Noteworthy News — 12.3

This weekly posting includes key news stories and opinion pieces related to foreign assistance reform and the larger development community.

What we’re reading:

  • US envoy criticizes civilian effort in Afghanistan (Reuters, December 2) – Holbrooke signaled his concerns over efforts involving the United Nations and scores of foreign aid and development agencies before a meeting at which U.S. and European ministers are expected to discuss how to improve the reconstruction drive.  “We have a unified military command but we have an ‘un-unified’ international effort that involves the United Nations, individual countries, hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and other international institutions.”  “We believe that we need to coordinate that civilian effort better,” he added.
  • New aid chief lays out plans to fix USAID (FP Blog-Josh Rogin, December 1) – Shah will report to directly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, he wrote in the answers, obtained by The Cable. But it’s not yet determined if he will have control over the “F bureau” at State, 60 percent of which is staffed by USAID personnel, he said.  “It is critical that we rebuild all types of capacity at USAID, including policy expertise,” Shah wrote to the committee. “I believe USAID must be able to inform policy decisions, develop strategies, and implement programs effectively and efficiently.”  “This is part of a larger struggle over the shape and direction of our country’s global development efforts,” Kerry said. “Our aid program is in need of a course correction.”
  • Money Can’t Buy America Love (Foreign Policy- Andrew Wilder and Stuart Gordon, December 1) – National security interests have always had a major influence over development assistance priorities, most notably during the Cold War. But never has aid so explicitly been viewed as a weapons system — a fact that is having a major impact on the development assistance policies and priorities of the United States and indeed of many other Western donors.  The primary objective of U.S. aid to countries such as Afghanistan is also shifting — from development for its own sake to the promotion of security. The result is that funding for insecure areas takes priority over secure areas.
  • Addicted to Contractors (Foreign Policy-Allison Stanger, December 1) – Waging war through contractors also means a lot of waste. Money must change hands multiple times in a foreign country — a standing invitation for corruption. The contracting apparatus spawns a web of complex financial transactions that the U.S. Congress cannot effectively oversee. Funding it is equally problematic; Washington continues to finance the struggle against terrorism through supplemental appropriations as though they were emergency operations.
  • The Downside of ‘Smart Power’ (New Republic-Jesse Zwick, November 30) – But there was a catch: Emphasizing aid’s strategic rationale also meant changing its very nature. Several months ago, I spoke to Brian Atwood, who ran USAID from 1993 to 1999 during the Clinton administration. USAID’s underlying philosophy, he pointed out, had traditionally hinged on a very long-term vision of American interests–a faith that alleviating poverty and other social ills would somehow ultimately benefit the United States. It wasn’t pure altruism, but, in practice, it was certainly closer to altruism than the vision of aid as a strategic tool put forth by “smart power” proponents. “You need an aid administrator who can think long term and work on preventing crises,” he told me–as opposed to simply responding to crises, a task that occupies much, if not most, of the secretary of state’s time.

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