Many aspects of foreign aid are controversial, but few Americans, if they stopped to think about it, would cut back on the humanitarian programs that this country has supported for decades. Money for health care, food assistance, child nutrition, family planning, education and refugee assistance, for example, is desperately needed in the Third World and is widely viewed in this country as having a direct impact on individuals and families, rather than on governments. Similarly, the Peace Corps, UNICEF and other organizations dedicated to direct service are popular because they are seen to provide the personal care to the world's poor that Americans want to give, as taxpayers and as private donors too. Ironically, it is just this kind of aid that is threatened in the budget battle going on now.

The president has submitted an international affairs budget request -- covering foreign aid and other State Department functions -- of $22.6 billion. Of this, $15.4 billion is for foreign aid, but it is heavily weighted on the military and security assistance side. Countries with U.S. bases and those that need military assistance would get $5.2 billion. Israel and Egypt alone are to receive $5.3 billion. Every other bilateral aid program and all the humanitarian aid efforts then would divide $4.9 billion. As things are now going, it appears that after the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings squeeze -- a 20 percent cut is expected -- most of the security requests will remain untouched and almost all the cuts will hit aid to poor countries and humanitarian assistance. Why should that be?

Security obligations to allies must be sustained. But in an era of unprecedented budget restraint, must they be increased, as the request for Israel and Egypt was? It is painful and unjust for cuts to fall disproportionately on programs that directly help individuals and families in need. There is no good justification for the cuts now contemplated in these services.