Episode Two: The Role of International Development in U.S. National Security

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

In the second episode of USAID Leads, Administrator Green and Agency experts examine the role of international development in U.S. National Security. Development is a core tool for advancing U.S. foreign policy and international security. USAID staff, partners, and programs will continue to play a critical role under the President’s National Security Strategy to advance peace and prosperity.

Carol Han: Welcome colleagues to the second episode of USAID Leads. Today, we're discussing the important topic of international development and national security. First, we'll speak with Administrator Green about USAID’s role in supporting U.S. national security. Then, we'll talk to several Agency specialists to get their take on the President’s National Security Strategy. Finally, we'll wrap things up with the Administrator who will answer your questions and give us a look at what's around the corner.

Administrator Green, hello, glad you could join us.

Administrator: Great, it's good to be with you again.

Carol: The president released a national security strategy last month, in fact he gave his speech right here at USAID Headquarters in the Ronald Reagan Building. We actually have a clip to listen to:

Clip from President Trump: We will pursue the vision we have carried around the world over this past year. A vision of strong, sovereign and independent nations that respect their citizens, and respect their neighbors. Nations that thrive in commerce and cooperation. Rooted in their histories, and branching out toward their destinies.

Carol: Now, in his speech the president didn't specifically reference USAID or international development. Leaving some to think that perhaps it had primarily a domestic focus. Where do you see USAID's role in the national security strategy?

Administrator: Well first off, I happen to know the role that we played in helping to craft it. We were asked to participate, offered our views in a number of places in what became the National Security Strategy document. I was very proud of the input that we provided. And the respect that we were shown in asking us to comment on it.

Carol: What do you think that the National Security Strategy specifically means for international development and foreign assistance? How do you see the rubber meeting the road, so to speak?

Administrator: We recognize that so many of the gravest threats to our nation come from far-off lands. Often lands where there is tremendous exploitation, frustration, and insecurity. And some of the work that we do really helps to address some of the drivers of that insecurity and desperation that’s there. In a very central way, that's why our work is so important during these times.

Also, because it helps to keep our economy growing, and strong. And a growing economy helps us in so many ways in terms of American influence, and also providing the resources that we need to be strong as a nation.

Carol: Now, there are a lot of people who work at USAID because they want to save lives, and they sort of feel that their work here, it's the right thing for America to do.

Administrator: I think that American leadership in the world means showing the world what it is that we stand for. And so, the work that we do at USAID and that we support through USAID is a clear expression of American values and principles.

USAID is an expression of American compassion and American generosity. We seek by the projects that we support, and the example that we set to lift the human condition, and be a representation of our ideals and values in action.

We need to stand for something, I think the work that we do shows what we stand for as a people, and as a nation. And that really does help rally the world, and I think makes the world a safer place.

So I don't see that there's any mutual exclusivity by saying that it's important for our national security. It is still the right thing to do. And I think the right thing to do is good for our national security.

Carol: USAID has nearly 30 people working at U.S. Military Combatant Commands all around the world. And it seems that the Department of Defense always wants more guidance from USAID. Where do you see us working more closely together with the Department of Defense? Or other agencies to meet these national security goals?

Administrator: First I think it's a real tribute to the caliber of our people. We are very good at what we do. And I think other agencies recognize that, so they look to us for assistance. They look to us for counsel, certainly in the case of DOD and some of the places in which they are required to work.

In more practical terms, success on the battlefield, we're seeing it from our courageous men and women in uniform. Their success is really, in some ways, the beginning of our work. We're often called upon to go into some of those areas that have been liberated from, for example, ISIS. And we look to restore services and create some sense of normalcy for people there, we hope to stabilize communities.

And that's one of the reasons that the Department of Defense, the Combatant Commands, are so eager to have us standing shoulder to shoulder with them in many of these areas, because they recognize that we play a difference-making, lasting role in solidifying victory.

It's a temporary role. These are places where we hope to come in, and do some initial work in stabilization. But, then we want to leave. We want to turn things over to citizens of the world to take care of their own challenges.

Carol: Now, there are some doubts about whether development and humanitarian assistance should be connected to national security.

Administrator: I guess I don't see it that way. I see the work that we do, humanitarian work and development work, as crucial to our overall foreign policy. I'll give you an example of a story I often tell.

I served as the Ambassador to Tanzania, and I was there 2007 and 2008. 2008 was the 10th anniversary of the terrible bombing that occurred in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, in which our embassies were destroyed. And sadly, innocent lives lost.

But, in the aftermath of that terrible day in 1998 when the Embassy bombing occurred, we were the ones who came in, and helped the Tanzanians begin to rebuild, and to take on some of the challenges that emerged in the wake of a destructive event like that.

So, the Tanzanians looked at the work that we were doing, the compassion that we were showing. The fact that we were helping them to take on not only the recuperation from that terrible day. But, also some of their poverty-enhanced challenges, and that built an irrevocable, unbreakable bond between our two nations.

