Friday, July 08, 2005

Foreign Aid

What is one to make of the news that Iran is going to give $1 billion to Iraq? I don't mean just this one particular instance, but the general issue of foreign aid. Why should a country make such a big contribution to the welfare of another country? Pure altruism is not the reason; in fact, it rarely is in any foreign policy decision. Does the donor country expect some benefits to accrue from its generosity? Or, is the donor country so wealthy that the aid amount comes from overflowing coffers and did not find any useful purpose (poverty eradication comes to mind) in the donor country itself? Since no country is so wealthy (not even America), its less fortunate citizens have every right to protest this, and ask that the money be spent on them instead.

Sometimes the motives for such a handout are very obvious, as in the G8/Africa case; the debt is written off (partially or fully) in return for the African countries' willingness to open up their economies for exploitation investment. In this case, the aid money is nothing more than the cost of doing business.

Coming back to Iran, its motive is purely political; in return for its $1 billion, it gets to have a say in how the Shiite government in Iraq runs things, in addition to scoring some brownie points.

And then we have countries like our own who send cargo-loads of foodgrains elsewhere when people are dying of famine within our borders. Maybe altruism (however misplaced) does have a role to play sometimes, after all.