Foreign Aid Reform and National Security

By Mark Green, Ambassador and Congressman (ret.)

I recently began posting a series of pieces with some of the reasons why I believe (a) America needs foreign assistance reform and (b) Conservatives should take up the cause.  Done right, foreign assistance can play a crucial role in our foreign policy.  Unfortunately, the status quo isn’t “done right” or, at least, done as well as it could be.

To summarize, here are my first eight reasons:

Reason 1: Our current foreign aid system is organizationally incoherent.

Reason 2: We need to reform the system to make our precious taxpayer dollars go much further.

Reason 3: Foreign assistance reform is a great opportunity for Conservatives to reaffirm values and initiatives we care about.

Reason 4: Simply put, Conservatives (and Republicans) have a long history of standing up for EFFECTIVE foreign assistance.

Reason 5: The combination of fragmented authorities and overlapping bureaucracies in our current assistance framework is watering down public diplomacy efforts.

Reason 6: Making our foreign assistance operate as effectively as possible is a moral and ethical imperative.

Reason 7: The lack of coordination between our foreign assistance programs and our trade policies is hurting the effectiveness of both.

Reason 8: Conservatives need to ensure that our foreign assistance system recognizes, protects and builds on the enormous contributions to development being made by other-than-government sources – especially faith-based institutions.

And now…Reason 9: Making our foreign assistance system more effective can help bring home our men and women in uniform – and make future deployments less necessary/minimize the need for future deployments.

American leaders have long acknowledged the interdependence of national security and development programs.  In creating the United States Agency for International Development, President Harry Truman stated that its purpose was to “strengthen and generalize peace… by counteracting the economic conditions that predispose to social and political instability and to war. . . our military and economic security is vitally dependent on the economic security of other peoples.”  A half century later, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asserted, “we must now use our foreign assistance to help prevent future Afghanistans—and to make America and the world safer.”

It’s not complicated.  When central governments are meeting the basic needs of their people, or at least are on the road to doing so, then citizens have every incentive to support them and no incentive to agitate, or worse yet take up arms against the government and its Western allies.  On the other hand, where access to basic services is poor, non-state actors such as Hamas, Hezbollah, warlords, and other extremists have an opening to stir up instability, strife and violence.  For example, a recent unclassified assessment from the Intelligence Community observed that the “inability of the central government of Afghanistan to provide health-care and other services has helped to undermine its credibility while boosting support for a resurgent and increasingly sophisticated Taliban.”

Those who serve on the front lines of our national defense understand this well. They MFAN9understand that in some troubled lands where American forces have a presence, the legitimacy and credibility of the central government affects the size of American forces, their mission and how long they’ll need to stay.

In a recent op-ed, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, commander of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, suggested another reason why our foreign assistance programs can influence the effectiveness of the central government in places like Afghanistan  . . .  and, by implication, how long our servicemen and servicewomen are deployed there.

The Afghan soldiers and policemen that I interact with every day are quick, witty and experienced. They have fought for security for 30 years—and they know how to fight. What they have yet to gain is the ability to sustain their forces and instill them with professionalism.

Literacy is essential for enabling accountability, allows for professional military education (particularly specialized skills taught in technical schools), and reduces corruption. . . .

If a soldier cannot read, how can he know what equipment he is supposed to have and maintain? If a policeman does not know his numbers, how can he read and understand the serial number on his own weapon?  . . . Finally, literacy combats corruption. It prevents bad actors from preying on the illiterate. When the force is literate, standards can be published and everyone can be held accountable to adhere to them, up the chain of command as well as down. . . .(Dr. Seuss and the Afghan Military, Wall St. Journal, Sept. 9, 2010)

All of the foregoing is part of why 50 U.S. military leaders recently urged greater support for development and humanitarian programs – which they argue are “critical to stabilizing fragile states” and “combating terrorism.” When the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition recently launched a project called “Veterans for Smart Power,” it posted an online petition which provides, in part, “Our threats today come from non-traditional enemies. We must utilize military AND civilian tools such as diplomacy, food aid, health, education, and economic development.” Thousands have already signed to show their support for this principle.

In recent years, under both Republican and Democratic Congressional majorities, we’ve allowed our foreign assistance tools to lose some of their edge.  Some of that’s due to funding, some to fragmentation of program authorities, and some to insufficient monitoring and evaluation. That more and more of our development operations seem to be carried out by our uniformed men and women is a sign of that “lost edge.”  While the use of these forces is sometimes necessary – especially in areas where security is uncertain or where the transition away from active fighting is just beginning — all too often it’s due to capacity and resource limitations in agencies like USAID.

While our servicemenMFan_9 and servicewomen are very simply the best in the world at what they do, assistance-type work isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a core function of their work in the field. As Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen said in a recent speech, “It’s one thing to be able and willing to serve as emergency responders, quite another to always have to be the fire chief.”  He went on to say that greater investment in areas like diplomacy and development is essential . . . and overdue. “My fear, quite frankly, is that we aren’t moving fast enough in this regard. U.S. foreign policy is still too dominated by the military, too dependent upon the generals and admirals who lead our major overseas commands and not enough on the State Department.”

For the sake of allowing our men and women in uniform to focus on what they do best, or better yet, allowing them to come home, Conservatives need to ensure that our assistance system is sufficiently strong and well-organized.  We need to make sure that our assistance professionals are made part of the strategic discussions regarding the American presence in troubled lands. Americans stand up for our military men and women – that should include making sure that our foreign assistance system and development tools are ready to do their part.

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