Remarks by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah to the Student Conference on U.S. Affairs at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York

Friday, November 4, 2011
The Best Gesture of Partnership

(As Delivered)

I want to thank Col Meese for that introduction and for his hospitality today.

I consider it such a privilege to visit these grounds just one week before Veterans' Day. The service and sacrifice represented by this Academy, its 200-plus year history and the cadets here tonight are an inspiration. I don't say this just as a government official, but as a husband and father.

I want to thank the cadets and officers at West Point for your service in defending our country and keeping our families safe.

To those of you who aren't part of the Long Grey Line-and when I was an undergrad at Michigan, I came to this conference just like you-let me thank you for your willingness to engage on matters of US Affairs and national security.

Your presence is a prime example of the deep understanding America's youth has for need to stay actively engaged in global affairs, when many are suggesting a different path.

Three weeks ago, a young American travelled to southern Somalia to deliver a message. He visited a camp full of starving women and children-victims of the devastating drought and famine that has hit the region in the last few months-and brought several large sacks of donated grain with him.

Dressed in desert boots and an olive tunic, he spoke to the Somalis gathered there, in desperate need of assistance:

"We are following your situation on a daily basis," he told them. "Though we are separated by thousands of kilometers, you are consistently in our thoughts and prayers...we sincerely relate to your suffering and affliction during these testing times."

Behind him, the sacks of grain were piled high into a mound, along with crates of dates and milk, all meant for the desperate crowds gathered before him.

And written on each sack of grain was a message: "Charity relief for those affected by the drought. Al Qaeda campaign on behalf of the Martyr Bin Laden."

That American wasn't representing the US, he representing the goodwill of the American people or an NGO. He was representing Al Qaeda.

Today, President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton have affirmed that the United States will do everything it can to respond to the massive suffering in the Horn of Africa.

When thousands are dying, and millions are on the brink, providing relief is the right thing to do. It represents the fundamental humanitarian principles and values of our country.

But Al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Somalia don't share those humanitarian principles.

Their acts of repression and attacks on food convoys and vaccination campaigns are actually fueling this crisis. And now they are seeking to exploit the misery they have helped create.

Today, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Secretary Panetta and most people in the military and development communities understand the crucial linkage between our country's national security and the human security of people throughout the developing world.

But that understanding-that development work is crucial to keeping America safe-actually extends back over decades.

Fifty years ago yesterday, President John F. Kennedy presided over the creation of the US Agency for International Development-the Agency I have the privilege of leading.

President Kennedy imagined USAID as a critical force in the struggle against mankind's common enemies: poverty, hunger, oppression, illiteracy and disease.

He believed development cooperation served as an expression of America's conscience-our national values of justice, compassion and dignity manifested in the helping hand we reach out to those in need.

But like the great military leaders of his time-Eisenhower, Marshall, Westmoreland-he also understood that if America failed to address the suffering of the developing world, "our own security would be endangered and our prosperity imperiled."

So while President Kennedy increased the defense budget, created the Green Berets and added 200,000 additional troops to the military, he also formed the Alliance for Progress, created the Peace CORPS and founded USAID.

The motto of the Green Berets is "De Opresso Libre;" literally: "to free the oppressed." And though the civilian members of USAID and the US military have different cultures and different mandates, they share the goal of that motto in common.

The forces of poverty, disease and disaster can be just as cruel as the brutality of tyrants.

By supporting both our military and civilian capabilities, President Kennedy demonstrated that keeping our nation safe required investing in peace as well as war.

That sentiment has been echoed strongly by every President since Kennedy-both Republican and Democrat.

And it was articulated clearly by President Obama, whose National Security Strategy called for strong global diplomatic and development engagement with the world in addition to the support of a strong military force.

Throughout its history, USAID's development engagement has often led to close partnership with the military in areas facing conflict or crisis.

