In This Review

Foreign Aid: Diplomacy, Development, Domestic Politics
Foreign Aid: Diplomacy, Development, Domestic Politics
By Carol Lancaster
University of Chicago Press, 2006, 288 pp

Official foreign aid, which recently exceeded $100 billion a year for the first time, has become a normal component of the international relations of rich countries. Yet it remains something of a puzzle: Why, exactly, do democratic governments, responsible for the well-being of their own citizens, give financial and technical assistance to foreign governments? Lancaster, a former deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, attempts to answer this question both historically (when foreign aid was much influenced by the Cold War) and currently (when the focus has shifted more, but still far from exclusively, to the promotion of economic development). She examines in detail the foreign assistance programs of the four largest donors (the United States, Japan, France, and Germany) and the most generous donor relative to GDP (Denmark). She finds in all these cases that domestic politics plays a greater role in determining the level, destination, and character of aid than most supporters of aid normally recognize or acknowledge and that each government's organizational setup for aid also influences the flow and character of aid. The book offers a dispassionate and thorough examination of a government activity of continuing and even growing importance, but it does not attempt to evaluate the success of aid in achieving its diverse and often competing -- and sometimes even incompatible -- objectives.