Articles

Below are articles on development happenings, issues, etc. If you have articles that you believe would be of general interest to the UAA membership, pleaseNew submit them here.

  • New! A Policymaker’s Guide to the Global Fragility Act (By Erol Yayboke, Daphne McCurdy, Annie Pforzheimer and Janina Staguhn, May 2021)
    • For too long, U.S. foreign policy has been reactive to violent conflict, deploying troops and civilians at great cost. It is time to refocus on preventing violent conflict and mitigating the adverse effects of fragility. Failure to do so could result in an even more chaotic world and hamper the Biden administration’s priorities of renewing democracy, managing the relationship with China and other geostrategic competitors, and addressing climate change.
    • The Global Fragility Act (GFA) is a real opportunity for the United States to shift how it approaches violent conflict prevention and mitigation in direct service of the Biden-Harris administration’s foreign policy objectives.  Such a shift is critical to achieving these objectives.
    • Seizing the opportunity presented by the GFA will require swift action, high-level Washington- and field-based leadership and reform, as well as congressional support and oversight.
  • New! Intellectual property restrictions hamper the fight against COVID-19 (By J. Brian Atwood, May 4, 2021) — The coronavirus-related disaster in India has reawakened Americans to the moral and practical demands of humanitarianism, the desire to provide relief for people suffering from disease, natural disasters, or violent conflict. President Biden has announced that the U.S. will deliver more than $100 million in essential supplies in the coming weeks. He is responding not only to the well-reported tragedy, but also to the heartfelt demands of the American people.The president’s gesture reflects a longstanding American humanitarian impulse to provide relief and save lives. It is an admirable trait and one that projects national values. That is not to suggest that benefits will not accrue to the United States. Preventing new variants of COVID-19 from reaching our shores is one and the soft power derived from goodwill is another.Humanitarianism, however, occasionally comes up against policy roadblocks of which the American people may be unaware. The COVID pandemic has exposed one very serious deficiency in our global response: the limits created by the set of international laws designed to protect intellectual property (IP).
  • New! Making COVID-19 Aid Effective by Doubling Down on USAID Reforms (Brookings by George Ingram and Justin Fugle, May 3, 2021) —The Senate’s bipartisan confirmation of Ambassador Samantha Power as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has reenergized the agency and the entire development community. While the mission of USAID has notionally been valued alongside defense and diplomacy as contributing to national security, this is the first administration to grant the U.S. development leader a permanent seat on the National Security Council. It is a critical recognition that the perspectives of both USAID and the State Department are essential and distinct enough that both voices must be heard to optimize policymaking.  Along with overseeing USAID’s $35 billion annual budget, a new and daunting challenge and exciting opportunity facing Administrator Power and her USAID colleagues is implementing some $5 billion for USAID’s global COVID-19 response. In approving that funding, Congress granted the State Department and USAID an unusual degree of flexibility—both by avoiding narrow funding categories and legislative directives and by providing greater authority to transfer funds between accounts. This should allow development professionals closer to the ground to decide how and where the funds would be used most effectively and wider use of local organizations, procurement innovations such as co-creation, and the implementation reform of adaptive management. (Please read on this excellent article which emphasizes locally-led development, co-creation, adaptive management, and the arc of development effectiveness by clicking on the article title above.)
  • New! Time to Rethink Development Assistance in the Sahel (By American Diplomacy, Mark Wentling, May 2021) —The main assistance theme of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. embassies, other donors, and host government agencies in the impoverished Sahel Region of Africa has been focused for a decade on strengthening the resilience of rural households eking out a living on the edge of the Sahara Desert. More than 40 million people reside in this marginal arid geographic area, mostly pursuing subsistence agricultural and pastoral livelihoods. The countries most concerned by this effort to build rural resilience are Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.  USAID and other donors have provided hundreds of millions of dollars to fund resiliency activities in the Sahel. These costly endeavors have kept hundreds of thousands of desperately poor people from becoming poorer and enabled them to better withstand natural disasters, but they have not advanced their countries to a higher developmental stage. USAID and other major donors are thus confronted with cruel options.Does USAID continue spending its limited funding on keeping poor people from becoming poorer or does it invest in supporting activities that have the potential to lift the country’s development ranking? With assistance funding unlikely to be increased, USAID will be faced with making a choice: either it continues supporting resiliency and related activities or it switches its focus to supporting activities that enhance a country’s overall development status.  (This article focuses on the issues of persistent childhood malnutrition, climate change increasing the challenges, the need for competent governance, and the fact that resiliency is not enough.)
  • New! Civil society should anchor Biden’s democracy agenda in Africa (Brookings by Rebecca Rattner and Bjorn Whitmore, April 23, 2021) — Joe Biden has laid out a clear vision for a new foreign policy committed to reestablishing American leadership and reinitiating the push for global democracy. As the first president in decades to enter office with significant foreign policy experience, he has backed up this rhetoric by assembling a reliable leadership team and reaffirming his long-standing commitment to multilateralism, diplomacy, dignity, and human rights—traditional values that, in the current political climate, are refreshingly bold.  With growing young societies eager for more open government, but facing widespread democratic backsliding, sub-Saharan Africa represents an important place for Biden to put his foreign policy ambitions into practice. Despite a monumental list of priorities, Biden made time in his first 100 days to deliver a speech at the African Union Summit—a rarity for an American president. This promising overture must now be backed up by policies that reckon with the fundamental flaws in America’s long history of democratic advancement abroad in order to reimagine democracy building from the bottom up.America’s past democracy-building interventions in sub-Saharan Africa have often been marred by consistent and preventable shortcomings: choosing leaders, rather than supporting societies; short-term interventions that build a façade of democracy, rather than its foundations; and surface-level diplomatic efforts, rather than earnest partnership building. In Uganda, for instance, where January’s election saw rampant political oppression and violence, it was the U.S. that backed Museveni’s rise to power nearly four decades ago. More recently, billions spent on democracy building in South Sudan created a state still lacking in key infrastructure for democracy, such as legal institutions and access to education.  Although some efforts, such as initiatives to strengthen judiciaries and local governance, have shown promise, to truly reverse this trend Biden must recognize that democracy is a long-term project fundamentally based in the power, organization, and voice of the people. American policy should promote the leadership and empowerment of the robust network of community organizations, nonprofits, and individuals advocating for these causes in their own countries. From mobilizing rural communities to demand government services to taking on strategic human rights litigation and providing judicial trainings, sub-Saharan Africa’s rich civil society speaks to a clear desire for more participatory, open government.
