Hillary Clinton on new US development policy

Development Policy11 Jan 2010Frans Bieckmann

Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dedicated an entire speech to development policy. She called it a ‘central pillar’ of US foreign policy. ‘We cannot stop terrorism or defeat the ideologies of violent extremism when hundreds of millions of young people see a future with no jobs, no hope and no way ever to catch up to the developed world’, Clinton said. ‘We cannot build a stable global economy when hundreds of millions of workers and families find themselves on the wrong side of globalization, cut off from markets and out of reach of modern technologies.’

The speech was organized by the Center for Global Development in Washington, a progressive think tank that also publishes the annual Commitment to Development Index. Clinton said she had postponed her speech for some months so that it would coincide with the appointment of Mr Raj Sjah as the new head of USAID, the US aid department (she said it was time to ‘rebuild USAID into the world’s premier development agency’).

The ‘modernization of aid’ that Clinton announced seems, at least from listening to the rhetoric, very much in line with what the more progressive donors in Europe have been practising – or at least preaching – for the last couple of years. Although at the same time, as in other countries, the word ‘modernization’ hid exactly what the direction of American development policy is going to be. William Easterly wrote a killer comment, Tower of Babble, denouncing the inconsistencies and lack of priority in Clinton’s speech. In the words of Paul O’Brien from Oxfam America, ‘the legacy of this speech may not be her big lists of priorities, but her reminder to all of us that development is full of complexity, pain and gritty truths’.

Another aspect of Clinton’s speech is also familiar to Dutch development watchers. This new US development policy seems part of the American move towards a ‘3 Ds’ approach: Development, Diplomacy, Defense. ‘Development was once the province of humanitarians, charities, and governments looking to gain allies in global struggles. Today, it is a strategic, economic and moral imperative – as central to advancing American interests and solving global problems as diplomacy and defense.’

However, a little suspicion is in place here because, in the phrasing Hillary Clinton used, it seems that development policy is a tool, an instrument to reach other objectives. This may not be a problem when there is a ‘win-win situation’, as is often argued: while bringing the people of poor countries a better future, at the same time international stability is strengthened and international trade boosted. Apart from the fact that there is almost never an ‘equal’ win-win, it really makes a difference whether the starting point of your 3D policies is development, or whether it is fighting terrorism. In the latter case, development must help with ‘winning the hearts and minds of the people’ in a counter-insurgency war against those that threaten Western dominance: give the people some sweets and they will help you fight the enemy (see also, in Dutch, an opinion-editorial piece we wrote some years ago about Dutch policies about Afghanistan).

The writing on the wall may be the analysis that was made by Stars and Stripes, a blog directed at the military community. ‘Clinton took the podium to defend the purpose of development, and its new role as a tool for helping achieve security objectives.’ After citing some parts of the Clinton speech, the blog asked: ‘Got that, NGO workers?’ and complained that ‘for several years, Secretary Gates and other defense leaders have called for greater civilian resources to achieve “whole of government” US counter-insurgency goals’. To end hopefully, it says ‘a new day, indeed. We’ll see if Washington puts its money where its mouth is when the FY2011 budget request is release in the next few weeks’.

Clinton seemed aware of the criticism that development would be used for security policy when she stated that integrating the three Ds would not mean using development for short-term objectives. Instead, she said ‘what we will do is leverage the expertise of our diplomats and our military on behalf of development, and vice versa. The three Ds must be mutually reinforcing’.

Despite the lack of clarity about the 3D policy and the lack of clear choices, the vision Clinton exposed on January 6 is nevertheless an important step forward. Particularly when bearing in mind that US development policy under George W. Bush lagged behind dramatically, not only in financial terms – although no sign of a higher percentage of GNP being spent on ODA in Clinton’s speech – but even more so in terms of the latest international insights in the development community.

Some more interesting elements of Clinton’s speech:

  • ‘Partnership instead of patronage’. Of course, everybody adheres to the political correctness of ‘ownership’ and ‘partnership’. But the devil again lies in the detail that Clinton added: partnership only with those countries that practise good governance and have sound economic policies.
  • Very important: the US wants to put women at the centre of its development policy. Read Clinton’s words: ‘Well, you know the proverb, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime”? Well, if you teach a woman to fish, she’ll feed the whole village’.
  • Missing: any link with climate or environmental policy, a global green deal or an alternative energy policy.
  • Praise from Clinton for the PEPFAR initiative for AIDS medicines that Obama’s predecessor Bush started.
  • Praise also for Bush’s Millennium Challenge Corporation, which gives grants to countries with concrete plans for good governance and fighting corruption.

The first comments on the internet ranged from very positive (Nicholas Kristof), moderately positive (Paul O’Brien and Stars and Stripes), to very negative (Easterly).

See here for a full transcription of the speech and subsequent Q&A. And click here for a video of the one-hour plus event in Washington.