Former U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator J. Brian Atwood offered suggestions on how to improve the integration of diplomacy, defense, and development in a June 23 speech at the Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit headquarters in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, as part of the Eschborn Dialogue 2009. Atwood is dean of the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and chairman of Devex’s board of advisors.

This Dialogue on security and development is very timely. I thank GTZ for taking this initiative and I congratulate the government of Germany for providing an opportunity to the development community to focus on its role in mitigating threats to our nations and to our globe. My hope is that this Dialogue will help our political leaders expand the definition of security, appreciate better the potential contribution of development, and find new ways to integrate the diplomacy, defense, and development missions, particularly in post-conflict situations. I hope we will also discuss ways to integrate the contrasting perceptions in the Western and developing worlds of the threat to human security.

Let us hope we might provide the impetus that governments and international organizations need to place as much emphasis on the prevention of violent conflict as on the management of violent conflict. We are now nearly overwhelmed by crises, but unless we commit more resources and ingenuity into prevention, crisis management will fail utterly.

The agency I directed in the 1990s, USAID, was a partner and collaborator with GTZ. We worked together at the [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] Development Assistance Committee to develop new approaches to our work and to define goals for the development community. We saw the world much the same way. In 1994, we worked together within the DAC to produce the 21st Century Development Goals statement which later became the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

In retrospect, we and the other donors were quite forward-looking, but we were all somewhat reluctant to describe our mission in terms of its contribution to our common security. Perhaps we were influenced by our desire to remain pure! We wanted a cooperative relationship with our partners in developing nations and we were concerned that discussing security from our national perspectives might damage that relationship. This was a legitimate concern, and it remains so, but today we can no longer avoid exploring the development mission in the context of global security.

Our relative silence prior to the onset of major terrorism attacks in the early part of this decade denied the development community an opportunity to explain its contribution to security. A series of studies following the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the United States - and subsequent attacks on other countries - reflected an underlying objective: to create a new “culture of prevention.” A 2001 DAC report titled “Helping Prevent Violent Conflict” argued that “conflict prevention is an integral part of the quest to reduce poverty.” A study by the emergency response division of [the U.N. Development Program] in the same year advocated for improved analyzes of the areas of underdevelopment in nations vulnerable to crisis. It argued that development experts are more likely to consider issues related to the breakdown of states than were traditional intelligence analysts.

Then, in 2003, the DAC issued a report that more explicitly recommended steps the development community could take to “support global efforts to combat terrorism and to prevent violent conflict.” The report, labeled “A Development Co-operation Lens on Terrorism Prevention,” did not claim that development could directly address “all the root causes of terrorism,” but it did assert that development cooperation was an important element in mitigating “many conditions that allow terrorists to be politically successful.” The recommended interventions speak to the need to ameliorate the conditions of “concentrated disadvantage” - conditions that sociological studies show contribute to the unraveling of societies. Consider the interventions recommended:

  • Support community-driven development to build the capacity of communities to resist extreme religious and political ideologies based on violence.

  • Help build effective and responsible media and public information strategies.

  • Give greater attention in donor programming to young peoples’ job opportunities and education.

  • Support democratization and modernization from within local value systems to reconfirm and build the beliefs of societies.

  • Stay engaged and work in fragile, conflict-prone societies no matter how difficult the partnership may become.

  • Strive to make globalization an inclusive process; this requires an increased aid effort as well as greater policy coherence.

The development community did not exactly embrace a role in the security field, but it is now recognizing that it cannot stand aside. New reports and studies, including Paul Collier’s good work on “conflict traps,” a recent German Marshall Fund task force report on development, and a Center for Global Development report on failed states and national security, affirm the need to apply development analysis and strategies to prevent conflict. Yet, as we examine this issue in 2009, we are struck by how challenging it is politically to move governments to act on the empirical evidence that conditions contribute to conflict, and to accept the need for a culture of prevention. Perhaps we need to return to the basics and offer a development perspective of security.

There are two common definitions of the word “security”: 1) freedom from danger; and 2) freedom from fear and anxiety. In my view, our national security strategies have focused too much on fear and too little on real danger. We have all seen what fear and anxiety have produced by way of policy responses to terrorism. It is the purview of historians to decide, but many of us have already concluded that these responses have often been irrational and counter-productive. Whether it is a war of choice in Iraq, the introduction of torture as a means of coercing information, or a more restrictive policy on student exchanges, the overall policy reaction to terrorism has created a wedge that divides people of conscience and divides the West from the developing world.

We in the West have allowed our fear to narrow the object of our anxiety to a band of religious extremists and to the weapons of mass destruction they might employ against us. These are legitimate dangers and countermeasures are needed, but our narrow focus excludes a range of dangerous threats.

