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The View from Here: Development: One of the three D’s in our government’s foreign policy

Mike Gangwer Published on 11 November 2010

The word development is in the news. As one of the three “D” words (the others are defense and diplomacy) that describe our U.S. government’s foreign policy, the term may be defined as the long-term strategic effort at helping failed or failing states (countries).

The term “helping” means many things. The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, has a rich history of working in dozens of countries overseas. Some of this effort is simply humanitarian aid, like that given to Haiti following the earthquake there on January 12, 2010. In other countries the effort is much more long-term, like several in South America.

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At a recent speech at the United Nations, President Obama spoke to the need for development as a national security component. His speech may be found here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/09/23/remarks-president-united-nations-general-assembly

So important is international development to our own country that USAID has been elevated to a national security member status. And for those of us in the Civilian Response Corps as part of the State Department’s Coordinator of Reconstruction and Stabilization, the effort at international development is squarely in our lane.

I will, in the remainder of this article, write an answer to the question, “Why is this important?” Often, as I have worked overseas and described my work, someone will ask, “So what?” So with these two questions before us, here are my observations and comments.

We may first of all, make the case that development can be manifest in many forms. For instance, development may be necessary to help a civil society grow enough food so the society is food secure. Any civil society that shifts to a food insecurity state from a secure state, irrespective of the reason, is a driver of conflict. These may be civil or internal state wars brought on by fighting over resources. Water is the primary one. As an example, India, with over a billion people, is relatively food secure, and this security is based upon a well-developed irrigated agricultural system. Yet the long-term projections of water use as a function of water recharge rates indicate clearly that the water consumption is exceeding the rate at which water is stored as groundwater.

One planning aspect of such a potential conflict is we have time to prepare, and this is clearly the work of development. We upgrade the irrigation infrastructure, improve irrigation water management technology/practices, and shift to an agronomic platform of crop rotation with an emphasis on higher-value food crops rather than just cereals.

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As agriculturalists, the status of food security is certainly dynamic, so we, as part of our mission, examine the factors of inputs and outputs, and then predicting the severity and consequences of food insecurity. A society at risk can become home to insurgents that would seek to disrupt governments and instill fear. Further, such destabilization can cause ill-will towards the U.S. government, and thus begin the risk of terrorism activity in the region or on our own soil.

We know that food security is an important measurement of any civil society. The inverse of food security is a foundational concern. People must have access to food, water, shelter, and security, and then upon these a civil society is built. A failed or failing state has one or more of these missing.

Our foreign policy is based on defense as well, and this means having well-equipped armed forces that are capable of expeditionary missions. Yet we use diplomacy and development as a pre-emptive step towards stabilization. By almost any level of understanding, the effort of diplomacy and development is far less costly, both in terms of human lives and federal cost, than the military step of campaign design and implementation.

Yet in the words of President Obama, there is something else present, and that is that the development well does have a bottom. Based largely on the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are still ongoing efforts, the U.S. government must be more selective. We cannot be all things in all places. Our guidance needs to be clearly structured towards helping those that help themselves; along with developing good leadership, governance, justice, and an entire range of market-based business elements.

We do not have the money to put in poorly-structured programs that end up facilitating illegal activity that could threaten our best interests. Our goal should be development that helps a government build its own capacity, including a public sector based on respect and service, providing the services of banking, encouraging private investment, business security, and a revenue system to pay for these. This work is not done in the next one or two years. In fact, sometimes the greatest constraint is weak or poorly-performing leadership; the role of leadership change is a local one and not driven completely by foreign diplomats.

The State Department uses the term “smart power”. The term is best described as using the right tools of the “3D” pillar approach. What we are doing in the development realm is the same approach ... a better design and planning effort at deciding when and where to commit our resources to help reconstruct and stabilize a failed or failing state. And our policy is built upon helping these states, these countries, and these societies once again join the international community of peoples living productive lives, with the essentials of society in place for the long term.

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These are not easy; if so, they would already be done. The United States has a great history of helping societies in close and far-away lands. Most of this help has been well-received and millions of lives have been improved. The efforts of non-government organizations and faith-based organizations, as well as the government, have all been enormously generous. There are other cases when we have not helped as well, and self-reflection is required to point us down a different path.

I am now an expeditionary agricultural scientist, and carry the title of senior agricultural adviser for the Civilian Response Corps. While the State Department writes my paycheck as a diplomat, the USDA administers my career in development. As I have often written in these columns over the years, I am also a public servant, and go in service of my country.

I am now assigned to Pakistan. In the coming months or perhaps years, I will again introduce you to another country. Why Pakistan? The recent flood events have destroyed much of the crop land and productive watershed ... I will help design the long-term strategic plan for helping this country, the government of Pakistan and the farmers in the rural provinces, avoid food insecurity for the civil society.

Therefore, we seek to mitigate the potential driver of conflict using development. I am not writing here about humanitarian efforts that are currently underway. Instead, if we ask the question, “What comes next?” ... my job will be helping answer this question. PD

  • Mike Gangwer

  • Agricultural Scientist
  • USDA-NRCS
  • Email Mike Gangwer

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