Remarks by Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator, at Peacebuilding 2013: Pacem in Terris at 50

Friday, April 12, 2013

I must admit that it’s daunting to speak before religious scholars, and organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, St. Egidio, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.  I feel like the man who was asked to speak about Whale Anatomy, and as he looks into the audience, he sees Jonah.

The task is made less daunting by the recognition that Pope John’s 23rd encyclical is accessible throughout five decades.  In the 1960’s, it’s accessible during nuclear disarmament and an end to the arms race, as well as decolonization and an end to the caste system dividing nations. It can be applied to the 1970’s, as we witnessed gender equality and women’s empowerment on the rise, and an end to racial and ethnic prejudice and discrimination.  We can look to it as we committed to treatises on the inter-connection of global human rights and peace in the 1980’s.  And in the 1990’s, it’s useful as the need to ensure that growing science and technology is pursued not as a goal of its own but as a means toward the betterment of mankind.  More recently, perhaps not surprising given my position as USAID’s Deputy Administrator, it is a strong endorsement of foreign assistance as a means of building peaceful, stable societies.  It may sound self-serving since my agency’s budget is going to the Hill tomorrow, but paragraph 88 reminds us:

“One country may surpass another in scientific progress, culture and economic development, but this superiority, far from permitting it to rule others unjustly, imposes the obligation to make a greater contribution to the general development of the people.”

Equally important, it is not just a call for developed countries to provide assistance, it also guides our efforts.  First, it reminds us to be humble in how we provide foreign assistance.  It notes that development begins at home, and that governments, civil society, and the business community in developing countries are the drivers and owners of their own development efforts. 

This is increasingly true today.  We are in an age of empowerment reflecting what I call the “democratization of development”:  developing countries will no longer accept policies and strategies made in Washington or New York or Brussels or Beijing for that matter. 

Second, the encyclical proposes the concept of inclusive development --  inclusive development in two senses.  First, it argues that development must matter to people.  It is not enough to assure growth rates of 6 and 8 and 10 percent.  Growth must create meaningful work for younger people to ensure that they are tied to their societies.  This is increasingly important as we look at the young demographics of developing countries today.  This youth bulge can result in alienated teens who do not have a stake in their societies and are vulnerable to the siren song of extremists and terrorists; or it can be a positive dynamic that can adds new source of innovation, energy and vibrancy to their countries and economies.

Inclusive development also means that growth must also be reflected in equitable distribution of wealth.  Paragraph 63 warns that “unless authorities take suitable action with regard to economic, political and cultural matters, inequalities between the citizens tend to become more and more widespread.”

It was almost as if he was writing about the Arab Spring.  In Egypt, high growth rates continued past a number of decades, but growth was badly distributed, subject to massive corruption, did not create jobs, and did not reflect equal improvements in housing, healthcare, and education.  As a result, we witnessed social revolution.

Indeed, the encyclical even provides us a portfolio review in paragraph 64: “building of roads, communications, water supply, housing, public health, education, and other sectors.”

Development inclusiveness in another sense must be a “whole of society” process that addresses the needs – and also draws on the contributions – of all parts of the population.  Today, at USAID, we understand that this means that previously marginalized groups – women, young people, people with disabilities, the LGBT community, displaced persons, ethnic and religious minorities, and indigenous populations – must be planners, implementers and beneficiaries of our mutual development effort  

We have an expression at USAID:  no single government or group has a monopoly on financial or human resources, on ground truth, on good ideas or on moral authority. 

One of the good ideas we’ve received from civil society relates to how we provide our food assistance abroad.  Since its inception, U.S. food aid has helped more than 3 billion people in more than 150 countries, saving lives, helping people recover from crises and addressing chronic poverty and malnutrition.  In order to respond in the most timely, effective manner, the President’s 2014 budget includes a reform that will allow this assistance to reach between 2 and 4 million more people each year with the same resources, while preserving our support for U.S. civil society organization who depend on development food aid to reduce poverty, build resilience and prevent future food crises. 