Around the 10th anniversary, President Bush came. The first ever official visit by a sitting U.S. President. And he was greeted as a hero throughout the streets. And President Bush, to his great credit said, "Look, it's not me. They're not celebrating me. They're celebrating American compassion, they're celebrating American friendship."

So, there's a case where our humanitarian assistance and our development assistance responding to the consequences of a terrible, terrible day in which the bad guys, extremists, attacked innocent people, cemented an alliance between our two nations. And they're a key ally in the war against extremism. But, also the war against poverty.

So, development assistance, humanitarian assistance had long-term, foreign policy positive consequences and benefits.

Carol: Thank you, sir, for taking the time to unpack this important issue with us. Next, we're going to take a deeper dive with our subject matter experts. Stay tuned.

Carol: Hi everyone and welcome back! I'm joined now by Neilesh Shelat, USAID’s Executive Secretary and Senior National Security Advisor; Kristen Cordell, Senior Advisor in the Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning; and Bob Schmidt, the Acting Director of the Office of Civilian Military Cooperation.

Thanks everyone for joining us for the discussion.

Kristen: Thanks for having us.

Neilesh: Yes, thank you.

Carol: Some are skeptical about the linkage between USAID and its role in national security, and that we could deliver results in this area in the first place. How do you respond?

Kristen: I mean, there is no other option, right. Half of the world's poor will live in conflict-related environments by 2030. That's a dramatic group, a dramatic and rising number, right? And development is one of the core tools we have to help that group.

Bob: From interactions with our DOD colleagues, that skepticism is not there, by and large. And they see us squarely as part of the national security apparatus. In that, to consolidate any of their gains, development has to follow on right after.

I'd also say though they see us as sort of the precursor. When DOD looks at the Latin American region, or Asia, or much of Africa, they see security challenges presenting themselves in lack of development. And the better we do our job, the less important, the less challenging it might be for DOD to have to deploy large number[s] of troops.

Neilesh: There is a bit of a spectrum, between the immediate, classic sense of national security, but also the long term relationship-building that has led to favorable trading status, some popular tourist destinations that weren't tourist destinations 20-30 years ago.

Carol: Bob, do you have an example of USAID’s work with national security being implemented overseas, especially with the DOD?

Bob: Sure, I would look directly to Colombia and the success that they've seen in really defeating the FARC over the last decade.

Working with the Colombian military to clear FARC-held regions of the country, followed almost immediately by development assistance -- be it OTI, be it OFDA humanitarian assistance, be it traditional development. But as the military would clear an area, if there was no governing structure, if there were no services coming behind that, the military was left to their own devices to stay forever and ever and ever, really.

But we didn't see that. What we saw in Colombia, the military would clear an area, USG/AID coming in right behind, establishing essential services, establishing some form of governance was really what I think led to the success that the Colombian government saw.

Kristen: We've recently done a review of a lot of stabilization-related programming in Afghanistan. We did find some things that led to a better stabilizing effect of some of these programs. And they are focusing on small scale, very targeted and layered assistance.

So I think we're at a really exciting point now where we are learning a lot more now that we understand the link between development and security. We're starting to apply more to understanding fragile and preventative areas of work.

Carol: So, national security is a primary focus for our Administration. And bolstering USAID’s role in supporting national security is important.

Historically, how has the Agency approached national security, and how do you see it evolving?

Neilesh: Foreign assistance is not "charity." We have been involved in national security for a very long time, and a lot of it has to with our ability to inherit the "day after" scenarios of events.

USAID’s got one of the best ground games in all of the interagency. At less than one percent of the budget, we punch way above our weight when it comes to interagency dialogue, [and] driving national security policies. And we are getting so much better at injecting ourselves into discussions, driving the policy, but also informing, in terms of operational realities on the ground.

Because of our ground game, we are able to ground truth a lot of what is said at the NSS, and say "You know what? We've seen this movie before. This is how it's gonna end." Why? Cause we've been in some of these countries and environments for decades.

Bob: Our partners, specifically DOD, recognizes and embraces that they're in our space, but they don't want to do what we do. And I think it's a real opportunity for us to take that leadership in these areas.

Carol: Turning specifically to the President's National Security Strategy...can you take a first stab at how this impacts our work at USAID?

Kristen: The four core themes of the NSS, which are: protect the homeland, promote American prosperity, preserve peace through strength, and advance American influence, are really going to be the defining constructs for a lot of the work that we do, both on the policy, the implementation, and also the way we talk about it.

How we describe what our narrative is, of our foreign assistance, is so important. It's really important to tell our story, linking back to one of those four goals.

I was thinking recently about the work that we've done on Ebola and our work to counteract transnational criminal organizations that traffic in people.

As we begin to build on it, on the President's National Security Strategy, through our policy frameworks, it'll be really important that we work closely with the missions as they undergo their own budgetary and program planning processes.