In Vietnam, our Agency worked with the South Vietnamese to build roads, dig wells and increase economic activity amidst the war. Richard Holbrooke, the masterful diplomat who served as our country's Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan until his tragic passing actually began his Foreign Service career as a USAID officer in the Mekong Delta.

Over the last ten years, we worked with both the US and the Colombian military in that country's struggle against rebels and drug cartels. We consolidated our development efforts in selected regions, moving in within days of military offensives to support communities, quickly provide health services, build schools and courts and coordinate private sector investment.

In Haiti-just one week after I was sworn in as Administrator-our teams worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to clear rubble, fix damaged ports and relocate thousands of people displaced by the massive earthquake.

In Libya, our support of humanitarian assistance, civil society and democracy, human rights and governance is helping safeguard the country's transition to democracy after quick, decisive, multilateral military intervention.

And across the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, we worked actively to hold and build areas the military fought hard to clear.

A prime example of this is our work in the Arghandab Valley of Afghanistan, a region I visited. After one of our best combat brigade teams suffered casualties to secure the Valley, USAID worked with farmers to cultivate crops and sell them in new markets.

Thanks to that assistance, food exports left Kandahar airport last year for the first time in forty years. The farmers in Arghandab don't grow poppies anymore; they grow pomegranates.

These tight operational partnerships with the military come with controversy. Many worry this work signals a militarization of aid.

They worry that humanitarian needs can be overtaken by political or military interests.

And they worry that spending money in warzones robs other poor parts of the world of limited development resources.

These concerns all have merit. They all pose risks to the execution of effective, sustainable development.

But the truth is, the costs of conflict-developmental, economic, human-are too high to ignore.

As many stable developing countries transform into prosperous emerging markets, the poorest areas left in the world are often plagued by war, violence and instability.

There's a very strong reason for this: conflict is essentially development in reverse. It destroys capital, displaces people from productive activities and scares away investment.

Countries that saw violence over a period of 20 years had poverty rates 21 percent higher than those that saw peace. Burundi has lost nearly two decades of growth due the massive violence in that country

That destructive process is incredibly harmful to humanitarian progress. To date, no poor fragile or conflict-ridden state has yet to achieve a single UN Millennium Development Goal.

If we don't confront the development needs of these states, we will be ignoring the plight of billions while putting our own security at risk.

Working effectively in dangerous situations and times of crisis requires a real spirit of cooperation, service and civilian-military partnership.

In response to many lessons learned over the last ten years, we've launched a set of comprehensive reforms called USAID Forward, many of which have allowed us partner much more effectively with the military in places like Afghanistan.

When the war in Afghanistan began ten years ago, USAID was significantly understaffed, unable to get out and see many of our own projects.

To account for that gap, we increasingly relied on massive, expensive contracts administered by large contractors.

Today, we've more than tripled our staff in Afghanistan, with more people outside of Kabul than we had in the entire country ten years ago. In places we can't easily access, we're using satellite-mapping assets to monitor our programs.

We revitalized our Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation responsible for deepening and sustaining our ties to the Armed Forces.

As a result of those efforts, our development professionals are training with the military, serving in Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the field and working as development advisors in each of our combatant commands.

To improve our development assistance, we created new accountability initiatives and oversight systems, allowing us to bust up billion-dollar-plus contracts and root out the fraud, waste and abuse that often occur in the fog of war.

We've also built flexible spending mechanisms that allow us to surge development assistance quickly.

Thanks to those reforms, we're increasingly directing our money toward Afghan ministries and organizations, cutting out middlemen and saving millions of taxpayer dollars to deliver better results, all while building the kind of enduring capacity in Afghanistan that can help stabilize the country.

And today the development voice is represented strongly at policy tables both in Washington and in Kabul. We worked with the Pentagon to create the District Stabilization Framework, a tool that helps commanders identify the real sources of conflict in a given area.

And just last month, we released our Agency's first-ever policy on the Development Response to Violent Extremism and Insurgency.