The people of the developing world may be equally mistaken in focusing on their own issues to the exclusion of terrorist threats, but it will do us no good to admonish them. Their dangers are much closer to home, and they relate to the effects of debilitating poverty. The populations of the developing world have experienced the loss of children from diseases easily cured elsewhere, from malnourishment, and from the poor quality of the water supply. Governments have failed and conflicts have occurred, according to Collier, six times more frequently when extreme poverty is prevalent.

We have come a long way in our thinking about security and development in the past decade, but we have yet to find a way to integrate effectively the two world views that make cooperation possible. Listen carefully to the debates this fall at the United Nations General Assembly. The West and the developing nations may now better appreciate common threats to our globe, but we are still two ships passing in the night. We have yet to create an integrated concept of our common security needs. We in the West place our emphasis on terrorism while our neighbors to the South focus on poverty.

There has been some progress, however. I was a member of the German Marshall Fund task force on development. In our section on development and security, we pointed to improvements that the development and defense communities have made “in addressing the lack of understanding and respect that have long characterized their relationship.”

Somewhat ironically, and with reluctance, our defense establishments have taken on development projects in transitional situations where security is at issue. As a consequence, military leaders have gained appreciation for the need for civilians with development expertise. Likewise, development agencies operating in conflict zones understand that development cannot take place in the absence of security.

In the United States, there has been a consistent call by retired military officers and by our Secretary of Defense for more civilian assets. Secretary Gates called for a “dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security.” One group of military officers testified before Congress and issued a statement that read, in part, “We know that the ‘enemies’ in the world today are actually conditions - poverty, infectious disease, political turmoil and corruption, environmental and energy challenges.”

Ironically, this call for more civilian resources comes at a time when the U.S. military is redefining its own primary mission to include “stability operations,” the function of pacifying conflict areas using development and humanitarian relief techniques. The message is clear: “If the civilian agencies do not have the resources or the will, we will do it ourselves.”

Most of us in this room understand that the engagement of people in military uniforms in peacetime development operations is counter-productive in terms of development cooperation. Our soldiers are warriors who cannot be made to appear as something they are not. Yet, are development professionals prepared to step into this role?

Most development professionals would admit a preference for operating in a more benign environment where long-term goals can be pursued, institutions built, and lasting partnerships nurtured. We understand that development requires a deep understanding of culture and history, a capacity to listen to the voices of partners, and a real investment by the developing nation’s government and population in its own future. Development takes time and commitment. Distracted societies emerging from conflict are far from ideal partners. Most development professionals want little to do with post-conflict transitions or “conflictive” societies.

In the early 1990s, we dealt with this reality at USAID by creating the Office of Transitions Initiative. This office was given special authority to respond rapidly to bring about reconciliation in post-conflict societies. This could mean anything from radio stations promulgating messages of peace, to small grants to villages to encourage collaboration, to election assistance, to demobilization, disarmament, and the reintegration into society of warring parties.

OTI was an important innovation in the early 1990s. It helped fill the gap between humanitarian relief operations and long-term development. However, this transitional assistance required security. I recall the first director of OTI telling me that on his first trip to Bosnia to explore options he barely dodged a bullet on his way into the hotel in Sarajevo. I told him that OTI’s interventions would not likely produce results if we were still dodging bullets!

We faced another problem and I suspect it remains a problem to this very day. OTI was designed to deploy short-term initiatives, to bring about reconciliation. Often these programs had the potential to evolve into longer-term development projects. Yet, there was little effective communication between the OTI team, which was present on the ground for a short duration, and the subsequently established development mission. The orientation of the OTI team was to create a more peaceful environment in a very brief period. The development mission was staffed by professionals who had a longer perspective - people who thought that the OTI teams were short-term fire fighters, not development people. That was an unfair characterization, but it did contribute to a disconnect in the transition-to-development continuum.

Many donor agencies, including the United Nations, have now developed OTI-type capacities. I served on the U.N. Peace Operations Panel which produced the Brahimi Report, named after our chairman, Lakhdar Brahimi. The peace-building institute was one of our recommendations; it is still in the process of being fully implemented.

The challenge the U.N. faces is the same challenge faced by USAID and GTZ in post-conflict zones: the integration of defense, diplomatic, and development operations. I understand the controversy here surrounding the deployment of German forces in post-conflict zones as a part of the NATO Alliance. I am sure that your military leaders will appreciate the need for more joint training operations and the creation of command structures that give voice and influence to the leaders of each of the elements needed, military and civilian.

I am sure you are watching with great interest the NATO operations in Afghanistan. Everyone is aware that Afghanistan has been a trap for foreign forces. The new strategy calls for pressuring the Taliban and Al Qaeda from within the country and from Pakistan. It is not just a military strategy, however; it includes diplomatic and development elements the objective of which is to pacify large areas of the country, offer the hope and reality of sustainable development and marginalize the radical elements while pulling them away from their presumably more moderate base of support.

