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U.S. needs to revamp foreign aid and help victims of genocide

Published: November 9, 2012
Section: Opinions


While watching the foreign policy presidential debate last month, I couldn’t help but notice a glaring omission in both candidates’ answers to foreign policy questions. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney addressed how they would deal with the conflicts in volatile regions of the world—Iran, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries—but each failed to address the state of countries dealing with genocides: Sudan, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo. I saw this information gap as a sign of the larger problem: America needs to do more to stop genocides in the world.

Now, as President Obama begins his next four years in office and the world looks to the United States with a renewed sense of hope and purpose, one truth is clear: Genocide prevention needs to become a more important foreign policy goal in the next four years.

As the largest nation in the free and developed world, I believe we are obligated to share our resources with countries that are struggling. We need to extend a hand to countries even if it isn’t profitable for our country. We need to be humanitarians, not just in our rhetoric but also in our actions.

Twelve million people in total (including six million Jews) were killed in the Holocaust, but how many people can remember off the top of their head that 1.5 million Armenians died in the Armenian Genocide, 1.7 million people in the Cambodian Genocide or several hundred thousand in Sudan? Who can name one action that the United States took to stop or prevent these genocides while they were happening? Hindsight is not always accurate and no one knows for sure if foreign aid from the U.S. could have stopped or prevented these genocides. Conflict is caused by complex and deep-rooted social problems. I still wonder, however, whether or not our nation’s actions could have saved hundreds or thousands of people. Were we complicit in these genocides because some of us were aware, some were ignorant and we found it easier to remain as bystanders?

The best action the U.S. government can take right now is to increase funding to protect civilians in vulnerable countries. According to STAND, the international genocide prevention organization (with a local chapter on campus), foreign aid and prevention are two sides of the same coin. STAND defines foreign aid as “technical, economic or military assistance provided by the United States in the interest of advancing U.S. foreign policy goals, priorities or interests.” This can include assistance for peacekeeping, health care, education and many other essential human services.

Today, the U.S. spends less than 1 percent of its budget on foreign aid, according to STAND. If anyone needs proof to believe that our money truly helps prevent conflicts, they need only look at the ways U.S. diplomats stopped post-election violence in Kenya in 2007, or helped South Sudan come into existence as a new nation just last year after years of civil war and genocide. Foreign aid is an investment. It can save struggling countries from the human, social and financial costs of future conflicts. Almost 20 years after 10 percent of the Rwandan population was killed in their genocide, Rwanda’s GDP is still struggling to recover, according to a World Bank report. Even when a country recovers from conflict they still suffer from its lasting effects. So, to prevent conflict is to ensure a secure future for a country.

Our leaders should also make sure information about global conflicts is more accessible and encourage college students to promote initiatives like the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative—a grassroots effort to push university officials to buy electronics from companies that invest responsibly in Congo’s mineral sector. This is also an initiative of which the STAND chapter at Brandeis is involved.

The world is becoming more and more globalized and part of becoming global citizens is to understand the problems and needs of the rest of the world. As we are aware of current global conflicts, our government needs to use their power to take action to prevent further conflicts from arising and present conflicts from escalating.