  • New!  Harris moves forward with new Central America strategy (The Hill by Rafael Bernal, April 23, 2021) — The Biden administration’s policy toward Central America is starting to take shape as Vice President Harris takes the lead on a potentially treacherous portfolio that straddles diplomacy and migration.  Harris and other administration officials on Thursday laid out a new approach to the region that will try to tackle both the challenges created by Central American governments and why so many of their citizens are deciding to make the trek to the U.S.  “The bottom line is that this initiative, from my perspective, must be effective and relevant to the underlying issue, which is addressing the acute and the root causes of migration away from that region,” Harris told a group of philanthropists working in the region.President Biden last month appointed Harris as the administration’s point person on regional migration. Since then, she has been in close contact with top Mexican and Guatemalan officials and on Wednesday announced plans to visit Guatemala and meet with President Alejandro Giammattei.  Migration from the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — is driven by a wide range of reasons, ranging from systemic corruption and political oppression to near-famine and the aftermath of tropical hurricanes.  The administration’s strategy is an attempt to prioritize which to address in the short and long term by separating them into acute issues, like natural disasters, and chronic problems, like corruption.  Ricardo Zúñiga, the State Department special envoy for the Northern Triangle, told reporters Thursday that the administration’s ultimate goal is to “create enabling conditions that allow for these societies to thrive.”  “When something goes wrong in Central America, we feel it in the United States,” said Zúñiga. “We are very connected as societies. The truth is, we are very closely linked.”Advocates and experts in the region say that while many in Central America consider migration to the United States as an option, there are often specific events that prompt an individual or a family to relocate.  Those are the acute causes the Biden administration is zeroing in on as opportunities for short-term success in stemming the level of migration that’s created a crisis at the U.S. southern border.
  • New!  Biden Administration Seeking $300 Million in Aid to Afghanistan (VOA News, April 21, 2021)–U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that the Biden administration is working with Congress to provide nearly $300 million in additional aid for Afghanistan in 2021.  “The funding will be targeted at sustaining and building on the gains of the past 20 years by improving access to essential services for Afghan citizens, promoting economic growth, fighting corruption and the narcotics trade, improving health and education service delivery, supporting women’s empowerment, enhancing conflict resolution mechanisms, and bolstering Afghan civil society and independent media,” Blinken said in a statement.
    The move comes as the United States and NATO have announced they are withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan. President Joe Biden has said U.S. military forces will be out of the country by Sept. 11.  Blinken made a  surprise visit to Afghanistan last week to reassure officials there that Washington would still be committed to the country, where U.S. troops have been stationed since 2001 following the September 11 attacks when terrorists flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, outside Washington. Another hijacked plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
    When Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, was in office, the U.S. reached an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. forces by May 1. Biden’s pushing back the deadline angered the insurgent group, which said the move was a violation of the agreement.
    Over the course of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, more than 2,200 U.S. troops have been killed and 20,000 wounded. It is estimated that the U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion on the war, America’s longest.  According to the World Bank, more than half of Afghans live on less than $1.90 a day. It is also considered one of the worst countries for women’s rights, according to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.
  • New!  A global tax on corporations must consider developing nations (The Hill by J.Brian Atwood, March 24, 2021) As the global economy begins to emerge from the effects of a pandemic the search is on for tax revenues that will support the rebuilding process. One area of focus is the system for taxing multinational corporations, currently a mishmash of fuzzy guidelines, abuse and negative competition.  Last week in Washington, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen took a second important step toward rationalizing and stabilizing the international taxation system. Having already agreed to drop U.S. objections to taxing digital transactions where profits are made (a European effort to tax Silicon Valley companies for profits made in the EU),  she announced support for a “global minimum tax on multinationals,” a plan being negotiated under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  Calling the competition to attract multinationals by lowering their tax burden “a destructive global race to the bottom…” Yellen signaled a willingness to reach an agreement that would reach beyond the OECD to more than 140 countries.A key part of the OECD negotiation reportedly would set the minimum tax floor at 12 percent of a company’s profit margin. The US recently lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and the Biden administration is now considering raising that rate slightly.  However, given the many loopholes in the global system the real rate is much lower. The issue here is tax avoidance and the opportunities have been growing despite soft law guidelines and national efforts to capture tax resources from global companies.   “Transfer pricing” rules designed by OECD to govern transactions within and between enterprises under common ownership have limited opportunities to distort taxable income. However, that hasn’t closed all the loopholes and many corporations have managed to avoid paying anywhere near the official percentage rate. Working out how a minimum rate would affect trade and investment in individual OECD countries will be complex and national parliaments will quite naturally focus on the benefits and debits that will affect their home constituencies.The first step will be reaching agreement among the strongest global economies, the 37 members of the OECD plus China, India and the rest of the G-20. But if a way can be found to smooth out the inequities among this disparate grouping, what then will be the impact on the middle income and poorest economies? Such an endeavor will require a detailed understanding of the reach of multinational corporations, their continuous search for tax havens and supply chains that produce adequate quality at the lowest wage. Developing nations that desperately need employment opportunities find themselves competing by keeping their workers’ wages and benefits low in another, even more debilitating, race to the bottom. (Click here to continue the article.)
