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U.S. Military Assistance and Human Rights: An Examination of the Top 30 Recipients of U.S. Military Aid between 1992-2011

Aaron P Hansen, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


While the provision of foreign assistance is a crucial component of U.S. foreign policy, both the American public, and its elected officials, have expressed concern that assistance packages might contribute to incidence of human rights abuse. To prevent this, legislation was passed in 1961 which prohibited the disbursement of U.S. foreign aid to regimes engaged in human rights abuses. The intent of this legislation was to prevent abusive states from receiving aid and prevent recipients from using U.S. aid to perpetrate human rights abuses. This research examines three related questions: First, do worsening human rights conditions lead to a decline in U.S. military aid? Second, are increased amounts of U.S. aid associated with less respect for human rights? Lastly, if aid is associated with deteriorating human rights conditions, what mechanisms produce these negative changes? Using the top thirty recipients of U.S. military aid between 1992–2011 as a sample, this research found that deteriorating human rights conditions were not associated with a corresponding decrease in U.S. military aid. This corroborates prior analysis which concluded that, once a state begins to receive aid, worsening human rights behavior was not met with less aid from the United States. The next stage of this research examines the human rights impact of U.S. military aid following disbursement. For the same sample, increased U.S. aid was associated with elevated incidence of human rights abuses. However, not all military aid was equally impactful; of the four types of military aid, two were associated with a downturn in human rights conditions while the remaining two failed to attain statistical significance. The final portion of this research examines the mechanisms by which U.S. military aid contributes to deteriorating human rights conditions. The prevailing theories suggest that aid lessens institutional quality within the recipient state; this is only partially supported by the findings of this research. Corruption and government effectiveness of the recipient states were unaffected by increases in aid. Only government accountability was a significant mediating factor; although accountability was negatively impacted by U.S. aid, improvements in government accountability to its people lessened the otherwise deleterious effect of aid.

Subject Area

American studies|International Relations

Recommended Citation

Hansen, Aaron P, "U.S. Military Assistance and Human Rights: An Examination of the Top 30 Recipients of U.S. Military Aid between 1992-2011" (2018). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10841124.