What the 2014 National Security Strategy Ought To Say, But Won’t

  • photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_House_02.jpg
    Mar 6, 2014

    President Obama announced last fall that he intends to release a new National Security Strategy (NSS) in early 2014, updating the previous version, published in 2010.  Given that these strategies generally function more as public relations documents than as guiding doctrines, and that 2014 is a high-stakes election year, it may be unreasonable to expect anything risky or bold.  But if the 2014 NSS were to put a clear stamp on U.S. foreign policy and articulate a principled vision of our role in the world, here are a few of the things it ought to say:

    #1: Explain why development is important to our national security.

    The 3 Ds doctrine – defense, diplomacy and development – has long been de rigeur in Washington’s foreign policy circles.  But the 52-page 2010 National Security Strategy devotes all of 5 paragraphs to sustainable development. There is no clear articulation of why sustainable development is important to U.S. national security and national interests. 

    The 2010 NSS contains only one sentence that addresses the link between sustainable development and national security, which was then cited in the 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR): “Through an aggressive and affirmative development agenda and commensurate resources, we can strengthen the regional partners we need to help us stop conflict and counter global criminal networks; build a stable, inclusive global economy with new sources of prosperity; advance democracy and human rights; and ultimately position ourselves to better address key global challenges ....”[emphasis added].

    This is quite an incredible statement when you think about it.  It is not saying that development will create more markets for U.S. exports or level the playing field for American workers.  It is not saying that development reduces the risk of pandemic disease or the impact of environmental change.  It doesn’t say that good governance, transparency and accountability are effective antidotes to transnational crime or that they reduce the risk of violent conflict.  What it says, in effect is: development creates better partners who will do our bidding for us.  Is that the message we want to send the world about why development is important?

    #2: Development assistance is not a lever of American policy and influence.

    This is probably the most bitter pill to swallow.  But if we are to help bring about lasting gains, swallow it we must.  The United States has other types of aid – Economic Support Funds and billions of dollars of security assistance -- that are designed for political ends.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that development assistance should ignore politics: in fact, poor governance, weak institutions, and unaccountable processes may be the largest obstacles to growth.  However, there is a difference between using development assistance to build more inclusive and capable institutions for the benefit of local partners and stakeholders, and using it to achieve short-term foreign policy gains for ourselves.

    Development assistance is, plain and simple, an investment in a better, safer world.  And it ought to be designed to achieve maximum development outcomes. We are finally starting to learn the lessons of 50 years of development assistance, such as the importance of data transparency, program monitoring and evaluation, clear strategies with measurable goals, country ownership, use of local systems, and harmonization with other donors.  Let’s not abandon those lessons by attempting to leverage aid for short-term diplomatic gains – which doesn’t usually work, anyway.

    #3: Development isn’t only about aid.

    It’s high time we started recognizing that aid is only a small drop in the bucket when we talk about resources for development.  Foreign direct investment, remittances, and domestic resources are all larger than official development assistance, and private philanthropy is rapidly growing as well.  CSIS’s Project on Prosperity and Development recently released a report examining the ways that the private sector can engage emerging markets.

    This doesn’t mean that aid isn’t important – it just means that our development policy must be broader than an aid policy.  And once we start talking about a broader development policy we find two elephants in the room: trade and tax.

    Our agricultural and trade policies were not touched on at all as a part of the 2010 Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development precisely because of their political sensitivity.  But we are probably doing more damage to developing countries through our farm subsidies and trade quotas and tariffs than we are helping through our aid.  Such protectionist policies cause poor countries to lose potential jobs and export revenues, and create significant price distortions on their domestic markets, undermining the value of our assistance.  The new Farm Bill and FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill take some baby steps toward a more enlightened food aid program, and the Administration proposes to expand on these in its FY 2015 budget, but more comprehensive reforms are in order.

