When faced with complex global issues, our nation is naturally inclined to use its military. The U.S. military is the most advanced, well-prepared, and expansive force in world history. Yet the complex security issues the world faces call for innovations in diplomacy and development – not merely military force. Violent extremism and terrorism hailing from developing nations can be more effectively prevented if the U.S. increases investments in international development funding and programs beyond its military. In building a comprehensive national security strategy, the U.S. must raise the importance of international development to that of defense as an instrument of foreign policy.
Poverty and Conflict
The causes of violent security issues are often intricately linked to a country’s economic and political state of development. Complex issues such as terrorism, insurgency, and civil war are not security issues only: they are development issues (State Department 2015). This is especially true for the least developed countries in the world, the highest concentration of which is in Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, terrorist organizations such as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the Tuareg jihadists in Mali often hail from areas struck by droughts, failed harvests, lack of water, food, sanitation, unemployment, and more at a lower overall stage of economic and political development. Researchers of the so-called “poverty-conflict nexus” have found that poverty lowers the opportunity cost for actors to join a civil war (Collier and Hoeffler 2004). Areas with relatively higher per-capita income, for example, have more to lose from the loss of labor and economic disruptions of civil war than areas with lower per-capita income, where actors experience greater incentives to join a rebel force (Buhaug 2011). The lower opportunity cost of rebellion raises the probability of a civil conflict breaking out in impoverished regions. The U.S. should include these research findings in its foreign policy and take a comprehensive view economic underdevelopment as a leading cause of conflict.
The 3D Strategy: Development, Diplomacy, Defense
Since the causes of violent conflict are intricately linked to development, we can no longer separate our international security policies from our international development policies. This involves a deepening of cooperation between the Defense Department, State Department, and USAID in order to pursue what is called the “3D” strategy of diplomacy, defense, and development (USAID 2013). By pooling their unique strengths and resources, the Departments can implement a development-minded security policy. In addition to its current drone programs, airstrikes, and military measures, the U.S. should significantly expand investment in development programs and aid aimed at uplifting countries’ standard of living, economy, and democratic system in a way that would help raise communities out of poverty and the violent extremism it produces.
A Tillerson Plan of International Development
U.S. international development policy should focus its funds and capacity on priority development goals. These include improving sustainable agriculture, sanitation, disease-prevention, education and training, female empowerment, and democratic governance, among others. Arguably one of the greatest achievements in U.S. foreign policy history, the Marshall Plan of 1948, helped build economic and political capacity in Europe after World War II while opening lucrative economic markets for trade with the U.S. (De Long 1991; Miller 2014). Just like Secretary of State George Marshall paved the way for the Marshall Plan, so can the United States under Secretary Rex Tillerson cultivate a game-changing “Tillerson Plan” of international development policy that will simultaneously benefit the security and economy of developing nations and that of the U.S.
It would be arrogant and naïve to assume that the U.S. could solve a country’s faulting economic system, or raise the standard of living of nations like Somalia to Western standards overnight. While the 3D strategy sets high goals, it does not argue that the U.S. could or should completely transform nations on its own. Rather, it holds that raising development to the importance of diplomacy and defense in foreign policy would be effective alongside traditional military tools in addressing security issues. Beyond humanitarian objectives, any increase in U.S. contribution towards international development is a contribution towards greater international security.
Security through Development
The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) published by the State Department in 2010 and 2015 outlines a U.S. strategy that intricately links diplomacy to development, presenting ambitious programs to reduce global poverty and forge global development partnerships (State Department 2015). Yet this promising foreign policy continues to lack proper funding. The budget for the Department of Defense for 2016 was about $850 billion, while that of the Department of State and USAID combined was only about $50 billion (U.S. Budget FY 2016). To adequately counter violent conflict, terrorism, health epidemics, and poverty around the world, the Department of State and USAID must receive adequate political, financial, and ideological support.
Sebastian De Beurs is a Plan II Honors, Government, and History major focusing on U.S. foreign policy and international political economy. His research interests lie in sub-Saharan African peace and development, about which he blogs on www.africaffairs.org. Sebastian is a also an Undergraduate Fellow in the Clements Center and a Virtual Student Foreign Service intern with the U.S. Department of State.