  • New!  What would Samantha Power’s NSC role mean for USAID?(Devex by Michael Igoe, March 19, 2021)–Samantha Power, U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development, will finally have her confirmation hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week — more than two months after her nomination was first announced. Power is considered the highest-profile nominee to lead USAID, and will likely face difficult questions from lawmakers, given the prominent role she has played in Democratic foreign policy for years. In nominating her, Biden acknowledged Power’s unique standing — and signaled his administration’s emphasis on development — by announcing that the USAID administrator would have a seat on the National Security Council. U.S. development experts have largely welcomed this decision. But they also point out that it brings new challenges to an agency that has often operated on the margins of U.S. foreign policy.  Participation in the NSC is not new for USAID. Even while repeatedly proposing to slash USAID’s budget, former President Donald Trump established a formal role for the agency’s deputy administrator within the NSC’s deputies committee. Under Trump, the USAID administrator was invited to cabinet-level meetings — known as the “Principles Committee” — for discussions related to development and the Agency’s work.  A former senior USAID official, speaking on condition of anonymity to share sensitive information, told Devex that was part of the agreement that brought former USAID Administrator Mark Green to the agency.“She is already a respected member of this team, and so that means that [US]AID is going to start in this new permanent role with a very respected voice expressing the development point of view.”                              — George Ingram, senior fellow, Brookings Institution 
  • New!  Biden to restrict US aid to Central American governments, set new conditions for money(Los Angeles Times by Tracy Wilkinson, March 10, 2021) — Weeks after earmarking $4 billion in U.S. aid for Central America, the Biden administration is fine-tuning its plans and sharply limiting how much money will go directly to the governments of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, a senior administration official told the Los Angeles Times.  Roberta Jacobson, Biden’s senior official for southwest border affairs and an expert on immigration, said in an interview that the $4 billion will be subject to strict — but untested — conditions on recipients, based on measures of anticorruption efforts and good governance.  The adjustments follow a push by some lawmakers to place limits on the U.S. aid and warnings from foreign policy experts concerned that in the rush to stem illegal immigration, President Biden would go down the same path he followed as vice president, when U.S. assistance, with few effective strings attached, ended up empowering corrupt regimes.  Biden plans to ensure that as little aid as possible goes to the notoriously corrupt central governments of the three countries until he is satisfied criteria are met, Jacobson said. Goalposts include transparent accounting and proof of good governance, such as fair elections and respect for human rights, she added. The U.S. had long endorsed such goals in Central America, but they are difficult to quantify.  But the prospect of stricter accountability is panicking some of the Central American leaders who were hoping to remain on the receiving end of American assistance after four comfortable years under President Trump.Jacobson, a former ambassador to Mexico and assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said that instead of pouring most of the money into national treasuries, greater amounts will go to nongovernmental organizations and programs for single mothers, youth training and similar groups, “so that in the end, you are strengthening the societies and not enriching these governments.”  The shifting focus comes as Biden and others in his administration are realizing that Central America is in far worse shape than it was when they were last in charge, despite the 2015 U.S. injection of nearly $1 billion, which Biden oversaw as vice president.  “The president will be the first to admit he’s learned things,” said Jacobson, who is now part of the National Security Council. “He is fully prepared to do both the hard work of insisting on those conditions and commitments and is fully prepared to not convey funds if he doesn’t get what he thinks is necessary.” (…)
  • New!  Missing link: Can USAID unite budget and policy? (Devex by Michael Igoe, March 5, 2021) –The U.S. Agency for International Development has undertaken nearly all of the reforms included in the reorganization plan begun by former Administrator Mark Green, with one big exception: A proposal to create a new bureau meant to bring together USAID’s budget, policy, and program performance is still stuck in limbo.  As USAID’s other reorganization plans moved forward during former President Donald Trump’s administration, the proposed Bureau for Policy, Resources, and Performance was hung up on a technical issue. Members of the U.S. Congress, who must sign off on major changes such as the creation of a new bureau, believed the head of PRP ought to be a Senate-confirmed assistant administrator, while USAID had already used up its allotted number of Senate-confirmed positions.  That should be a relatively easy fix if President Joe Biden’s team — including Samantha Power, the nominee for USAID administrator — chooses to move forward with the previous administration’s proposed structure. What is less certain is whether the creation of a new bureau at USAID would get to the heart of long-standing challenges related to the agency’s budget authority, strategic planning, and independence from the Department of State.The proposed PRP Bureau is meant to consolidate foreign aid management responsibilities that are currently scattered among at least five different bureaus and offices. Advocates for the change see it as an important step toward building greater coherence among USAID’s strategies and policies, the resources it allocates to countries and programs, and the way it measures what those resources achieve.  “It makes eminent sense,” said Susan Reichle, president and CEO at the International Youth Foundation and former assistant administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning.  “By having these separate entities, with their own responsibilities and authorities, things just get slowed down,” Reichle said.A PRP Bureau, advocates say, would allow USAID to better align its country strategies and sectoral policies with the funding that lawmakers appropriate for the agency so that discussions about strategy are happening at the same time and place as discussions about resources.  Bringing those pieces together could also strengthen USAID’s policy, budget, and performance capabilities, putting the agency on stronger footing with the U.S. Congress and other executive agencies in conversations about programs and funding.  “PRP is really an effort to try, within the existing framework, to bring a certain level of budget autonomy back to AID, but also explicitly linking that with policy … and with performance,” said Conor Savoy, executive director at the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.  Some warn that while the new bureau might look good on paper — and might be an improvement over the current arrangement — it does not address some big underlying issues that have hindered USAID’s ability to think strategically, align resources with its plans, and then measure the performance of those resources in achieving them. (The article continues with a focus on avoiding State micromanagement of AID’s budget.) 
  • New!  USAID clarifies $42M Myanmar funding shift (Devex by Michael Igoe, February 19, 2021) —The U.S. Agency for International Development announced on Feb. 11 it would redirect $42.4 million in assistance to Myanmar after carrying out a review to determine whether any U.S. funding would likely benefit the military junta.  It was not immediately clear how USAID would determine which aspects of its work might benefit the government, especially since the agency does not provide direct budget support to Myanmar. So Devex sought clarification. The $42.4 million that is being redirected “includes funds that were intended to provide technical assistance, training, and capacity building to government ministries, departments, and commissions,” according to Pooja Jhunjhunwala, acting spokesperson at USAID.“USAID will cease activity components that risk benefitting or supporting the government, while redirecting program implementation to support civil society and advocacy organizations working on governance, human rights, and trafficking in persons,” Jhunjhunwala wrote to Devex.  The shift away from technical assistance, training and capacity building applies “except in some cases such as health and humanitarian assistance where limited coordination with or work through the government is necessary and unavoidable for life-saving activities,” she added.