This is especially important as we seek to meet a new challenge.  In his State of the Union address two months ago, President Obama defined a new task for us.  He said:

“The United States will join with our allies to eradicate extreme poverty in the next two decades by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women, by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve, by helping communities to feed, power and educate themselves, by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths, and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.”

If we are to achieve this aspirational yet attainable goal, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind or exclude anyone from making his or her full contribution.

It is important to remember that we, too, will benefit from this challenge of building a peaceful, stable and prosperous world.   Prosperity and human security abroad is in our national interest. First, stable, prosperous countries are less likely to traffic in arms, drugs, and people; they don't send off large numbers of refugees across borders and even oceans; they don't serve as hosts for pirates, terrorists; they don't incubate pandemic diseases, and they do not require foreign troops on the ground.

Development is in our economic interest as well: growth in developing countries will be the primary market for American exports and American jobs over the next decades. Most of the fastest growing export markets for the United States are in former aid recipient countries.

Equally important, the American people want us to project our values abroad. They want to live in a world that's peaceful, prosperous, democratic, respectful of human rights and human dignity. 

Admiral Stradvidis, head of NATO, recently spoke at a USAID conference, and he reminded us that the international community isn’t going to fight its way out of Afghanistan, rather it will develop its way out. 

When I think about future stability, it is critical to stress the training of Afghan military and police forces, but what’s equally important is the fact that infant mortality in Afghanistan has fallen by 60 percent in just the last decade; that there are now 2.8 million girls in school compared to none in 2001; and that life expectancy has increased by 15 years in that same time.  And as we mourn the deaths of five Americans on Saturday during the act of distributing books to the Afghans, we take solace in remembering that “blessed are the peacemakers, those who strive to end contention, strife and war.”

Fourth, the goal of ending extreme poverty presents an opportunity to inspire a new generation to a cause that reaches beyond their everyday life.  USAID is working with students all around this country who are putting down their computer games and using their tech savvy to solve age old development challenges. 

They are devising new pumps and filters to get arsenic out of drinking water – thus saving tens of thousands of kids in Bangladesh from the legacy of child stunting and poor cognitive development. 

They are figuring out how put lenses on cell phones that can help detect malaria or tuberculosis in blood smears without the need for modern laboratories.

They are developing portable, solar-powered breathing devices that are saving the lives of new-borns in Africa. 

When I came back to government, even though I spoke Malay, French, and Portuguese, I had to  learn a new language.  I had entered the world of datapaloozas, grand challenges, open source development and hack-a-thons.  I used to think hackers were bad people – we are now working with group that calls itself, “Random Hacks of Kindness.”

I would like to spend my remaining time describing what I consider a cautionary tale of what happens in peace processes that ignore the need for development.  It happened three decades after the encyclical, so we should have known better.   

In 1994, while serving as President Clinton’s Special Assistant for African Affairs in the White House, I supported negotiations to end two decades of civil war in Angola that had killed a half million people and left four million homeless. When the Lusaka Protocol was signed, I was asked by a journalist how the agreement took into account the needs of war-affected women. “Not a single provision in the agreement discriminates against women,” I said, a little too proudly.  “The agreement is gender-neutral.”

President Clinton then named me Ambassador to Angola.  It took me only a few weeks after my arrival in Luanda in June 1995 to realize that a peace agreement that calls itself “gender-neutral” is, by definition, discriminatory against women and likely to fail.

First, the agreement did not require the participation of women in the Joint Commission, the peace implementation body.  As a result, a typical meeting of the commission saw 40 men and no women sitting around the table.  This imbalance silenced women’s voices and meant that issues such as sexual violence, human trafficking, abuses by government and rebel security forces, reproductive health care, and girls’ education were given short shrift, if addressed at all.  

