Security Studies Program Wednesday Seminar
National Security and Poverty Alleviation as Drivers of U.S. Foreign Policy: Lessons from Afghanistan
Director, Aid Effectiveness Team, OXFAM America
October 17, 2007
- Aid effectiveness is a new initiative at OXFAM, focusing on reforming U.S. foreign assistance over the next several years.
- Why Now? Why OXFAM?
- The aid machine is not living up to its potential.
- There have been seven efforts to reform foreign aid since 1961; all have failed.
- The opportunity may lie with the next administration – we may be seeing the coming together of political and intellectual forces, similar to the 1960s.
- Currently the conversation is intellectual, and OXFAM's concern is that these discussions are not sufficiently grounded in reality.
- The Relationship Between Aid and National Security: Three Views in OXFAM
- One view: Unless the two are connected, the aid effectiveness discussion is irrelevant.
- Another view: The U.S. needs to move beyond security concerns – the “politics of fear.” Americans should lend aid because we want to be good global citizens, not because it is in our national interest.
- A moderate view: Too much attention goes to short-term national security concerns, but long-term development done the right way can build a safer world for all.
- Security Paradox: When aid focuses on achieving short-term security goals at the expense of the longer-term fight against poverty, aid is used less effectively, which makes the world less secure for all.
- Embodied in the current situation: Security concerns drive most foreign aid, which leads to an imbalance favoring short-term goals, which leads to the “price of myopia.”
- The fact that security concerns drive aid is seen in:
- Doctrine: “Phase 0” operations (actions the military may need to take in order not to get to engagement in conflict)
- Strategy: The new counterinsurgency manual asserts that development is fundamental to keeping public support.
- Organization: AFRICOM
- Application: Military Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan
- Imbalance toward short term goals is seen in:
- Authority: Department of Defense has grown in power while Department of State and USAID are in disarray.
- Policy: The Partner Vetting System, that requires every U.S.-funded NGO to vet its staff against terror watch lists. (The concern is that this may turn NGOs into intelligence gatherers.)
- Reflections on the Military's Humanitarian Role in Afghanistan
- The military perspective is that there are important security benefits to doing humanitarian work themselves. Eventually people will want foreign troops to go home; military humanitarian work will buy time, enabling other things that need to happen.
- OXFAM disagrees: in terms of the military's proper role, short-term “hearts and minds” work is less important than creating a secure environment.
- The Price of Myopia: increasingly polarized views of the US – either as a friend or as a foe
- The solution may lie in a more hermeneutic view of foreign aid. For each aid grant, there is a giver, a receiver and a form of aid. We will not really understand how to best give aid unless we understand each element of this “hermeneutic circle.”
- For instance, we cannot believe that aid is going to be received as we intended. Afghanistan is a case in point.
- When the U.S. first went in, Afghanis were paranoid about “help” – such “help” had been given by the British and the Soviets. They were not going to take us at our word. But Afghanis are notoriously polite, so the U.S. thought it was making headway.
- The one thing the Taliban brought was security. The U.S. promised broader long-term security and political/economic openness. Many Afghanis thought that the political/economic openness was great, but did not perceive greater security. Provincial Reconstruction Teams were there for reconstruction, not security; they were not permitted to engage warlords/drug lords. A conception arose that the U.S. was really building American security.
- There was heavy international pressure on the U.S. for successful elections, but surveys in 2004 showed Afghanis did not care about this issue. They cared about jobs and security. Only recently have Americans realized that sub-national issues will determine Afghani support (all politics is local).
- The U.S. could not give money to the Afghani Ministry of Education, so it gave money to contractors instead, and Provincial Reconstruction Teams also built schools. But a higher percentage of PRT/contractor schools were burned than Ministry of Education schools.
- Americans hold a “narcissism of minor difference,” believing Afghanis will differentiate between Enduring Freedom soldiers, PRT soldiers, NGO staff, contractors, etc. They do not. Therefore it matters what all the actors are doing in order to project a certain image.
- The Control Paradox: The more that policymakers aim to control U.S. foreign aid to make it more effective, the less effective it becomes.
- Foreign Assistance Act has grown to 2,000 pages
- The foreign aid organizational structure is so convoluted that even the think tanks cannot agree on what composes it.
- To get from myopic altruism to effective long-term development, real state and citizen ownership will be required
- Ideally a state produces a “virtuous circle”: Citizens enter formal economy...they get income and pay taxes...the state creates an enabling environment for equitable growth
- But aid provides unearned benefits for states and civilians. Citizens do not care what the state does; it is not their money.