    How it works USAID’s assistance to Myanmar is directed through implementing partners, including United Nation’s organizations, private sector contractors and grantees, and local and international nongovernmental organizations.  Asked how existing contracts and grants would accommodate the redirection of funding, Jhunjhunwala wrote, “USAID builds adaptive management approaches into its award instruments such that they can be adjusted as circumstances may dictate.

    Why it matters: The U.S. government is trying to apply pressure to Myanmar’s military while avoiding actions that could harm people in need. Since USAID typically works in close cooperation with its counterpart governments, that is a difficult balance to achieve.

  • New!  What new US Congressional leadership means for foreign aid (Devex by Adva Saldinger, February 18, 2021) —  The roster is finally set as a new cadre of U.S. congressional leaders has taken the helm of the committees with the greatest role in determining policy and providing funding to the United States’ development priorities.  In the Senate, some key leaders merely switched from ranking members to chairs of their respective committees. But in the House of Representatives, election losses and retirements have resulted in a new set of leaders.  The leadership changes across the board might not have a huge impact on development issues, many of which are traditionally bipartisan, said Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission, mobilization, and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services.While some development advocates hope the new leadership could lead to a more robust agenda, many caution that Congress and the Biden administration are contending with a number of domestic challenges — including, of course, COVID-19. So expectations should be kept realistic, they told Devex. Even when former President Barack Obama was elected with even bigger Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress, hopes of big action on these issues didn’t come to fruition, they said. Some of the policy priorities of the new leaders aren’t yet clear. So far, it seems Africa may be more of a priority in the House than before, global health security may be taken on in the Senate, and a lack of diversity in U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid may be examined by both. Devex spoke to a number of development experts and advocates about the new leadership.  Here’s a look at who’s in charge:

    Senate Committee on Foreign RelationsChairman: Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey

    Senate Committee on Appropriations, Chairman: Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont

    Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, Chairman: Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware

    House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Chairman: Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York

    House Committee on Appropriations, Chairwoman: Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut

    House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, Chairwoman: Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California