These reforms have helped us partner with the military much more effectively in Afghanistan to support the President's goal-one he outlined right here at West Point-of disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda.

By focusing primarily on the sustainability of our development efforts, USAID is helping to eliminate safe havens from which the Al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks.

When we construct roads and hospitals, we employ local populations in the construction, giving them a stake in preserving what they build and creating centers of broad-based economic growth.

We are also focused on improving food security, since 70 percent of Afghans are essentially farmers. We don't just want to give away sacks of grain when crops fail and people go hungry; we want to introduce improved seeds and establish irrigation systems to help these farmers grow more food.

We also want to build the capacity of the Afghan government, ensuring they develop their own sources of revenue and can deliver security and services for their people. That means improving their tax collection, using mobile phone payments to fight graft and corruption and strengthening the capacity of government ministries.

Finally, we are prioritizing regional integration, supporting the vision of Secretary Clinton's long-term vision for a New Silk Road. By helping Afghanistan become a regional trade hub, we can ensure its neighbors are invested in the country's stability and prosperity.

By strategically focusing on these goals of sustainability, we can build on some of the dramatic results we've seen in the country.

In the last decade, we've helped get more than 7 million children in school in Afghanistan-35 percent of them girls who had no hope for an education under the Taliban's rule.

We've also helped the government stand up its health ministry, run by a female doctor who wasn't allowed to practice under the Taliban's rule. At the start of the war, only nine percent of Afghans had access to basic health services.

Now that number is 64 percent. And upcoming studies point to staggering gains in maternal and child mortality, some the fastest global health progress the world has recently seen.

As President Obama has said, we are not trying to make Afghanistan a perfect place.

The future of Afghanistan lies in the hands of the Afghan people and their leaders. No country can hope to be stable without strong, effective systems of governance-and establishing those structures of governance from scratch is a long-term, generational challenge.

But as our military draws down over the next year, we will continue to contribute to the President and Secretary Clinton's vision of a stable, regionally integrated country-an Afghanistan that won't shelter terrorists who stage attacks on our country or allies.

As General Petraeus has suggested, without a strong development commitment to Afghanistan, "we jeopardize accomplishment of the overall mission."

Our role in Afghanistan is quite visible, but the more critical role development plays is in preventing future conflicts, thereby limiting the potential for military intervention at far greater cost.

In an age where a young man from Nigeria can fly toward Detroit on Christmas Day armed with explosives…

…where militants in Yemen can FedEx bombs on a cargo plane…

…where an American Al Qaeda agent can use food aid to generate support in Somalia…

…we must be vigilant in our attempts to offer those who suffer alternatives to a life of extremism and violence.

Today in the Horn of Africa, we are actively responding to the epic drought that has already killed thousands of children, uprooted millions of people and led directly to the kind of instability that has fueled civil war and conflict throughout the region.

First and foremost, we are working to save lives, expressing the basic human value of compassion in the face of a massive crisis.

Thanks to President Obama's commitments to emergency assistance for the Horn of Africa, we have helped drought and famine victims by providing emergency food aid like grain and flour to more than four-and-a-half million people.

But we want to do more than limit the scale of this crisis; we want to prevent future food crises from occurring in the first place.

By investing in the agricultural development of African countries, we can help make them food secure and prevent future food crises, much the same way our investments during the Green Revolution have prevented famines throughout Asia.

Through the President's Feed the Future food security initiative, we are improving the yields of subsistence farmers by investing in improved fertilizers and drought-and-disease tolerant seeds and helping them find markets for their crops.

Through Feed the Future, we will lift 18 million people out of poverty worldwide-more than 7 million of whom are children.

This effort is critical. The collective threats to American security are no longer just countries on a map. Enemies of the state don't all wear uniforms or rally under flags. Increasingly, they are smaller extremist groups that can quickly cross borders, exploit misery and foment conflict.

The work we do to fight poverty, hunger and instability can give those in peril a different path.