- Under a citizen and state ownership model of foreign aid, the U.S. would…
- Increase budget support to foreign governments (while demanding transparency). Of 25 major donors, US gives the least (4%).
- Change the Congressional appropriations process to create multi-year predictability for client states. 50% of the $20B spent by the U.S. on Afghanistan has been on reconstruction, but we were only able to promise about $250M upfront.
- Reduce the bureaucratic demands on client states associated with U.S. aid
- Become more context- and demand-driven: There is a danger of centralizing power in Washington. USAID contact managers do not have time to spend in the field, because they are managing five times more money than they should be.
- Empower the Millennium Challenge Commission: Only 50% of funds can now be committed, which discourages major infrastructure projects.
- By January 20, 2009, OXFAM wants:
- Development Level Authority for foreign assistance
- A new Foreign Assistance Act
- A new mechanism for appropriating overseas development assistance
- A rebuilt USAID or the creation of a new agency
Q. Some people do not think it is a great idea to define insecurity anywhere as insecurity everywhere.
A. Our position is that giving foreign aid is the right thing to do, and that by the way it will have a positive impact on security.
Q. Why is the time ripe now? A new administration could think this is a great idea, but the Congressional committee structure will not change.
A. Saying that this is a better moment than we have had in 40 years is not saying a lot. But there is some comparative room for hope. Department of Defense people want to see reform; Robert Gates is on the record saying it is hard for the department to do its job with State/USAID as weak as they are. Also, while there is not a strong set of champions in Congress for reform, nor are there powerful spokespersons against it. On this issue, there is almost a mathematical correlation between presidential will and forward motion. Forward motion will be less likely with a Republican, and most likely with Edwards and to a lesser extent Obama. Clinton is known as being pro-development, though she has kept quiet.
Q. Do the remedies match the diagnosis? Many problems identified are local, but policy prescriptions are focused on the capitals.
A. When USAID staffers know the context, know the language and are given the authority, there are powerful results.
Q. What are the risks to throwing out the bathwater and starting fresh?
A. People are most ambitious about Foreign Assistance Act. A new development agency will probably never be formed, so we will have to focus on fixing what is already there.
Q. Any comments about the Iranian role in Afghanistan?
A. While we were doing strategic planning in Kabul in 2003, Iran was building a road in Harat that was finished by 2003. When they talk about donors, people start and finish sentences with Iranians. That said, there are age-old ethnic suspicions. Interestingly, there is an analogous situation with the Pakistanis and the Pashtuns.
Q. Is there any component in the equation that incorporates the feedback from the ground, versus trusting development professionals?
A. Lots of NGOs are not particularly good at this. Trying to understand exactly what is going on and relying on the first thing you are told is tough, especially in “storytelling cultures” such as Afghanistan. OXFAM prides itself on finding people politically savvy in their own environments.
Q. Economic support funds are used to shore up shaky regimes, rewarding supporting allies. Is the framework you propose a solely developmental foreign assistance program? Where would these other functions sit?
A. Foreign aid could never be purely developmental. Most foreign aid is for pure security motivations (Egypt, Israel). Our argument is that if the U.S. is to recover its global standing as the shining light for development, it had better do development well. And that will have positive security consequences.
Q. In Afghanistan, failure is over-determined – far too many causes could be at work. Where has US aid worked? What are the political circumstances that allow it to work?
A. The U.S. has done lots of good things, often when it was bucking the machine. In winter 2005, there was an electricity shortage in Kabul and Kandahar. USAID had told the Afghani government six months earlier to wean itself off dependence on American money for generators. But when Karzai turned to USAID that winter, USAID agreed to fund generators – arguing that our broader project is strengthening Karzai, which means keeping the lights on. USAID snuck the money to Karzai and he was able to take credit for it. Afterward, U.S. government officials saw the need for a long-term solution. The result: major infrastructure projects. So there are positive benefits to sticking to your strategic guns.
Q. You seemed to skip from humanitarian assistance to building security. What about the difference between humanitarian aid and development aid? Humanitarian assistance is the immediate assurance of daily necessities. Development, on the other hand, can be broadly defined as increasing per capita income. Hence development would be very different from humanitarian aid.
A. The F proposal (foreign aid) suggests moving from an “accounts” structure to a country-driven model. It would allow humanitarian contexts and Millennium Challenge Commission contexts. But the current structure prevents this shift.
Rapporteur: Nathan Black
back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Fall 2007