Making Global Development Policy More Effective

CAP Action experts focus on the critical role international development should play in U.S. foreign policy and steps for reform.

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National security, human security, and collective security are the three main aspects that “must be reflected in our foreign policy,” said Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, at a CAP Action event last Thursday on the changing role of U.S. international development policy in the 21st century. We have a “priority to reduce poverty and alleviate suffering around the world because it’s the right thing to do,” he added, but partnering with developing countries also promotes our own safety and security.

Berman was the keynote speaker for the event, which featured John Norris, Executive Director of CAP’s Enough project; Peter McPherson, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges; Eli Adashi, former dean of medicine and biological sciences and the Frank L. Day Professor of Biology at Brown University; and Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, president of the Middle East Institute. Rudy deLeon, Senior Vice President for National Security and International Policy at CAP Action, gave introductory remarks and Ken Gude, Associate Director of CAP Action’s International Rights and Responsibility program, moderated.

Berman said outdated U.S. foreign assistance laws have not drastically changed since 1961 and are stuck in the Cold War past. He explained that we must “modernize our foreign aid system” to acknowledge 21st century “transnational” threats. The U.S. Agency for International Development, which carries out development policy, has become fragmented and weakened in terms of capacity and authority—and it has “little flexibility to adapt” on the ground.

The reform’s goal should be for our aid to reach those most in need as efficiently and effectively as possible, and we must take into account the role varied factors such as corruption and gender play in local distribution. Also, “intended beneficiaries” must be “re-engaged” at all parts of the aid process through “civilian command,” Rep. Berman said.

One key example of the need for reform is Pakistan. USAID returned to Pakistan in 2002, but the agency is not currently structured for our “post-Cold War, postglobalized situation,” Chamberlin said. We need a new approach and “we need to re-evaluate…how we can use our assistance to incentivize the types of reforms the Pakistanis are going to have to use for themselves to be successful,” she added.

“Development works in countries committed to development,” Norris said. But currently, in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, we are sending too much money without leadership committed to development.

Chamberlin thought that the United States needs to tell countries that, “you give us the ideas and we’ll help you get there.” We must incentivize those who have good ideas for reform along the same lines as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s “Race to the Top” education strategy. Adashi recommended restructuring USAID along the Global Health Initiative model because it puts all of our global health efforts under a “single umbrella.” It is an “idealized concept,” he admitted, but one that can work.

Lately, the military has been playing an increasingly larger role in development because they have the capacity and infrastructure. They do not, however, have USAID’s expertise, Gude lamented. “There is a role for the military” to play, McPherson explained, but it should not be to “design” programs.

Moreover, USAID has increasingly been pushed into the State Department, but Norris said it needs to be an autonomous organization to be successful. Diplomats and soldiers are not trained to be development experts because they excel in short-term, transactional assistance and projects, while development experts work toward a “fundamentally long-term goal” to transform the country.

The uneasy marriage between military and aid “puts civilians in a fairly dangerous spot” because international intervention lumps civilian aid and development workers into part of the military industrial complex, Norris explained. This alienates that community of experts and “hurts our standing in the international community.” USAID needs “structural independence” and Congress and the Defense Department must trust “the professionals to do professional work,” and lead reconstruction efforts, he added.

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