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Foreign Policy in 3D

2010 May 24

glasses_1__36046.jpgIn a speech earlier this year the Secretary of State Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton talked about the view of the Obama administration on development and aid (full transcript).

In her view, development is one of the three components of a 3D foreign policy made of the three axis Diplomacy, Defense and Development. The juxtaposition of the concept of defense and development might have caused the same chemical reactions in your brain as it did in mine. You might think that “Shouldn’t development be primarily in the interest of developing countries? How can it be associated with defense which comes into play mainly when there are conflicting interests?”

Let’s be realistic. Development, as it is carried on by development agencies, IS a component of foreign policy. Should we really expect leading nations, not only the US, to give away millions every year out of pure altruism? Hillary fails to mentions obvious trade off among the 3D and, William Easterly underlies (here) that she denies the very existence of such trade offs for a mere political calculation, to make everybody happy. To clarify further, it is a message meant to convince different categories of American voters, certainly not to encourage the poor people of the world.

A positive note. Hillary does mention that it is important that a plurality of actors are engaged in “long term endeavor” that development represents. NGOs, foundations, multilateral organizations, government bodies and private business. She also mentions that “Aid chases need; investment chases opportunity” thus the need to promote investments. Acumen Fund is among the organizations mentioned and praised for its innovative approach combining capitalism and philanthropy. Such a remark denotes attention to the evolving landscape of development and a certain degree of far-sightedness.

Unfortunately, the speech continues focusing on the role of USAID, the American aid agency, in development. Restructuring, focusing and expanding are the key words. The importance of aid, despite all its failures, is at the centre of the speech. But as she noted aid is a part of foreign policy, no wonder then she did not even mention the idea of scaling down aid in any remote distant future. Closing down should be the final target of every developing agency but clearly this is not a target of any developed nation. So at least let’s be realistic: aid is an instrument of foreign policy of developed nation that will be used to defend their interests, not those of the beneficiaries.

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This is another reason why it is worth imagining a world without aid, where poor nations can advance their own agendas in their own interest.Why was Hillary insisting so much on aid if she just said that it chases need? I guess that as a Secretary of State she is fitting in her role. She can not really be blamed for being a smart politician.

I do believe that international solidarity is an important constituent of a globalized world. Compassion toward those in need should never be forgone for pure, crude profit. Situations like natural disasters make this solidarity even more important.

However, aid agencies like USAID demonstrate their low capability to cope even with cases where help is clearly needed. Just look at the procurement policy of USAID to have an idea of the causes and effect of the institutional arrangements of aid agencies (see post Disastrous organizations in disaster response ).

The failure of aid is both ideological, since it is an instrument of foreign policy of developed nations, and operational, when their institutional arrangements prevent them from helping those in most need. It is time to imagine new way through.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. December 17, 2010

    great post, thanks for sharing

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