Changing aid regimes? U.S. foreign aid from the Cold War to the War on Terror

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Original Publication Date

March 1, 2010


Robert K. Fleck, Christopher Kilby


Journal of Development Economics


This paper explores how U.S. bilateral economic aid has changed over time, focusing on how the recent era–in which the War on Terror has played a prominent role in the Bush administration's aid policy–differs from previous eras. In particular, has the renewed geopolitical role of aid coincided with a reduction of aid to the poorest countries or less weight on need in U.S. aid allocation decisions? We start with an analysis of annual U.S. aid budgets from 1955 to 2006. Controlling for domestic political and economic conditions, we find that the War on Terror's effect on the aid budget is significantly larger than is immediately apparent. To explore how the emphasis on need may have changed over time, we use country-level panel data on aid allocations to 119 countries across the same time period. This shows that U.S. aid flows–for the poorest as well as other developing countries–increased with the War on Terror. However, after rising for 35 years, the emphasis placed on need has been falling steadily for core aid recipients during the War on Terror.

Replication data available upon request from the author. Please contact Dr. Christopher Kilby at