From Speech to Action
New Global Development Plan Has Promise
After decades of stressing national security and military interventionism, the United States finally has a vision for a foreign policy that pushes global poverty alleviation to the top of the agenda – and it didn’t even take the earthquake in Haiti to get us to that point. On January 6th, six days prior to the earthquake, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a major policy speech at Washington, D.C.’s Center for Global Development (CGD) that put the three D’s – defense, diplomacy, and development – on equal footing. Before jumping to cynical or skeptical conclusions, one must realize the motives behind Clinton’s proclamation of a need for change in how the U.S. deals with global poverty. Clinton’s decision to prioritize international development efforts does not reject a strong emphasis on national security but rather recognizes that the two foreign policy goals are inextricably aligned. It’s a good case for a good cause, and one that should garner popular support.
While critics argue that Clinton failed to articulate specific policy initiatives, her plan does lay out a promising six piece strategy that departs significantly from how the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and and other development efforts have previous operated. The plan proposes the following: pursuing development through partnership rather than patronage, from failed baby-sitting towards shared responsibility and consultation; integrating the development agenda with the defense and diplomacy agendas; facilitating coordination to avoid the overlapping and contradiction that mars the collective efforts of various U.S. departments, NGOs, and IGOs; basing U.S. global development policy on “health, agriculture, security, education, energy, and local governance”; increasing investment in innovation to make technology more accessible; and paying more attention to the strong potential of girls and women in the developing world.
So what does all this mean for global poverty? In particular, Clinton’s new outlook involves the way in which USAID responds to situations in foreign countries. With Dr. Raj Shah recently appointed as USAID administrator, Clinton has spoken optimistically of a long-term solution to global poverty that would get to the root of the problem. While a moral prerogative may have motivated Clinton’s change in course, selling it to the American people requires framing it in light of the more traditional foreign policy dialogue. Throughout her speech to the CGD, Clinton consistently justified her plan, assuring her audience that American tax payer dollars would pursue U.S. interests abroad. Logically, this makes sense; global poverty creates global instability, increasing the likelihood of future threats to U.S. security. And given the speech’s chronological proximity to the Christmas Day attempted air terror attack, her view is both timely and prescient.
Interestingly, the first test of Clinton’s new development agenda came not with a national security threat but with a natural security threat. On January 12th, the now infamous 7.0 Haitian earthquake shattered the country’s capital, Port-Au-Prince, and the neighboring city of Leogane, leaving an estimated 200,000 people dead and another two million homeless. Promptly, on January 16th, Clinton traveled to Port-Au-Prince to discuss relief efforts with Haitian president Rene Preval. That Clinton has expressed a commitment to coordinating U.S. relief efforts with local Haitian leaders shows that she is following through with her plan to move away from patronage and toward partnership.
Even so, French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet complained that the U.S. was dominating the Haitian aid process and stifling international contribution. Although other French officials did not back Joyandet, his opinion reflects a lingering worldwide acknowledgment that the U.S. has historically overstepped its bounds in international efforts. Clinton’s declaration of the need for an organized global community to respond to the Haitian crisis should assuage his concerns. She supports and has committed to participating in the March 2010 U.N. conference, which will continue to unite international donors in the process of rebuilding the devastated infrastructure of and restoring livable conditions to Haiti.
Nonetheless, only when USAID is not responding to a crisis will Clinton’s new global development agenda truly be put to a test. Then we can determine whether the U.S. will follow through with Clinton’s commitment to initiating development projects in impoverished countries like Haiti, where an investment in earthquake safety outfitting may have prevented thousands of unnecessary deaths.