The jury is still out on this comprehensive approach. Afghanistan and Pakistan will see massive investments of development resources and very active diplomatic efforts. There are no guarantees this will succeed, but confronting terrorism at its source and denying them a base is now a multi-lateral strategy, not just an American one.

There is no smooth path to a successful transition from war to peace, from state failure to prosperity. Conflicts need to be prevented and that is where the development mission plays the central role.

The prevention of conflict and the development of a prosperous and peaceful society require us today to embrace a new paradigm, the paradigm of “human security.” This may not be an entirely new term, but it is a term that may cause political leaders and development experts alike to take account of individual human beings as they devise national and global security strategies.

There are several threats to human security as we enter the second decade of a century that will see change so dramatic that our world will be unrecognizable in the year 2050.

For example, we are on a demographic escalator that will see one billion more people by 2025, most born in the developing world; we are already experiencing a food crisis, not just in price, but in volume.

  • According to National Geographic magazine, we have been consuming more food than farmers have been producing for most of the past decade. How will we feed a billion more people?

  • Climate change will make that challenge even greater. Weather crises are driving as many people into starvation as are higher prices.

  • As stated in the German Marshall Fund report, climate change will likely amplify the underlying causes of insecurity and violence.

  • The German Advisory Council on Global Change has predicted even more conflict over freshwater and food production.

In the face of these security challenges, we cannot look exclusively backward for the solutions we require. We are already learning that we cannot resort to the exact techniques used during the Green Revolution to increase food production. We need new investments in agricultural research. The old methods of population control are increasingly problematic when examined against quality-of-life issues and the dignity of girls and women. More holistic solutions are needed that incorporate education, micro-enterprise, and health care interventions.

We will need investments in research at least equal to that we make in new weapons systems. Our recent experience with a flu pandemic teaches us, once again, that disease is a national security threat that can disable an economy and cause a significant loss of life. Global relief, development and surveillance systems are needed to counter these threats, not national armies.

Many of these global threats emanate in the poorest regions of the world. In these places, environmental conditions and human behavior produce disease, yet health care infrastructure is virtually absent. Human security will not be achieved globally until we invest in preventing disease and environmental deterioration. Yet, we find it easier to appropriate resources - public and private - to bring relief after the fact, rather than to make investments in sustainable prevention.

Finally, a key part of our work must be the building of institutions and systems that enable prosperity - the creation of wealth - and the capacity of individual human beings to express themselves freely and fulfill their potential. Economic growth is essential if governments and private sectors are to succeed in investing in the success of society. Foreign assistance is a catalyst to change, but it cannot substitute for the effective involvement of local institutions and people.

Foreign assistance is only one part of a viable prevention strategy. If we do nothing about trade and finance policies, we will defeat our own purpose and condemn the developing world to failure. It is an investment in our own security to remove subsidies from our agricultural products and to enable developing nations to export commodities to our markets. It is an investment in our own security to support growth strategies, as well as reform, from the [International Monetary Fund] and World Bank. International support for endangered economies from the IMF must place much more emphasis on development and much less on protecting foreign investors and creditors. Let the risk insurance industry do that job.

My hope is that new leadership on the world stage coming from my country will lead us to a common definition of human security and a renewed commitment to development as prevention. As a community of professionals, we cannot turn our backs on the vital need for our services in post-conflict situations. However, we should hope that policymakers would begin to see the advantage of a commitment to sustainable prevention through poverty reduction, the building of political and economic institutions, and the development of human capacity through education.

I look forward to a Dialogue that will produce not only enlightenment, but the political will to achieve these goals. Thank you.

About the author

  • Brian Atwood

    J. Brian Atwood was unanimously elected Chair of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee in January 2011. From 1993 to 1999 during the administration of President William Clinton, Mr Atwood served as Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Prior to this, he led the Transition Team at the State Department and was Under Secretary of State for Management. During the administration of President Jimmy Carter, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations. In 1981‐82, he was Dean of Professional Studies and Academic Affairs at the Foreign Service Institute. From 2002 until 2010, Mr Atwood was Dean of the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Other prior positions include President and Chief Executive Officer of Citizens International (1999-2002) and founding President of the National Democratic Institute of International Affairs (1985-1993). In 2001, he served on United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Panel on Peace Operations. Mr Atwood joined the Foreign Service in 1966 and served in the American Embassies in Cote d'Ivoire and Spain. He served as legislative advisor for foreign and defense policy to Senator Thomas F. Eagleton (D'Mo) from 1972 to 1977. Atwood received the United States Secretary of State's Distinguished Service Award in 1999 and the President’s Award for Outstanding Service from the University of Minnesota in 2011. Mr Atwood has served as Chairman of the Devex Board of Advisors since the organization was founded in 2000.