Carol: The Department of Defense is always a key player when it comes to national security. Bob, in your opinion, how should the Agency be working with the Department of Defense?

Bob: First, it's important that we understand what DOD and our other partners can bring to the table and can't bring to the table. And be clear-minded in our own capacity -- what we can and cannot do, and should and should not do.

And then, when we're working together in this space, that we understand each other's objectives, so that we're not working across purposes, but actually working in a manner that we have a lead and supporting-relationship as appropriate, to really advance U.S. Government interests.

So the next thing would be to work across the whole spectrum, right? From the policy and strategy level, down to plans and programmings, from Washington to the field.

The more we're able to engage and really, our exchange of personnel, is a huge opportunity to help understand the opportunities, understand the way each other works, understand what we want to accomplish and what we don’t want to accomplish. It will only continue to grow.

Carol: What are the other players that we're talking about when we talk about this approach to national security?

Neilesh: There are several players that play in the assistance realm. AID is looked upon in the health, education, humanitarian assistance, but Treasury. When you talk about disrupting terrorist financing, that’s Department of Treasury. DOD obviously, with their operational capabilities, certainly, and their ability to get to places that sometimes we are not able to get to. There are 20+ other USG agencies that work in the assistance realm.

And, in any given place, we are doing our part. Because, at the end of the day, when you look at the four pillars of the National Security Strategy, it may come across at first read as, "America first." It seems [to have] a more domestic lens.

However, in order for us to be a stronger America, a lot of our development equities play hugely in foreign countries. And what we do certainly helps make America strong.

Kristen: We also are working closely, as always, with our colleagues at the Department of State. One thing we were recently struck by: we did a review of stabilization activities, which are core to a security approach. And we found that having that political imperative clearly defined, and then working with our colleagues at the Department of State to ensure that that political imperative was backed up through good development programming, was actually some of the most effective practice we could use in places like Afghanistan, South Sudan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. And that came across really strongly.

These conflicts are cyclical. So being able to get out in front of them, and to take a preventative approach really relies on a key understanding of what the drivers of conflict and instability are.

Carol: So truly an interagency effort here.

Carol: I want to thank everyone for this great discussion. I really appreciate the different perspectives. And I think there will be more to come from this.

Now, we're going to check back in with the Administrator for a look at what's around the corner.

Carol: Mr. Administrator, you're entering a new year. Can you share what's on your plate? What are you looking forward to, or what will you be prioritizing this year?

Administrator: I've learned that I don't get to set my priorities in the sense that we're often responding to challenges. Sadly, responding to disasters. A key part of our work.

In terms of that, which I'm seeking to do and reaching out to. I'm looking forward to getting back on the road. I love the people that I work with here at the headquarters. But, of course, we are all brought to this work by what it means in the field and how it translates into lifting lives, and fostering strong communities.

And I look forward to seeing some of that in action. We have great people doing great work and I like to see it for myself. It's first off, the most rewarding part of the job. Secondly, it's just plain fun. So, I do plan on getting back out on the road soon.

Carol: The town halls are a great time for you to touch base with the folks here. I know there's one scheduled at the end of January, could you talk to us a little bit about that?

Administrator: I enjoy the town hall process very much. It's a chance for me to share experiences. But, it's also a chance to field questions. And give people a chance to look me in the eye when I provide answers.

So, I look forward to the town hall meeting. We're also hoping to undertake a renewed series of brown bags, which again gives me a chance to come out and hear from folks. We obviously come to work for the difference that we make in people’s lives. But, it's also just being around a great team of professionals here.

People that are energized, motivated with good ideas. The more that I can get out and hear from people, the happier that I am.

Carol: You launched this podcast for staff, and we've asked staff to submit their questions. Here's one from Ashley in Washington, she asks, "I'm happy the Redesign team has been communicating high-level updates. Is there anything specific we can do if we're not on the T3 team, or in leadership positions, to really help reach any of the redesign goals?"

Administrator: Great question, Ashley. First off, I have to say how really grateful I am for all the input that the T3 team has been receiving. We've worked as hard as we can to make sure that everything that we do is informed by the educated experience and ideas of the team that's here. So far I think it’s working quite well.

In terms of going forward, certainly you can go to MyUSAID.gov. But, secondly, there will be lots of opportunities for [you to] reach out in some of the strategic sessions, the town halls that we'll be having. Continue to express ideas, there are no right or wrong answers.

As we go and begin the implementation phase, we really need constant feedback. What's working? What can work better? What isn't working? Looking for ways to make sure that whatever we do builds on the tremendous work that's been done by so many for so long, up to now.

What can we do that helps the Agency reach even higher?

Carol: It's always such a pleasure speaking with you, sir. Thank you for the candid discussion, and for taking the time to answer our questions.

Administrator: It's my pleasure, as always. Look[ing] forward to the next one!

Carol: Thank you, sir.

Administrator: Thank you.

Last updated: June 04, 2020

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