A New Way Forward on Global Development

The Obama Administration recognizes that the successful pursuit of development is essential to our security, prosperity, and values.  In a world shaped by growing global economic integration and the fragmentation of political power; by the rise of emerging powers and the persistent weakness of fragile states; and the potential borne of globalization and risks posed by transnational threats, development is a strategic imperative to the United States.  Our investments in development – and the policies we pursue that support development – can facilitate the stabilization of countries emerging from conflict, address poverty that is a common denominator in the myriad of challenge we face, foster increased global growth, and reinforce the universal values we aim to advance.” – A New Way Forward on Global Development

This is an excerpt from the opening paragraph of a memo leaked to Foreign Policy magazine the other day.  It is a draft version of the National Security Council’s Presidential Study Directive on Global Development Policy (PSD-7).  The 7-page documents details plans for an overhaul of U.S. approach to development and foreign aid.  I am still reading through the document and the commentaries that have already been posted, but the approval ratings from the development community have so far been positive.  My first thoughts are that the document is classic Obama: simple and pragmatic, intuitive and ambitious.  It proposes consolidating the fragmented government agencies to reduce waste, bringing more accountability to aid distribution by applying quantifiable metrics to programs and investing in those with a proven return, and building in-country capacity to produce sustainable solutions.  In a world of limited resources and an industry with a reputation for squandering those resources, the report proposes selectively choosing sectors that yield the most far-reaching and broad results.  Simultaneously, the U.S. will hold countries responsible for keeping up their end of the bargain by utilizing funds appropriately.  The U.S. will take a multi-lateral approach, working with other foreign governments, NGOs, philanthropy organizations to divide the labor and financing according to sector expertise.  Lastly, the U.S. will create a new “modern architecture” to ensure that government agencies are working in tandem.  Here, the memo delineates the strategy for the future:

The United States will pursue a new approach to global development that focuses our government on the critical task of helping to create a world with more prosperous and democratic states, able to meet the needs of their people and to be partners in addressing common threats, challenges, and opportunities.  The Administration’s approach is built on three pillars: a deliberate development policy that places a premium on economic growth and democratic governance, game-changing innovations, and sustainable systems for meeting basic human needs; a new business model that positions the United States to be a more effective partner and to leverage our leadership and; a modern architecture that elevates development as a key pillar of U.S. foreign policy and harnesses the development expertise now spread across government in support of common objectives.

A network of causality: poverty, education, opportunity, and radicalism

In the memo, development is considered a vital component of U.S. foreign policy and a critical our national security.  The administration contends that a strategic approach to development is as important to our safety as diplomacy and defense.  Amen.  Every year, Foreign Policy publishes its “Failed States Index,” a list of the countries that fit the textbook definition of a failed state (erosion of legitimate authority, inability to provide basic services).  The same countries always top the list – Somalia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.  These are all countries we consider to be threats to the U.S., or at least a source of instability in their respective regions.  And a combination of desperation and hunger, a lack of employment opportunities, and manipulative radicals can have a devastating effect on the youth of a country.  In Somalia, whether or not you are a fanatical Muslim, being a soldier for al-Shabbab still pays more than the alternative, which is nothing.  In Pakistan, children spend hours per day memorizing the Koran and being indoctrinated that the U.S. is the root of all evil not because an 8 year-old has developed his system of core values, sense of morality, and radical worldview.  Rather, they do it because there are no other schools to attend and their parents know the Madrasah will give them three meals a day.   Five of the twenty countries on the Failed States Index are havens for al-Qaeda (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia).  Poverty and hunger create desperation and fragility.  It is in countries like these that young minds are most susceptible to the sort of brainwashing that creates the enemies we are fighting today.

Beyond the failed states are the countries higher on the development ladder, but still third-world.  Putting capacities in place to generate economic growth and reduce poverty will pay dividends in our national security also.  As I said before, poverty breeds desperation, which contributes to the overall fragility of a region.  Nobody wants to live in the same neighborhood as Robert Mugabe or Laurent Nkunda.  But by improving their economic condition, the neighboring countries will have a vested interested in maintaining the stability of the region, since a volatile next-door neighbor can cause big problems.  By investing in development in a region, we contribute to its overall stability, which serves in the interest of our national security.

Barack Obama - a pragmatic man.

This is why I voted for Obama.  He is pragmatic and forward-thinking.  This is a strategy that will not pay off immediately.  It is a long-term approach not just to development, but to ensuring our national security in the future.  We have retooled our defense spending to focus on small-scale guerrilla-type wars and counterterrorism strategies, buying Predator drones instead of F-22’s.  Why?  Because it is practical and smart.  And this memo reflects that mode of thinking.  Build capacity and improve the economy of the regions that seek our destruction.  Educate children so that they won’t fall into the hands of manipulative jihadists and gangs of pirates.  And do it by increasing accountability, investing in programs with proven results, and restructuring the inefficient government bureaucracy.

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