COMMENTARY: Don't Cut International Humanitarian Assistance

By Cory McMahon and Richard Clark
Genocide expert Daniel Goldhagen has shown that genocide — which includes deliberate famine and other silent killing campaigns — has occurred more than 70 times since 1900 with a death toll of at least 127 million, outnumbering the casualties of all of mankind’s 20th century wars. It is no wonder that Goldhagen calls genocide an “urgent first order global problem.”

Legally defined as the denial of “existence of entire human groups,” genocide involves the intent to destroy specific groups through physical acts of destruction, which may include imposing measures to prevent reproduction, and/or forcibly transferring children out of the group. Genocide leaves in its wake an extinct or nearly extinct group within the territory under control of the perpetrators. Organizations such as the Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition note that countries such as Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and the Sudan are areas of concern for present or future genocides. Others would add the Indigenous populations of Colombia and Guatemala to this list.


This is a matter of both human decency and common security. In addition to the appalling loss of life, genocides also lead to internal and regional instability which encourages terrorist organizations and others hostile to democracy to fill the void. That is why top government officials such as the last three Secretaries of State, current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, General Petraeus, and the former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen have spoken repeatedly about the importance of international affairs funding as a critical investment in national security.


 A recent poll found that 90 percent of active duty and retired military officers agreed that tools of diplomacy and development are critical to achieving U.S. national security objectives. These military respondents believe that a strong military alone is not enough to protect America.
In spite of these concerns, the U.S. Congress is currently debating large cuts in international humanitarian assistance. We recognize the fiscal challenges facing our nation require all programs to tighten their belts and that some cuts are inevitable. However, deep cuts to programs that yield so many benefits to the U.S. are not in our nation’s best interest.


Americans are often misinformed about U.S. humanitarian assistance. A recent survey revealed that on the average, Americans mistakenly think the U.S. spends about 30 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid. In fact, the International Affairs Budget (IAB) accounts for 1 percent of our budget and has been disproportionately targeted for a 43 percent cut. While modest in size, this funding is critical to conflict prevention; and avoids the higher cost associated with conflict response. The IAB budget funds extensive counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency assistance in high priority countries, promotes democracy and the rule of law, and improves destitute living conditions that can fuel extremism and anti-American sentiment.


With increasing conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and the Middle East, now is not the time to abandon this funding. We are seeing a growth in electoral democracies from 69 two decades ago to 116 in 2010. For the most part electoral democracies are significantly less likely to go to war or to engage in mass atrocities. The world is moving towards greater freedom, it is counterproductive to our interest to slow down or stop the process. Maintaining U.S. help for starving and suffering humanity is in the U.S. enlightened national self-interest.


Cory McMahon is a registered nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital with a background in Public Health. She is working with health care professionals to increase awareness and education about ongoing genocides and other anti-genocide efforts. Richard Clark is the Director of the Peace, Justice and Human Rights program at John Carroll University. Ms. McMahon and Mr. Clark are both 2011 Carl Wilkens Fellows with the Genocide Intervention Network. This commentary was distributed by
PeaceVoice, a program of the Oregon Peace Institutehttp://www.peacevoice.info 
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