    Second is the issue of illicit financial flows.  Washington hasn’t quite woken up to the fact that the total volume of aid going in to the developing world pales in comparison to the amounts being siphoned out.  In fact, according to a report by the Africa Progress Panel, chaired by Kofi Annan, Africa loses more each year through illicit outflows than it receives in external aid and foreign direct investment combined.  Global Financial Integrity estimates that nearly $1 trillion was drained out of the global “south” in 2011 (the last year for which statistics are available) – roughly 10 times the amount these nations received in official development assistance.

    Some of this is due to plain old corruption – bribes, kickbacks and embezzlement, pure and simple.  But the vast majority of this is due to tax evasion – in essence, cheating countries out of their own natural and financial resources.   Developing countries are estimated to lose $120-160 billion each year of potential tax revenue from their own citizens who hide their wealth offshore.  And the United States is directly complicit in that, by allowing the registration of untraceable corporations that are the primary vehicle for money laundering, tax evasion, and hiding the profits of transnational crime. 

    Addressing this problem is essential not only to enable low and middle income countries to finance their own development, but also as a matter of our own national security.  The same laws and policies that make it easy to move, hide, and use dirty money are used by all types of transnational criminals, including drug lords, terrorists, gun runners, sanctions busters, wildlife poachers, and human traffickers.  Cracking down on illicit flows may be one of the most cost-effective ways we have of advancing development, stability, and human security all at the same time.

    Which brings me to:

    #4 – Strengthen the linkage between efforts to promote development, human rights, and conflict prevention

    It has already been shown that conflict and fragility are some of the greatest challenges to development.  USAID’s excellent new discussion paper on “Ending Extreme Poverty in Fragile Contexts” notes the strong correlation between violent conflict and high rates of extreme poverty, with fragile states expected to be home to nearly half of those living under $1.25 a day by 2015.  Similarly, as USAID’s Strategy on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance points out, “Poverty is underpinned by poor and undemocratic governance, weak and corrupt institutions, and entrenched power dynamics that lead to political and economic exclusion.”  

    What the 2014 NSS needs to make clear is that the same policies and programs that address corruption, exclusion, and non-accountable governance will help make development more effective and conflict less likely.  We need a much broader conception of what “democracy promotion” really means – as well as a term for it that does not close doors for us around the world – alongside a much stronger capacity to prevent and transform conflicts other than by selling arms, training foreign military forces, or sending in our own troops.

    Almost six years ago Gayle Smith, then at the Center for American Progress, authored a marvelous report, “In Search of Sustainable Security,” which was essentially a memo to the future President about what the next National Security Strategy should say.  One of the key points she makes is that “America must recalibrate its foreign policy to rely less on military power and more on other tools that can foster change and enhance our security.”

    But in order to do this, we can’t simply cut defense spending, although that’s important.  We need to ramp up our civilian capacities to prevent violent conflict, both through direct prevention – such as diplomacy, dialogue and sanctions – and through structural prevention – which are long-term interventions to transform key socioeconomic and political institutions.

    The 2010 NSS and QDDR both talk about strengthening civilian capacity for conflict prevention and transformation, but in practice both USAID and State treat it as something that is way outside the mainstream, unconnected and incidental to their routine work.  The offices that handle these issues are underresourced and underrepresented in the bureaucratic hierarchies, and the work they do is viewed as competing with, and sometimes even at odds with, the priorities of our embassies and missions abroad.  The U.S. Institute of Peace is constantly fighting off attempts to eliminate it entirely.

    Conflict prevention ought to be one of the main, if not THE main job of the State Department.  It’s not a special interest or a side-show, it’s what the entire Foreign Service ought to be trained and equipped to do.  Likewise, our efforts at poverty reduction are doomed to failure if USAID does not build its own capacity to help local partners transform power dynamics.  A major investment of time and resources will be required to shift the culture as well as the build the knowledge, skills, tools, and incentives to make the United States as effective at peacemaking as we are at warmaking.  Ultimately, though, that’s the only way that Diplomacy and Development will ever take their rightful place as full partners at the national security table.

    Diana Ohlbaum is senior associate (nonresident) of the Project on Prosperity and Development at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.

    Commentary
    is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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Diana L. Ohlbaum