Today in Nairobi, our work is sponsoring a young generation of tech entrepreneurs who are right now developing mobile apps that can diagnose disease, improve agricultural productivity and help make Kenya one of the first fully functioning mobile money economies in the world.

These entrepreneurs-some of whom have come from the poorest slums in the country-have no interest in extremist politics or violence. They dream of visiting America, trading with America…not of harming America.

This past Monday, the world welcomed its 7 billionth citizen. By 2050, world population will hit 9 billion. To account for that population growth:

…We'll have to double global crop yields, while accounting for the richer, fattier diets that people demand as they get wealthier.

…We'll have to make sure the Middle East and Asia-with 60 percent of the world's population but only one-third of its water-has enough to drink.

…We'll have to ensure that the cities and slums of tomorrow can withstand the nearly 3.5 billion people that will be added to their ranks.

And we'll have to do all of this while climate change leads to higher temperatures, longer droughts and increasingly ferocious storms, hitting the poorest in the world hardest.

There is no question that we can meet those demands and provide food and water security for those populations.

But it will require serious investment in development cooperation, as fundamental to our national security and prosperity as the next piece of military hardware. If we don't make those investments today-with the focus on scientific innovation, sustainability and quantifiable results that good development requires- we will have to spend far more blood and treasure securing a far more resource-constrained, insecure world.

It was former Secretary Gates who said it best: "Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers."

48 years ago, one of the finest soldiers to ever wear an Army uniform accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. General George C. Marshall, whose assistance plan for Europe helped rebuild a continent devastated by war, took the stage to address a world gripped by an emerging Cold War. ?

Amidst the specter of nuclear war, one of our country's most dedicated military officers warned the nation against relying solely on military power. "A very strong military posture is vitally necessary today," he said, "but I am sure that it is too narrow a basis on which to build a dependable, long-enduring peace."

According to Marshall, that peace would only come from other sources: education, economic progress and a willingness to assist the poor. "We have to recognize that…democratic principles do not flourish on empty stomachs," he said.

From Marshall to Mattis, Eisenhower to Allen, Powell to Petraeus, it has often fallen to our military leaders-to those who best understand the costs of war-to convince our nation of the need to invest in peace.

Our country has always shown its commitment to fight evil. By fielding the fiercest, most effective military in the world, we stand ready to combat evil wherever it arises.

But despite a six-decade legacy of bipartisan support for development cooperation, it is far more difficult to convince people to invest against future threats than current ones, especially when many in or nation are struggling and see a dollar spent abroad as one less dollar spent at home.

It is our responsibility-as members of the military, as development professionals, as students in a globalized world-to remind our country that evil and suffering are inescapably linked…

…To remind them that dollar spent abroad is actually in investment in their national security and national values.

Just as evil fuels suffering and misery, so too does suffering fuel the rise of evil.

It was the devastation of post-war Europe that helped fuel the rise of totalitarianism.

It was the misery of the world's poor that helped give Communism dictatorships a foothold on nearly every continent.

And it was decades of brutal oppression that added fuel to the fire of Islamic extremism.

Today, in places like the Horn of Africa, would-be tyrants are once again hoping that the seeds of suffering bear fruits of evil. They are hoping to buy support for a bankrupt ideology with sacks of grain.

The question before us today is how we respond-how you will respond.

Our military will stand ready-as it always has-to act against evil when called upon.

But as President Kennedy told the graduating cadets of West Point in 1962, we "have a responsibility to deter war, as well as to fight it."

We must carry forth the message that investing in the work of our development professionals-boosting crop yields, treating the sick, monitoring elections-is one of the most efficient, most effective ways we have to deter war and fulfill President Kennedy's challenge.

USAID has worked hard over its history to become the strong partner to the military. But perhaps the best gesture of partnership we can make is keeping our soldiers off the battlefield.

Thank you.

United States Military Academy at West Point, West Point, New York

Last updated: May 31, 2012

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