  • New!  Making USAID a premier development agency (Brookings by George Ingram, February 17, 2021) —  Two challenges uppermost on the agenda of the Biden administration, COVID-19 and climate change, are issues of both domestic and international import. The international elements—help for countries in mitigating the health and economic impact of COVID-19, ensuring access to vaccines, and preventing future pandemics, and help in mitigating and adapting to the impact of climate change—are inherently matters of global development. International progress is imperative for success on these issues domestically. Addressing the international aspects of these transnational crises must be grounded on sophisticated analysis and deployment of resources that strengthen countries long term while reducing the impact of the crises. This requires ensuring that the development mindset is given full consideration as the U.S. develops its strategy and policymaking, but security considerations and diplomatic short-term interests often hold sway, because the short-term political gains are more certain and apparent and the bureaucratic structure works to their advantages.  To elevate the U.S. contribution to global development, the authorities and capabilities of the lead development agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), must be strengthened and the agency assigned the prominence that has always been implied by the concept of national security resting on the three-legged stool of defense, diplomacy, and development. Further, USAID must adopt strategies and policies that reflect the priorities of the administration, relevant programs and responsibilities should be assigned to USAID, and the agency personnel system must be rebuilt.  (Read George’s excellent analysis of the challenge, the limits of historic and existing policies, policy recommendations, and conclusion.)
  • New!  Rep. Lee wants to bring greater racial equity to foreign aidBarbara Lee will be the first Black lawmaker to chair the panel that oversees foreign aid and the State Department (RollCall.com by Rachel Oswald, February 16, 2021) —  The new chairwoman of the House Appropriations foreign aid subcommittee is well known for her longtime advocacy for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs, women’s access to reproductive health care, and prescient and early opposition to expansive and indefinite military interventions after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.  Because of this track record, many progressive foreign policy groups have been eagerly anticipating California Democrat Barbara Lee’s ascension to the top of the State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee ever since the panel’s former chairwoman, New York Democrat Nita M. Lowey, announced in late 2019 that she would retire at the end of the 116th Congress.  The subcommittee is charged with allocating annual funding to the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other smaller aid and global affairs entities. In the current fiscal year, Congress appropriated a total of $55.5 billion for diplomacy and foreign aid programs.

“I’m really excited as the first African American woman to chair the subcommittee, I hope to really show the country how, once again, we can help make our country stronger in global affairs” by bringing “an added lens of equity, racial equity” to U.S. global engagement, she said.  Lee has been a longtime member of the subcommittee and had the most seniority on the panel after Lowey. She is generally regarded as more skeptical than Lowey about the benefits of continuing military assistance to some partners in the Middle East such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Lee has also been willing to sign statements criticizing Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank and treatment of the Palestinians. That has caused some consternation with more conservative pro-Israel lobbyist groups.

In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Lee said it was too early in her tenure as subcommittee head for her to have reached any major decisions about things she wants to change in the annual State-Foreign Operations bill, including security assistance programs, which received $9 billion in fiscal 2021.  (Read further for information on her views on the Pro-Choice Caucus, opposition to the Helms Amendment, repealing the Mexico City “global gag rule”, and more aid for the Caribbean countries.)

  • New! Rebuilding the State Department from the Ground Up (National Interest by Robert D. Kaplan, February 14, 2021) —  America’s standing in the world can now be improved in quite a number of ways from the top down. The government can be made to work. The State Department can be renewed. But this transition should begin from the ground up; it should start with the human element.It’s always a challenge for those who lead a great power like the United States to see the big picture. At the same time, they require access to in-depth, granular knowledge of every country in the world. It is a matter of looking up-and-out and at the same time down-and-in. Rebuilding the State Department is not only a matter of repairing the devastation of the Trump era with its politicization of everything at Foggy Bottom. It doesn’t only mean reducing the number of political appointees as ambassadors and replacing them with career diplomats, or even raising the department’s budget. It also means re-emphasizing the reporting function of the foreign service, and thereby underlining the development of area expertise. The Cold War-era Arabists and China hands might have gotten certain things wrong, but they represented the foreign service at its best: merging linguistic and cultural knowledge that made them indispensable to policymakers.  Good policy rests on understanding the material at hand in distant places: all the nuances and distinctions that, for example, separate one Baathist head of state in Syria from another in Iraq; that separate one Cold War-era proxy insurgency in Angola from another nearby in Mozambique; that separate the ideological evolution of Turkey’s current ruling Islamists from the generation of Turkish Islamists which preceded them. Henry Kissinger once told me that while he was the one to make the policy decisions, he could not have executed his diplomatic agreements in the Middle East without the advice and granular knowledge of the Arabists.

    I concentrate on the Cold War because it was an era when political differences within the State Department were muted compared to today when realists worked well with neoconservatives, and vice versa. It was an era when realism and human rights were not enemies, as humanitarian considerations fit more easily into calculations of national interest because the Cold War was a contest over which system of political valuesthe United States’ or the Sovietswas best. This ability to synthesize opposing positions constitutes an intellectual virtue that should not be lost.   Alas, the bane of Washington today has often been the tendency to see the world in opposing, unreconcilable archetypes: democracies and dictatorships, moderates and radicals, friendly states and enemy states. But it is the job of the foreign service to break down those formulaic categories and to depict a world of subtle shades: in which progress can be made even with adversaries because some dictatorships are enlightened and some democracies illiberal. The foreign service through its field reporting is the networker par excellence for the U.S. government. It creates opportunities where none have thought to have existed.   Having studied the foreign service for several years in the course of writing a biography of a State Department humanitarian, I can attest that what makes a good foreign service officer is sometimes not that much different from what makes a good newspaper correspondent: a willingness to escape from the embassy and explore beyond the capital city; to explore alone so as not to be influenced by groupthink; to listen for hours to people in the field without asking leading questions; to employ anxious foresight, that is to know the worst about a place so as to warn policymakers about avoidable bad outcomes; and most of all to avoid letting the perfect be the enemy of the good since policymaking is often a world of tough choices. In other words, it takes a highly unusual individual to become a successful foreign service officer. And that is the way it always should be. If we compromise on innate talent, the quality of the foreign service will suffer, no matter how much money is thrown at it.

