The Motives of Foreign Aid: Ethical or Rewarding

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Foreign aid is defined as a form of assistance provided by rich, developed nations to poor, underdeveloped countries. There are many different types of assistance that can be provided, including educational, agricultural, technical, scientific and financial assistance. Individuals, governments, private organizations and businesses can all send foreign aid to Third World countries. This essay in particular focuses on the different motives behind donating foreign aid. More specifically, it is the motives that governments and organizations have in providing foreign aid that are worth discussing.

After assessing the reasons different governments and organizations donate foreign aid, the question can then be asked: do these administrations seem ethical when providing foreign aid, or are they simply rewarded? In order to answer this question, different types of motivations will be discussed. Then, different examples of countries/organizations and their specific motives for providing foreign aid will be demonstrated. The different motives will then be evaluated in order to answer the questions of whether these motives should be seen as ethical, rewarding, or both. In order to show clear examples one will be made about a government, the United States’ Marshall Plan, and one will be made about an organization, the International Monetary Fund’s global capitalist partnership.

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There are two main reasons why donors provide foreign aid. The simplest one is altruism, otherwise known as the concern for the welfare of others. Many government officials and organizations feel that because of traditions, cultures, religious beliefs and/or values, every human being should have access to basic necessities such as food, housing, health care and education. The compassion for philanthropy is the major factor behind this motivation. The second major motivation is the act of supporting an ally country in international politics. With this motivation, donating foreign aid could be given by one nation with the purpose of influencing the political process in another. “Aid [can] primarily [be] a means to pursue other foreign policy objectives, including diplomatic, commercial, and security interests” (Haslem et al., 141).

In this sense, aid programs can be done to raise the donor’s status, providing it with respect among other countries. Facilitating trade relations, security objectives and promoting diplomatic initiatives are just some of the different benefits that can come from providing development assistance. Other less prominent motivations behind providing foreign aid include compensation for developing countries with regards to injustices that may have occurred, or that foreign aid is an obligation. “[U]nder the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights […], everyone has the right to a free primary education and to earn a livelihood” (Haslem et al., 143). Some people interpret that from this standpoint, no motivations are pertinent because the benefits of foreign aid are universal. Others argue that some developing countries had the opportunities to gain these basic rights but failed because of corruption within the government and ranking their priorities wrong.

The Marshall Plan was an American economic program from 1948-1952 in which the United States gave technical and financial assistance to European economies after World War II ended. From an American standpoint, the United States let it be known that they wanted to eliminate trade barriers, rebuild war-devastated regions, improve industries and have Europe flourishing again. The motivation behind this program was highly criticized when it slowly became publicized in the early 1950’s that this program was pursued by the United States with the intent of preventing Soviet communism from spreading around Europe. A total of US $13 billion was given in technical and economic assistance to countries that were members of the Organization for European Economic Co-Operation.

With so much money being given to the Europeans, one must ask if the United States was looking to have European countries flourish again from an ethical standpoint (part of the culture), or was the United States looking to reward themselves by preventing communism from spreading around Western Europe? Many critics argued that the Americans did not need to invest so much money into this program, and that donating US $13 billion made the United States look like it had further intentions with its plan. Critics did not feel that “it was necessary for Americans to be using so much money to help nations [the Americans] had already assisted in many ways before” (Shain 2). Many critics and historians also believed that the Marshall Plan was “economic imperialism, and that it was an attempt to gain control over Western Europe” (Shain 3). The Marshall Plan is just one example of many foreign aid donations that have made people question motivations.

The International Monetary Fund is an international organization that was created in 1945 when twenty-nine countries agreed to “stabilize exchange rates and assist the reconstruction of the world’s international payment system” (Escobar 429). Similar to the Marshall plan, the International Monetary Fund was a major factor in providing assistance for countries after World War II, with France being the first country to borrow from the International Monetary Fund in 1947. Now an organization with 187 countries, the International Monetary Fund is still a key component in securing global financial stability and the reduction of poverty. The International Monetary Fund delivers multilateral aid to many developing countries around the world.

The criticism that occurs from the International Monetary Fund providing foreign aid to these countries is that some believe it is the United States’ way of controlling the enterprises that exist within these countries. The International Monetary Fund is based in Washington, D.C. and some critics believe that the motive of the International Monetary Fund’s foreign aid policy is to have “the [United States] monitor and control countries private ownership of the means of production, creation of goods for profit, [and] the accumulation of capital” (Escobar 434). If this were the case, multilateral aid could be seen as being provided by the International Monetary Fund with the purpose of having a monopoly over economic systems around the globe. These thoughts bring us back to the original question: do these administrations seem ethical when providing foreign aid, or are they simply rewarded?


Though foreign aid is defined as a form of assistance provided by rich, developed nations to poor, underdeveloped countries, it is the motivation behind donating foreign aid that is truly intriguing. What this essay aimed at answering was the question: do governments and organizations seem ethical when providing foreign aid, or are they simply rewarded? In order to answer this question, different types of motivations were deliberated. These include the concern for the welfare of others, supporting an ally country in order to receive help with the donor’s goals, the interpretation of universal rights, and for compensation. Each of these motives, among others, can be interpreted and assessed.

The concern for the welfare of others is clearly more ethical, while supporting an ally country in order to receive help with goals is clearly more rewarding. In order to further analyze this, an example of bilateral aid, the United States’ Marshall Plan and an example of multilateral aid, the International Monetary Fund, were used. The two different examples showed that the motivation behind foreign aid is multi-layered. If a donor country was only looking out for a recipient’s interests, they may fail to continue to prosper as they may lose sight of the direction the donor country should be headed in. On the same note, if a donor country was consistently looking out for personal interest, the social status of that country can quickly diminish compared to others. In conclusion, this essay demonstrates that motives cannot only be ethical or rewarding, instead, motives tend to be both ethical and rewarding.

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