Thursday, July 23, 2009

Global Development as US National Security Policy

Senators Richard Lugar (R, Indiana) and John Kerry (D, Massachusetts) are introducing a new piece of legislation that they hope will reform US foreign assistance to poor countries. Among other things it will attempt to offer more support to the US Agency for International Development and review the effectiveness of current policies and procedures. So far, so good according to the brief op-ed presented by Senator Lugar to the Center for Global Development. However, I was deeply troubled by Senator Lugar's repeated characterization of US foreign assistance as a tool of US national security objectives.
"In recent years we have seen a welcome renaissance in American foreign assistance, which was starved for funds during the 1990s. Members of both parties have supported new programs and new spending, and American efforts overseas today are helping to fight disease and hunger and end the poverty that can be a seedbed for terrorism. Development, along with defense and diplomacy, is now a pillar of our national security policy."
Rather than a benign gesture of American good-will and a moral commitment to eradicate global poverty, Senator Lugar views development as a "pillar of our national security...along with defense and diplomacy"? There may be circumstances in which US national security interests and developmental needs overlap, but realistically this can not possibly always be the case. To define the US role in assisting poor countries as just another means by which to reach our own security interests seems a bit Machiavellian. There are also pragmatic reasons to be concerned about the convergence between defense and development. The merger risks the creation of a "spaghetti bowl" of overlapping agencies and initiatives that are confusing, ineffective, and actually less efficient in delivering assistance to vulnerable populations.

Senator Lugar's comments are likely connected to a broader paradigm shift in the way the US carries out its development initiatives. The relatively recent change can be understood by considering two entirely new organizations in the US government designed to integrate foreign assistance and grand strategy. In 2004, George Bush established the Millenium Challenge Corporation to promote US standards of good governance, and economic freedom. Unlike other development strategies that target the people who need help the most, the MCC will only distribute assistance on the condition that countries meet a US list of accepted codes of behavior. There is also a new US military-command in Africa called AFRICOM, that officials say will "strengthen governance, improve health care and meet economic development goals". The expansion of the command into Africa is raising concerns that the Pentagon is attempting to use development as a cover for narrower political and economic interests there.

There is very little information now about the legislation that will eventually be proposed by Senators Lugar and Kerry out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A hearing took place on Wednesday including testimony from Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Policy Institute. As more info surfaces and the legislation begins to take shape, the development community, both inside and outside the US, should pay close attention. If USAID and its foreign assistance agenda becomes subject to partial strategic calculations, it will mean the death of any disinterested attempt by the richest country in the world to eradicate extreme poverty, hunger, and inequality.

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