  • New!  Four Ideas for Samantha Power’s USAID (Devex by Charles Kenney, February 1, 2021) — President Biden has nominated Ambassador Samantha Power to lead USAID. If confirmed, Power is likely to bring significant change and newfound focus to an agency in sore need of direction and leadership. A large and bipartisan group of supporters on and off Capitol Hill who back US assistance but believe it could do more will be rooting for her success. The agency is already engaged in vital development efforts covering global health and humanitarian assistance, but it could do more, especially in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.  

I have four suggestions for new or expanded directions and initiatives:

    1. A focus on sustainable industrial policy,
    2. Universal mobile Access,
    3. Responding to the threat of zoonotic disease, and
    4. Providing support to civil society to strike down laws that enforce discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation or religious belief worldwide.
  • New!  Foreign Aid Is Having a Reckoning–The Black Lives Matter movement has given leaders from the Global South new traction for change. (New York Times by the Editorial Board, February 13, 2021) — Sending aid to Africa became popular in the 1980s, when a famine in Ethiopia prompted some of the most famous singers in the world to raise money for food aid with concerts and songs like “We Are the World.” Images of malnourished children with distended bellies primed an American public to support some of the most ambitious humanitarian relief efforts on record: airlifts of supplies to Sudan, which ran from 1989 to 2005, and a military intervention that aimed to deliver food to war-torn Somalia in the early 1990s. Such efforts have helped shaped outsiders’ perceptions of a diverse continent that is home to 54 countries and 1.3 billion people. Generations of American children were told to eat their vegetables “because there are starving children in Africa.”  Today, a rising African middle class on a continent that is home to nearly two-dozen billionaires is challenging previous assumptions about foreign aid, from who donates money, to who should get paid to deliver aid, to whose metrics ought to be used to determine whether it was a success. A growing group of intellectuals, aid workers and civic leaders from Africa say the “white savior” mentality of the world’s foreign aid system can end up doing more harm than good.They point out that planeloads of free American corn can help famine victims in the short term, but they can also put local farmers out of business, making the food supply in the long term more precarious. Relief efforts in Sudan may have saved countless lives, but they also emboldened combatants who controlled access to food, prolonging a brutal war. The international efforts in Somalia to stand in for the government have sometimes harmed attempts by Somalis to create governing structures of their own, fostering long-term dependency. The images of starving children used to raise money for famine relief are now decried as “poverty porn” that portrays Africans as helpless victims so that American and European organizations can collect funds.  Degan Ali, executive director of Adeso, a Nairobi-based organization that works in Somalia and Kenya, is among the most outspoken African activists demanding an overhaul of the way foreign aid works. The daughter of a Somali military officer who moved the family to Washington when Ms. Ali was a child, she returned to Somalia as an employee of the United Nations but quickly grew disillusioned. She watched her mother, an award-winning environmentalist in Somalia, struggle to raise funding, while big grants went to international organizations led by white Americans and Europeans who made influential decisions far from the places they were trying to assist.…Just when the aid sector seemed impervious to change, an opening came. In the protests that followed last year’s police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a flurry of private foundations and international humanitarian organizations put out statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. That prompted calls from staff members inside those organizations to demand self-reflection. USAID, Britain’s aid agency and Doctors Without Borders all faced allegations of systemic racism in their ranks. Suddenly, more Americans seemed willing to listen to the critiques of people like Ms. Ali.
  • New!  USAID’s Policy Voice Should be Heard (Brookings by J.Brian Atwood and Larry Garber, February 10, 2021) — The nomination of Samantha Power to be the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has excited a demoralized agency and the entire development community. While the mission of USAID has been recognized along with defense and diplomacy as contributing to national security, this is the first time its administrator has been formally given a seat at the National Security Council (NSC) principals’ table.  Power, the ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama administration, will now lead an institution frequently mischaracterized as a purely technocratic instrument of foreign policy rather than as a policymaking actor. Yet, we can attest that USAID has always played a policy role not only in devising the U.S. government’s development strategy, but in contributing to deliberations on other critical national security concerns. Power’s appointment to the NSC means that she will not have to be invited on a case-by-case basis.  To be sure, some development activists worry that too broad an engagement will distract from USAID’s explicit development and humanitarian mandates. Others express concern that the USAID administrator could intrude on the State Department’s traditional turf. These concerns should not be dismissed out of hand.State and USAID have similar but distinct missions. The perspective of each of the two institutions is complementary and many professional attributes are the same: Intercultural and language skills, for example, are essential. There are differences, however: Development professionals are primarily responsible for managing resources and programs, and their relationships in the field are with multilateral and bilateral aid organizations, sectoral ministries, and nongovernmental organizations.  USAID’s policy voice can be vital, especially in a world where the source of many transnational threats is underdevelopment. Ideally, the State Department and USAID interact with each other as civilian partners within the NSC, even as the USAID administrator operates under the foreign policy guidance of the secretary of state. The presumption is that U.S. foreign policy is informed by the development perspective as well as by statecraft considerations. In practice this rarely creates dissonance.  President Biden’s national security team is as collegial as any assembled in the modern era. On a personal level, there is great respect and trust, emanating from having worked together on national security matters during the Obama administration. Power, having previously addressed policy from more than one institutional perspective, will no doubt be fully capable of formulating the USAID position on an issue in a constructive and supportive manner. But what is unique about that perspective?First and foremost, there is a long history of evolving development thought. Effectiveness principles have been agreed among donors and their partners. Aid tied primarily to the financial interest of a donor should be avoided. Donors should strive to enhance local ownership and to use local systems whenever possible. Projects should be evaluated to determine that they are not creating dependency. These and other principles are designed to enhance prospects for sustainable development, or self-reliance.  Occasionally, the desire for short-term diplomatic or domestic gain conflicts with these principles. Policymakers should understand the trade-offs involved, including the costs to long-term development investments. In the end, the development perspective may well be rejected, but not always.  The past offers several relevant examples.  (Pls read the full text to gather the important examples given by the authors.)
  • New! The Quite Revolution:  What Congress should know about foreign assistance today (Brookings by Kristin Lord and Ann Mei Change – February 9, 2021.) America’s next leaders of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) have their work cut out for them. The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out decades of gains in international development. For the first time since 1998, there will be a rise in global poverty that will push as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty by 2021’s end. The World Bank has estimated that reduced availability of health services and nutrition this year will lead to a 45 percent rise in child mortality. School closures have disrupted education in one form or another for more than 90 percent of the global youth population.  Developing countries bear the heaviest brunt of these and other consequences of the pandemic. But wealthier countries also have an enormous stake in helping them address those challenges successfully. We must help not just for humanitarian reasons but also because failing to do so will damage public health, economic well-being, and national security interests worldwide.  As President Biden selects a new cohort of leaders for America’s international development agencies, the world is watching closely to see what example America will set. The early nomination of foreign policy heavyweight Samantha Power to lead USAID—and the president’s decision to add the position of USAID administrator to the National Security Council—indicate that the U.S. is thinking seriously about its global development strategy.  Eventually, though, U.S. leaders and their counterparts in other wealthy countries will have to contend with the growing gap between international development needs and the political will to address them—especially as domestic needs have ballooned during the pandemic. In confirmation hearings for U.S. government agencies, Congress should ask how they plan to address it.  The good news is that a quiet revolution has been unfolding in international development, with new approaches yielding fresh solutions and generating additional resources……Already, governments are embracing financing models that leverage public money to draw in additional resources. And there are still huge amounts of money left to tap, employing mechanisms like the following:  (The article continues to explore the mechanisms to leverage development capital including Domestic resource mobilization (DRM); de-risking innovation; development finance; and asset recovery.)
  • New! Restoring US Leadership Abroad, with 60 years of experience, USAID tackles historic crises (Medium by Gloria Steele, February 4, 2021) — Today, our world faces multiple crises of historic proportions: the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic crisis, the devastating effects of climate change, and fundamental threats to democracy, equity, and human rights. These challenges, which see no borders, have a direct impact on U.S. national security, as our health and prosperity are closely intertwined with those of other nations around the globe.

