income has increased by 60 percent and life expectancy is up by more than a decade.

But despite this progress, Atwood said the future brings new challenges and problems.

The current trend of globalization means ideas, technology and capital flow freely around the world, he said.

Developing nations fear globalization because they are just beginning to create open democratic societies. They are working to build financial and legal systems and a skilled work force to attract foreign investment, he said.

But investment in developing countries in the last three years has taken a downturn, Atwood said.

In 1996, 21 donor countries and a number of international financial institutions provided $55.4 billion in development assistance. In 1997, that number decreased to $47.6 billion while the 1998 assistance is projected to fall to less than $45 billion.

“Put yourself in the shoes of the developing world leaders,” he said. “They see us champion the advantages of globalization yet the industrial nations are deriving all the benefits and also writing all the rules.”

By 2020, Atwood said a billion and a half more people will live on the planet. Four-fifths of them will live in developing nations.

Atwood stressed the need for American leadership.

“We have the tools to build international structures to promote peace and prosperity,” Atwood said. “Strong democratic institutions are the best vehicles for social progress. The choice between progress and chaos belongs to the developed nations, the U.S. and each of us as individuals.”

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