In many ways, government use of foreign aid to further foreign and even domestic policy agendas makes sense. If we accept the human construct of the nation (for, what else is it?), then on some level we must accept that those who are members of the nation have shared interests at stake, both domestically and internationally, that must be protected. As I’ve stated before, I’m still not convinced that there are many good arguments for caring about people in other nations that aren’t implicitly or explicitly moral. If we assume that the nation is not a moral actor, then using foreign aid to support national agendas makes perfect sense. Why else would a nation do it? The biggest problems with this approach are 1) “national interest” is often full of contradictions; 2) members of the nation do not always have an agreed-upon image of what the “national interest” is; and 3) the inherent short-term nature of democratic government makes “national interest” a politically moving target.
So, in response to eninnej’s question, is it a bad thing that NGOs that receive government funding are complicit in furthering government aims, I would say that it depends. It depends on the purpose and the moral stance of the NGO. If the moral stance of the NGO happens to be in line with the national interest stance of the government, then as far as the NGO is concerned, who cares? Take the money and run. On the other hand, if the moral stance of the NGO is at odds with the government, as it often is, then I would say that NGOs in this position that take government funding lack integrity. We can’t expect all NGOs to agree with us as individuals, and these institutions have no representative role vis-à-vis the larger national population. However, an institution that supports and actively implements what are, essentially, a government’s foreign policy objectives has no business portraying itself as neutral.
NGOs that implement the US government’s foreign policy will never rock the boat enough to create meaningful social change (more another time on how, if at all, they might do this; see also Saul Alinsky). If development NGOs do make positive change in the lives of people as individuals, through microfinance, agriculture, or education programs or what have you, great. But saying that there is an improvement is still making a value judgment: this is better than that. Sure, I believe that individuals are capable of making that judgment for themselves on the basis of their unique situation. I like living in a house better than living in an apartment; that statement is culturally bound, but it is individually arrived at by me in my unique circumstance. However, I can’t extrapolate from that and say that living in a house is better for everyone.
NGO workers will certainly be more at risk the closer the ties are between their funding source and the Department of State. In many of the places where these hard-working and well-meaning folk strive (like Sisyphus) to bring justice and progress, they will be targeted because their employers receive funding from the US government. Eventually, all NGO workers, funded or not by the US government, will be targeted, because the terrorist’s weapon is blunt. Their work will surely be negatively affected.