White House officials are reportedly preparing plans that would see the release of US foreign aid tied to how countries treat their religious minorities.
White House officials emphasised that the idea is at an early stage and an executive order is still under development, but if it takes effect, they will use the lists of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom to determine which countries should be denied assistance.
The proposal could also be extended to American military assistance, which could have an impact on countries from Iraq to Vietnam to India.
If it comes into force, this proposal can have a wide impact on US international relations with various countries as it increases the uncertainty regarding foreign aid, which could lead to the affected countries diversifying their military and economic ties outside the United States.
Efforts to tighten foreign aid and limit it under the country’s religious freedom come because Trump is facing an impeachment investigation, which partly depends on whether he froze military assistance to Ukraine, an American ally currently at war with Russia and its local separatist proxies, as a way to put pressure on the Ukrainian government of Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate its political rivals.
Linking aid to religious freedom was not an unexpected step on the part of Trump. During the UN General Assembly in September, the American president made it clear that this issue is a priority for his administration and announced the allocation of $25 million to support religious freedom.
Trump noted that it’s “hard to believe” that most people in the world live in countries “where religious liberty is in significant danger or even completely outlawed” before adding “Americans will never tire in our effort to defend and promote freedom of worship and religion.”
The United States has long used foreign aid to establish bilateral relations with countries around the world, but the Trump administration takes a more transactional approach to foreign aid depending on its specific foreign policy goals.
The Trump White House has long sought to slash American foreign aid programmes as part of its isolationist “American First” doctrine which claims that the aid is wasted or ineffective. Trump has also regularly suggested that US foreign aid often goes to countries that fail to support American foreign policy interests.