Under President Biden’s leadership, great importance has been placed on development, diplomacy, and defense in order to protect and promote the interests of all Americans. Reflecting this, the President has elevated the USAID Administrator to be a member of the National Security Council.As the world’s premier global development agency, USAID is uniquely poised to lead the U.S. response to many of the pressing challenges we face today. USAID will help achieve the President’s vision of restoring U.S. moral leadership, creating a safer and more prosperous world, and demonstrating American values on the world stage.

With 60 years of experience, USAID will do what we do best, which is improving lives in more than 100 countries throughout the world. We will work with key partners to battle COVID-19 and prepare for future outbreaks, promote an inclusive global economy, bolster resilience to climate change, advance global health, restore global leadership and partnerships, and defend democracy and human rights.

COVID-19. — USAID and our partners must be on the front lines bravely and selflessly battling the virus around the world. President Biden has made clear that the U.S. will help to lead this fight, through partnership and cooperation rather than nationalism or competition. Under the Biden Administration, the United States is proud to join COVAX, a global consortium working to ensure that everyone worldwide has equal access to COVID-19 vaccines.We will continue to build and adapt our COVID-19 response. USAID has committed more than $1.3 billion to save lives by protecting health care workers, strengthening laboratory systems, distributing public health information, and boosting rapid response in more than 120 countries. We will continue to develop new efforts to strengthen the global fight against COVID-19 in the months ahead.

Climate — We will take swift actions to tackle the climate crisis. On day one of the Biden Administration, the United States rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement to work with nearly 200 countries to combat the existential threat of climate change.USAID partners with the international community to build a climate-resilient future for generations to come. USAID programs have been pivotal in helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change and in strengthening community resilience for decades.

Global Health — For more than half a century, USAID has saved lives and protected people most vulnerable to disease, from HIV/AIDS to tuberculosis and malaria. We prevent child and maternal deaths, we strengthen health systems, and we combat infectious diseases.  And as the world’s largest donor to reproductive health, the United States has a long history in international voluntary family planning. President Biden issued a presidential memorandum to support women’s health needs globally, including expanding access to reproductive health care and voluntary family planning, which is essential to empowering women and gender equality. Women and girls who can make informed decisions about their lives — decisions to stay in school, delay marriage, and make their own reproductive choices — are often healthier and have healthier families.

