A survey in the United States conducted by a public charity shows that a significant number of Americans want their country to remain involved in international affairs and even to increase U.S. spending on foreign development assistance. The survey results were made public at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.
The study found that 37 percent of Americans who know that the United States spends less than one percent of its national budget on foreign aid want their government to increase its spending. Of those Americans who do not know the proportion spent, half want the current allotment to remain the same.
The president of the U.S.-based United Nations Foundation, former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth, says the finding is significant, because it shows that, even after last year's terrorist attacks, Americans remain engaged in international issues. He says it shows they continue to care about such issues as poverty and HIV-AIDS in the rest of the world.
"It's against that background that this kind of data is significant," he said. "You're not getting, one percent you ought to spend more, or one percent saying it ought to increase, but even given all of the things the American public are asked to think about and support politically, and out of their pocket books, they're willing to say 'yes' - on that level I really think its important."
The survey is conducted annually on behalf of the U.N. foundation among Americans who describe themselves as well-informed. The result of this year's survey is seen by delegates to the earth summit as important, because the United States has been the target of much criticism here in Johannesburg.
Most of the criticism flows from the U.S. government's resistance to setting targets to reduce by the year 2015 poverty-related backlogs in areas such as access to clean water and sanitation, the so-called millennium development goals. U.S. officials say strategic agreements are more effective than setting targets.
The administrator for the United Nations Development Program, Mark Malloch Brown, says the U.S. survey indicates much support among Americans for the millennium goals. Three-quarters of those polled said providing universal clean water and sanitation is an absolute priority. About two-thirds said fighting HIV-AIDS and providing primary education also are absolute priorities by the year 2015.
Mr. Malloch Brown says the regular reporting requirements for the targeted millennium goals allow taxpayers to see where and how their money is being spent. He says the goals themselves help citizens judge the success or failure of their governments on these issues.
"The millennium development goals are intended as just that - a global effort in political leadership to build public support that goes way beyond the rooms and meeting halls of a conference like this to try and embrace global public opinion and encourage countries to organize at the national level to hold their governments accountable for achieving the targets set two years ago at the millennium assembly," he said.
Mr. Malloch Brown says the survey will help the United Nations and the U.S. government in planning how to win support from American voters for international issues.