Center for American Progress

Trade Aid and Security Coalition Conference Remarks

Trade Aid and Security Coalition Conference Remarks

July 15, 2009

CAP Senior Vice President of National Security Rudy deLeon discussed how to strengthen our civilian institutions of diplomacy and development.

SOURCE: Center for American Progress

Rudy deLeon is the Senior Vice President of National Security and International Policy at American Progress.

Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to appear on this panel with Congressman Adam Smith of Washington, Timothy Reif from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and our moderator Doug Wilson of the Howard Gilman Foundation. I would also like to acknowledge my colleagues from the Center for American Progress who have contributed many hours of hard work in this area, Winny Chen and Sabina Dewan, who are both attending this morning.

I came across a very insightful quote addressing the exact topic we are here to discuss— poverty and national security.

The economic gap presents us with our most critical challenge today. It is this gap which is altering the face of the globe, our strategy, and our alliances, more than any current military challenge. And it is this economic challenge to which we have responded most sporadically, most timidly, and most inadequately.

The quote was President John F. Kennedy’s in the run-up to the USAID’s establishment in 1961. Now, nearly 50 years later, we find ourselves again facing unprecedented threats, and the world is a battleground for ideas.

The United States faces a number of complex and serious national security challenges today:

  • Two major military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • International financial system in havoc.
  • Transnational threats— proliferation, pandemic disease, piracy, terrorism, transnational criminal networks.

To counter these threats, and to meet the challenges to come, America must use all of its strengths, especially those in our civilian institutions of diplomacy and development.


United States has a long tradition of using its economic power to advance the global common good. We have long recognized that our security is closely tied to the stability and prosperity of others around the world.

  • After WWII: The United States broke with historical precedent. For the first time, the victors did not seek to vanquish the losers. Rather, the United States appreciated the economic and physical devastation of the war and believed that the world’s salvation lay in the reconstruction and recovery of Europe’s economic fabric. George Marshall’s European Aid Program connected America’s security with Europe’s rehabilitation. As General Marshall noted, “Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions exist.”
  • In fact, in that critical year of 1947, George Marshall was identified at Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year.” The essay talked about the “Year of Decision” and noted that the American people “not quite realizing the full import of their action . . . took upon their shoulders the leadership” for economic as well as national security.
  • Then, in the 1960’s, at the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act, establishing the U.S. Agency for International Development and institutionalizing this country’s economic and humanitarian commitment to partners around the world.
  • When the Cold War ended, the United States began to make significant cuts to international programs. That was a mistake.
  • Then USAID Administrator Brian Atwood warned, “If these deep cuts continue, America risks abandoning the international leadership that has served this country so well for so long. We will be turning out the lights of America’s presence around the globe … It makes no sense at all for the United States to possess the world’s finest military machinery but to let the very diplomatic functions that prevent war and instability wither on the vine.” He was right.
  • We have since then seen the rise of a number of serious threats from the poorest, most ungoverned spaces around the world—Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Sudan to name but just a very few.

State of play—today

Though USAID and the development community isn’t facing as dire a situation as it was in the 1980s and 1990s, we are still a long way from getting development right.

The United States is the world’s leader in reacting to crises, and in most cases provides humanitarian or other assistance more quickly and in greater volume than any other government. But our track record lays bare a tendency to disengage once a crisis subsides, and often without addressing the root causes. A look into the history of U.S. foreign aid, for example, reveals a clear pattern: Aid levels spike in reaction to crises, but flat-line shortly thereafter, only to rise again when crises occur.

The stability costs are significant. Long-running crises spread, destabilizing neighboring countries, spilling refugees across borders, and often upsetting the political balance of an affected region. One needs only to look at Pakistan and Afghanistan to understand this. Countries and regions in crisis, meanwhile, provide fertile ground for illicit trade, extremist networks, arms suppliers, and money laundering, thus undermining regional, as well as international security.

Our foreign assistance tools must also be fixed and modernized. U.S. foreign aid programs are spread across as many as 25 government agencies, departments, offices, and initiatives, with no single person or department responsible for defining the purpose of our aid, managing aid programs, or answering for the outcomes.

Meanwhile, USAID is suffering from a crippling human capital crisis. USAID’s direct-hire workforce was more than 18,000 in the late 1960s, but fell below 2000 in the early part of this decade. In June 2004, there were roughly 670 USAID Foreign Service officers overseas for more than 150 countries where the agency manages programs. Training programs that professionalize civilian agencies have also been chronically underfunded.


Merely reacting to global crises is a costly strategy in terms of both human lives and direct financial costs. According to a study by the Center for Global Development, it takes the world’s donors between 15 to 27 years to exit from a conflict country because it takes that long for post-war economies to generate sufficient internal revenues to reduce the need for external assistance.

The only way the United States can avoid leaping from crisis to crisis is to position America to get ahead of the crisis. Effective trade, and more importantly, aid policies aimed at building capacity play an integral part of prevention.

First and foremost, we must elevate the diplomatic and development elements of our national security strategy. We must empower these civilian institutions to do their work—work they are good at and want to do but aren’t empowered to do—we must empower them so that our brave men and women in uniform no longer carry the entire burden of national security.

In practical terms, this means we must provide the leadership and resources that the aid community needs. Giving development leaders a voice at the highest levels of decision making, creating a National Strategy for Global Development and integrating that strategy into the larger U.S. National Security Strategy, and funding USAID operations at their fullest levels—these are just some ways we can get started.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised these exact issues earlier this week as she outlined the administration’s strategy in greater and more effective American partnerships.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates agrees. In a speech last year, he argued for the need to “harness the full strength of America” by integrating our diplomacy and economic assistance. He stated that military operations and lethal combat “should be subordinate to measures to promote participation in government, economic programs to spur development, and efforts to address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies and among the discontented from which the terrorists recruit.”

We have now a widespread consensus that elevating diplomacy and development in our national security is not just a good thing to do; it is imperative. And there is no better time than now – when there is agreement in the executive branch, in Congress, and in our military – to do it.

Out recent paper from the Center for American Progress, written by Reuben Brigety and Sabina Dewan, “Putting Aid and Trade to Work,” makes this exact point. They write:

There is growing consensus that poverty, underdevelopment, and fragile states serve as fertile grounds for pollution, disease, lawlessness, and violent conflict, as well as international crime and terrorism. As such, there remains little doubt that harnessing economic development as a tool in pursuit of national security objectives is imperative.

Today, a unique challenge and opportunity exists.

The challenge to use all of the tools of American national security—the Grant Expectation first identified by the administration of Harry Truman—is our task.

Rudy deLeon is the Senior Vice President of National Security and International Policy at American Progress.

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Rudy deLeon

Senior Fellow