Despite its early remonstrance of perceived human-rights violations ranging from the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to Central Intelligence Agency detention centers around the world, the Obama administration took a step backward last week by issuing a waiver that will allow the continuation of military aid to four countries that openly employ child soldiers. The decision waives, in part, the 2008 Child Soldiers Protections Act, which prohibits the U.S. from giving military aid to countries with child soldiers unless the money will professionalize the armies and directly address the use of child soldiers—two stipulations that will not be followed, given the waiver. Administering aid to these countries was a hypocritical and harmful decision that will only perpetuate a cycle of continued human rights violations and irresponsibility.
The four nations that will continue to receive aid due to the waiver—Yemen, Sudan, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo—all employ child soldiers, some as young as 14. Although the argument was made in a State Department memorandum that the waiver was in “the national interest” and would lead to stability in the nations, there are limited benefits in this decision for the U.S. In reality, ripping families apart to recruit child soldiers only destabilizes countries further, creating resentment and tearing apart the societal fabric. All four nations are in undoubtedly treacherous situations right now, but allowing them to go forward and continue to use child soldiers will only render them even more unstable.
In defending the decision, the White House said that the intention was to allow the U.S. to work with these nations for another year before completely cutting off aid. Pushing back the deadline for these nations to comply with human rights regulations for even one year is, at this point, irresponsible. The administration has had ample time since it came into office over 20 months ago to push its partner nations to fix the problem of child soldiers in their armies. Taking another year to act on the issue means only delaying and excusing what should have happened already. By failing to enforce the deadline, the administration is demonstrating a weakness in upholding its commitments.
Furthermore, it is uncertain that the military aid will bring about the intended benefits for the nations. Oftentimes, we assume that aid will help prop up governments and weaken opposition forces, yet the results are not always as expected. It is likely that we are overly optimistic in our evaluation of the benefits of military aid and the likelihood that countries direct aid exactly where the U.S. intends it to go. In particular, it is unacceptable that even a single U.S. tax dollar might go to funding child soldiers—but it is quite possible.
The Obama administration’s decision was quite hypocritical and violates some of the basic tenets of American values, as well as many of Obama’s campaign promises. Although we understand that international affairs are a complicated network of decisions, upholding American values and the law in this situation would be beneficial both to upholding our moral integrity and to producing long-term stability worldwide.