The peace accord was based on thirteen separate amnesties that forgave the parties for atrocities committed during the conflict.  One amnesty went so far as to forgive the parties for any action they might take in the coming months.  Given the prominence of sexual abuse during the conflict, the amnesties were tantamount to men with guns forgiving other men with guns for crimes committed against women and children.  It introduced a cynicism at the heart of our efforts to rebuild the justice and security sectors, showing key civil society actors, that the peace process was intended for the benefit of the ex-combatants and not them.

Similarly, demobilization programs for ex-combatants depended on lists provided by the warring parties.  As a rule, they defined a combatant as anyone who carried a gun in combat.  Thousands of women who had been kidnapped or coerced into the armed forces and served as cooks, bearers, messengers and even sex slaves (so-called “bush wives”) were largely excluded.  Further, camps for demobilized soldiers and even for displaced persons were rarely constructed with women in mind, such that women risked rape or death each time they left the camp to collect firewood or used latrines in isolated and dimly-lit settings.

Male ex-combatants received demobilization assistance, but were sent back without skills or education to communities that had learned to live without them during decades of conflict.   The frustration of these men exploded into an epidemic of alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, rape and domestic violence. This was especially true for young boys, who had never learned how to interact on an equal basis with girls their own ages.  In effect, the end of civil war simply unleashed a new and more pernicious era of violence against women and girls.

Even such well-intentioned efforts as clearing major roads of landmines to allow four million displaced persons to return to their homes backfired against women.  Road clearance sometimes preceded the demining of fields, wells and forests, resulting in premature resettlement and return.  As women in this environment went out to plant the fields, fetch water and collect firewood, they suffered a new rash of landmine accidents.

Over time, we recognized these problems and brought out gender advisers and human rights officers; launched programs in reproductive health care, girls’ education, micro-enterprise, and support for women’s NGOs; and involved women in planning and implementing all our programs.  But by then, civil society – and particularly women – had come to view the peace process as serving only the interests of the warring parties.  When the process faltered in 1998, largely because of the intransigence of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, there was little public pressure on the leaders to prevent a return to conflict, and war soon re-emerged.  Permanent peace only came when Savimbi was killed in February 2002. 

As I departed Angola in 1998 with the process fraying, I had friends who tried to console me by telling me how difficult it is to build peace.  I responded:  no, in fact, peace is simple.  And I proceeded to write a poem entitled:  Peace is Simple.

Peace is simple.

Peace is a healthcare worker who places a few drops of potion on the tongue of an infant and thus rescues her from a lifetime of disease and suffering.

Peace is simple.

Peace is a teenage boy who puts down his AK-47 and picks up his schoolbooks, aware that his society cherishes those who build and not those who destroy.

Peace is simple.

Peace is a young mother who walks without fear into a grove to pick the fruit of a mango tree, knowing it is safe because the world has finally come to its senses and banned the unseen underground killers.

Peace is simple.

Peace is a political leader who shuns personal wealth and ambition, who is accountable to the voice of the people, and who seeks to understand the vision of his most bitter rival.

Peace is simple.


Peace is a police commander who instills in his colleagues a commitment to service and respect for the dignity of all women and men.

Peace is simple.

Peace is a young girl freed from physical and psychological abuse, and secure in the knowledge that her future is bounded only by her talent and imagination.

Peace is simple.

Peace is an old woman standing in a winding line of humanity, waiting patiently for hours to exercise her right to select her own leaders.

Peace is simple.

Peace is a journalist who asks one more embarrassing question, knowing full well the dangers that may arise from the search for truth.

Peace is simple.

Peace is a soldier – yes, a soldier – who wears a blue helmet and travels to foreign lands to use his or her body as a shield in support of the principle that people can settle their differences without violence.

Peace is simple.

It is an African-American preacher with a dream of racial tolerance and understanding.

It is an elderly Albanian nun who weaves her way through the alleyways of Calcutta.

It is a carpenter from Bethlehem who tells his followers that when struck on one cheek, they should turn the other.

It is a South African man who emerges unbowed and unbroken from decades of imprisonment to lead his land to a new era of harmony and compassion.

Yes, peace is simple. 

Catholic University Washington, DC

Last updated: May 02, 2016

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