U.S. Military Aid Is Not a Gift, It's a Payment

Every few years the issue is raised as to why the U.S. government is annually handing over taxpayer money to oppressive foreign governments that are often at odds with American foreign policy. Congressmen hold hearings and wax enraged about the payments they themselves have routinely approved. What is absent from this discussion is an explanation of the actual rationale behind this exchange of funds. Military aid is a far cry from the foreign assistance delivered to foreign countries by organizations like USAID, specifically because unlike the State Department the Department of Defense actually expects to see a return on its investment.

Congress has chosen to call its annual multi-billion dollar payments to countries like Pakistan and Egypt "military aid" in order to disguise the existence of informal agreements that have been reached between countries that for mutually beneficial political reasons must not be seen assisting one another. In the case of Pakistan, the United States has no other viable option for transporting bulk supplies to its troops in Afghanistan but to go through the Khyber Pass, and for that privilege it is expected to pay, and handsomely at that. In 2011 the U.S. government delivered $1.65 billion in military aid to the government of Pakistan in addition to the $1.4 billion in economic aid supplied in 2010. The Pakistanis are also expected to use some of this money to wage its own counterinsurgency against Islamic militants on its side of the border; however, regardless of their success at this endeavor, the money spigot will remain open as long as American convoys continue to roll into Afghanistan.

The rationale behind providing military aid to Egypt is perhaps even clearer cut than it is with Pakistan. In exchange for annual guaranteed payments of $1.5 billion dollars, the U.S. military gets something that no amount of diplomatic negotiation could grant it. Specifically what the U.S. military requires from the Egyptians is access. Priority access for U.S. naval vessels to the Suez Canal, a property wholly controlled by the Egyptian military, and access to Egyptian air space. As many advantages as there are to being the last remaining global "superpower," the United States is not the Roman Empire controlling all highways in the known world. The U.S. military requires a great deal of access in order to maintain its vigilant global presence and to put it simply if you want to play you've got to pay.