Monday, December 26, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

The reorganization of U.S. foreign aid

Over the past few weeks there have been a trickle of stories coming out about a reorganization of U.S. foreign aid policies.

For example, there's Caroline Daniel and Guy Dinmore's Financial Times piece from December 11th:

President George W. Bush on Wednesday announced that the State Department would lead all US post-conflict reconstruction, a move that supersedes the controversial decision to give that task to the Pentagon in Iraq following the 2003 invasion....

The presidential directive, issued this month but announced yesterday, will also reinforce the political power of the State Department’s office of reconstruction and stabilisation, with a mission to anticipate state failures, prevent conflict and lead the co-ordination of post-war efforts.

Carlos Pascual, the senior State Department official heading that office, said it was “important to get on paper” that the secretary of state would be in charge of future post-war reconstruction policies and planning.

The 2003 decision to hand control of the reconstruction to the Pentagon has been widely criticised and led to a degree of inter-agency friction. State Department experts who had planned for the post-war period were pushed aside by Pentagon officials, including defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who strongly resisted the notion of nation-building.

A former senior official involved in what he called the “chaos” of post-war reconstruction efforts in Iraq said yesterday’s announcement also affirmed the growing power and influence of Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state.

Then there's this write-up of an FT interview with outgoing USAID head Andrew Natsios:
The US Agency for International Development will unveil early next year a comprehensive strategy for improving democracy and governance in developing countries.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Andrew Natsios, the USAID administrator who steps down at the beginning of next year, said the democracy strategy was a key milestone in the re-orientation of US aid programmes to focus on issues of effective governance alongside traditional development projects

Mr Natsios also confirmed that the administration was drawing up proposals for a broader overhaul of the organisation of US foreign aid, but would not discuss details, saying some of the final decisions had yet to be made.

He said there were structural issues that needed to be addressed, in particular the fragmentation of responsibility for development programmes across different departments and agencies in the US government. “There are problems that need to be addressed for the protection of the president’s legacy on foreign aid.”

With the Bush administration’s commitment to spreading democracy and repairing failed states that might harbour terrorists, foreign aid has become an increasingly critical part of the overall US national security strategy. Since 2000, the US aid budget has doubled from $10bn to more than $20bn this year.

I'm not sure how far the Bush administation is going to get in its reorganization, but the proposals raise an interesting question -- should the primary focus of U.S. foreign aid be on reconstruction and democratization? One could argue that this leaves out a whole lot of other aims -- literacy, disease prevention, and economic development, for starters. One could also argue, however, that reconstruction and democratization are prerequisites for the other stated aims of foreign aid. One could also argue, however, that democratization is the result and not the cause of those other goals.

Whenever you have a chicken-egg problem like achieving multiple development goals, it strikes me as wrong-headed to put all of your resources in one half of the equation. If the administration's proposal is to create such a balance, fine with me. If the idea is to make reconstruction and democratization the sole aim of foreign aid, though, then I'm not sure it's such a hot idea.

One final bureaucratic thought. The attempt to create logistical capabilities for aid and reconstruction within the State Department would have a significant effect on the traditional rivalry between State and Defense. The latter has always had an edge in terms of capabilities and resources. If State develops its own parallel means to deliver man and material somewhere, one of DoD's unspoken advantages in bureaucratic politics will be dented just a little bit.

posted by Dan on 12.26.05 at 09:09 AM


A civilian version of the Transportation Command is not going to happen - too expensive, too little need. Most of the civilian efforts are being taken care of by the private market - efficiently so. But the idea of better coordination also in terms of logistics is definitely central to the necessary improvements of the whole reconstruction and relief sector.

posted by: Henrik on 12.26.05 at 09:09 AM [permalink]

The very little I've actually seen directly regarding foreign aid suggests to me that this measure may actually be too little.

Humanitarian aid -- that is, food, help in purchasing food, medicine, and the like -- and economic development projects seem, to a casual observer, to have had the perverse effect of strengthening tyrannies and encouraging random fractionalization. When the money isn't immediately redirected into the elite subeconomy, it serves to relieve the Powers that Be from actually doing their jobs, most especially from properly allocating resources. Since the resources to keep the most intractable problems quiescent come from elsewhere, there's no reason for the oligarchs to defer their vacations in Cannes.

I don't know what the solution is. But (e.g.) if we feed Mugabe's people, he has no incentive to modify the disastrous measures he's taken. The end result is to subsidize bad governance, and that isn't good for anyone but the oligarchs who benefit directly.


posted by: Ric Locke on 12.26.05 at 09:09 AM [permalink]

Oh, and --

Additional force for the State Department could probably be best done in cooperation with our allies, especially the French, who have great expertise in that area.

We could call the result Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne.


posted by: Ric Locke on 12.26.05 at 09:09 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?