MFAN Statement: Secretary Clinton’s CFR Speech Falls Short on Development and Aid Reform

September 9, 2010 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann and George Ingram:

In an important foreign policy speech at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out the Obama Administration’s vision for a modern architecture for U.S. foreign policy, based largely on restoring U.S. global leadership.  Secretary Clinton called development a key feature of this approach, noting that the U.S. will make a concerted effort to develop the capacity of other countries to help lift themselves out of poverty, including by investing in women and girls and supporting countries, like Ghana, that can serve as bulwarks of regional stability.

Recognizing the critical role these efforts play in U.S. foreign policy, Secretary Clinton again highlighted the Administration’s commitment to elevating development as a pillar of our approach to global engagement.  We appreciate this supportive and consistent rhetoric and applaud what the Administration has done to launch new programs like Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative.  However, the Administration has yet to move forward with broad reforms of our foreign aid system, which needs to be updated to take on the challenges of the 21st century.

In the Secretary’s 70-minute address, she covered many topics yet was able to devote just 5 minutes to development—illustrating how other responsibilities of the State Department often crowd out attention to development.  While she talked about restoring the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as a world-class agency, it is not yet clear that USAID will be given the authority to lead U.S. development programs in the field.  Development assistance should be coordinated with the State Department, but development programs (helping poor farmers increase their food production, for example) require resolute focus—which USAID can provide better than State.

Secretary Clinton also stressed the importance of development in poor countries to our national security, but aid programs will not be successful unless they are unequivocally focused on development.  When the same dollars are supposed to provide help to poor people and, at the same time, serve other U.S. interests, poor people often get the short end of the stick.  Failure to address these critical issues and enact broad reform now would be a major missed opportunity and would hinder our ability to achieve sustainable results for people suffering from poverty, disease, and lack of opportunity in the developing world.  

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