The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Sailing up stream….

January 11, 2010

Last week appeared to be Development Week at Foggy Bottom. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her long-promised “Development” speech. The next day, Dr. Rajiv Shah was sworn in as the new administrator for USAID. In his speech, he identified four key priorities for his tenure:

1. To improve lives and fight poverty,
2. To expand human rights and economic opportunities,
3. To build democratic institutions and improve governance
4. To advance U.S. foreign policy to enhance our own prosperity and security.

Both Clinton’s speech and Rajiv’s appointment seem to me to strike the right notes, i.e, that development and diplomacy are as essential as defense in the conduct of American foreign policy.

Of course, as my friends at the National Priorities Project (based here in Northampton, MA) routinely point out, development and diplomacy aren’t even in the same league with the Pentagon.

Take the Afghanistan surge, for example. Jo Comerford, the head of NPP wrote an analysis of it over at She notes that Obama’s decision for 30,000 additional troops will cost roughly $1million per soldier — about $30 billion total (that would be $57,077.60 per minute for us taxpayers). She writes:

For purposes of comparison, $30 billion — remember, just the Pentagon-estimated cost of a 30,000-person troop surge — is equal to 80% of the total U.S. 2010 budget for international affairs, which includes monies for development and humanitarian assistance. On the domestic front, $30 billion could double the funding (at 2010 levels) for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. (My emphasis)

Or think of the surge this way: if the United States decided to send just 29,900 extra soldiers to Afghanistan, 100 short of the present official total, it could double the amount of money — $100 million — it has allocated to assist refugees and returnees from Afghanistan through the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Leaving aside the fact that the United States already accounts for 45% of total global military spending, the $30 billion surge cost alone would place us in the top-ten for global military spending, sandwiched between Italy and Saudi Arabia. Spent instead on “soft security” measures within Afghanistan, $30 billion could easily build, furnish and equip enough schools for the entire nation.

Given the deeply embedded domestic structural factors (political and organizational) that routinely fuel increases in defense spending and ridicule development assistance, it’s hard to find much promise in Clinton’s proclamation that:

It’s time for a new mindset for a new century. Time to retire old debates and replace dogmatic attitudes with clear reasoning and common sense. And time to elevate development as a central pillar of our foreign policy and to rebuild USAID into the world’s premier development agency.

Yeah, well, good luck with that….

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Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.