President Bush’s Second Term and Development: Five Issues Worth Watching

November 22, 2004

What will George W. Bush’s second term mean for the U.S. role in development? Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, sees two related challenges facing U.S. development initiatives. First is updating and reforming U.S. aid institutions to better meet today’s foreign policy needs. Second is delivering on promises to increase U.S. assistance at a time of rising deficits. Addressing these twin challenges will be especially difficult because of the tension between the administration’s preference for unilateral action and the multilateral cooperation required for effective development assistance.

“President Bush launched several initiatives during his first term that suggest he intends for the U.S. to continue to play a dominant role in development and in the direction of multilateral development institutions such as the World Bank,” says Ms. Birdsall. “Doing this will require both continued reform of U.S. aid institutions and follow through on public pledges to provide additional resources for development,” she said.

In the early 1950s, the U.S. provided around 90% of total aid. As the number of donors increased, the U.S. share of total aid fell, to about 15% today. U.S. aid also declined relative to national income, by about two-thirds, to 0.13 percent of GNP, the lowest level of any major donor.

“Although the U.S. provides only a fraction of total aid, it still gives more than any other single country. If Washington follows through on promises to increase and reform U.S. development assistance, and mends its relations with other donors, there would be a solid basis for continued U.S. leadership,” she says. “Otherwise, U.S. leadership in development will become increasingly difficult.”

These challenges are common to many of the development issues that will confront the U.S. during President Bush’s second term. Five issues on which CGD has done significant research and helped to shape the policy debate are briefly summarized below. Each summary includes the views of a CGD expert on the topic and links to related CGD research. The issues: weak states, trade, debt relief, the Millennium Challenge Account, and HIV/AIDS.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.