Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Stability Operations and Development in a New Era: Making the Whole of Government Approach Work

Creative Associates and Lockheed Martin put together a great conference on stability operations and foreign assistance reform - two conversations that need to be drawn together more. Couldn't stay for the whole thing, but the first panel with John Nagl, Andrew Natsios and other industry luminaries was great stuff.

I was excited to see development and foreign assistance reform addressed as part of a single conversation, but disappointed by our inability to really draw the connections in a substantive way. It's not enough to argue that effective foreign assistance is important 1) for effective public diplomacy or 2) addressing underlying grievances that anger foreign populations or 3) building indigenous state capacity to address internal threats. The conversation needs to move beyond these truisms and begin to address what these intermediate goals mean for the "how" of foreign assistance.

The US continues to execute foreign assistance by creating delivery systems (for food, education, medical supplies, etc.) that run parallel to the partner government's systems. By creating parallel systems we 1) forgo the opportunity to build the partner government's legitimacy and 2) undermine support within the partner government to fund delivery of services. Point (1) undermines the democratic relationship between government and governed, generating a charity dependent rentier state. Point (2) generates long term dependency between recipient and donor (Liberia's NGO circus). Yes there are a large number of countries where service delivery and not institution building needs to be the priority, but to quote Gen. Petraeus, "Tell me how this ends?"

Note that none of the above addressed the question of efficacy - Andrew Natsios and the Center for Global Development address that issue more eloquently than I could hope to. In order to coherently address the ways we seek our strategic ends, we need a clear assessment of the means available to us.

More than anything else we need strong leadership from the White House and Sec. Clinton on foreign assistance reform. Congress can't do this on its own.

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