Global Health — For more than half a century, USAID has saved lives and protected people most vulnerable to disease, from HIV/AIDS to tuberculosis and malaria. We prevent child and maternal deaths, we strengthen health systems, and we combat infectious diseases.  And as the world’s largest donor to reproductive health, the United States has a long history in international voluntary family planning. President Biden issued a presidential memorandum to support women’s health needs globally, including expanding access to reproductive health care and voluntary family planning, which is essential to empowering women and gender equality. Women and girls who can make informed decisions about their lives — decisions to stay in school, delay marriage, and make their own reproductive choices — are often healthier and have healthier families.

Democracy and Human Rights — USAID’s work to advance democratic governance is foundational to everything we do. Citizen-responsive governance is a critical factor in development, and we believe it is not possible for any country to rise to its full potential without it.  Democracy is precious and fragile, as President Biden said in his inaugural remarks. That’s why the United States’ ability to lead by example and partner to promote democracy and human rights — both at home and abroad — is so important. We cannot help build resilient democracies without also combating inequity and racism. An unjust and unequal society will never achieve its full potential.

USAID will engage and partner with the international community to build a more stable and just world.  As we celebrate our 60th anniversary, we recognize our past accomplishments and significant tasks ahead.  We, the dedicated USAID staff, serve the American people to save lives and advocate for those facing hunger and poverty around the world.

  • New!  Exclusive: 5 potential picks to succeed Deborah Birx at PEPFAR ( Devex By Michael Igoe, February 4, 2021) — President Joe Biden has yet to announce a nominee for U.S. global AIDS coordinator, the role that was previously held by Deborah Birx and includes leadership of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.  It is one of the highest-profile positions within U.S. global health and development agencies — particularly given PEPFAR’s role in the global response to COVID-19, as well as Birx’s highly visible departure.  Multiple sources with knowledge of internal discussions or external lobbying efforts have told Devex that five names have risen to the surface as potential leaders of the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy: Shannon Hader, Charles Holmes, Chris Beyrer, Vanessa Kerry, and Paul Farmer. Among the group, three are well-known experts within the global HIV community, two are veterans of former President Barack Obama’s administration, and two are prominent global health leaders.Hader is currently deputy executive director at UNAIDS. Hader served under Obama as director of the global HIV and tuberculosis division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and as former vice president at Futures Group, now known as Palladium.  Holmes is director at Georgetown University’s Center for Innovation in Global Health and served as chief medical officer and deputy U.S. global AIDS coordinator for PEPFAR during the Obama administration. Before that, Holmes was CEO at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia.  Beyrer is currently the Desmond M. Tutu professor of public health and human rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and was formerly president of the International AIDS Society.  When reached for comment, Beyrer told Devex he would be willing to serve if given the opportunity, noting that he has been “in conversations with some people in the administration about serving in a global health role generally.”  “The opportunity to be a part of America’s return to international diplomacy and American soft power — which I think PEPFAR is probably the iconic program for — is compelling to me,” he said.In addition to the three HIV experts, sources told Devex that the search for Birx’s successor has also surfaced two well-known — and politically well-connected — names.  Multiple sources told Devex that Vanessa Kerry, founder and CEO at Seed Global Health and daughter of former Secretary of State John Kerry, has been mentioned for the role. Seed Global Health, under her leadership, has established public-private partnerships with U.S. agencies and initiatives, including PEPFAR.  One source told Devex that Paul Farmer, co-founder and chief strategist at Partners In Health and a perennial candidate for high-level health and development positions, has also received attention.  Multiple sources also cautioned that these names are not necessarily the only ones under consideration by an administration that is still primarily focused on domestic COVID-19 response. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive nomination process.
  • New!  USAID nominee Power calls for US to lead on global COVID-19 response  (Devex by Adva Saldinger, February 4, 2021) —  The United States needs to take a leadership role in global COVID-19 response and play an active part in helping address the mounting number of world crises — from the coup in Myanmar to the protracted conflicts in Yemen, Syria, and Venezuela, according to Samantha Power, the nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development.  “The only way a collective action problem gets addressed, resolved, is for a catalytic actor to put skin in the game and to leverage what it is doing to get others to do more,” Power said at an online event Wednesday. While some countries have tried, the U.S. — by virtue of its stature and potential funding ability — can make a critical difference in global COVID-19 response, though it will face trust issues with world leaders, Power said.In the Ebola response, U.S. leadership and commitment to deploy troops and other personnel helped mobilize other countries to act and spurred coordination, including with China, she said.  The $11 billion in global funding in President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill “desperately” needs to be preserved, Power said. Advocates, including CARE and the ONE Campaign, are calling for $20 billion to fund the mounting needs of the global response.  Power, who has been speaking to lawmakers ahead of her nomination hearing — which may come as soon as next week — said she heard agreement on several foreign aid issues from members of both parties.  “Everybody just feels these gains that so many countries and communities have … are imperiled in such profound ways,” she said.  She credited development advocates — including CARE, which organized the event — with working hard to build bipartisan support for these issues, which Power said “requires kind of fighting gravity.”  The challenge both parties face now is how to convey why foreign aid matters to “people who are hurting in our own country in unprecedented ways,” she said.  There are two key dimensions in making the argument for robust U.S. engagement in COVID-19 response: the risk of continued mutations and spread if there is unequal vaccine access and response, and the real economic consequences of not having a robust global response — which the International Chamber of Commerce estimated would cost the global economy $9 trillion, she said.  (Click on the article title to see the full article.)

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