What the US National Security Strategy says about global development

U.S. President Donald Trump gives a speech. Photo by: Shealah Craighead / The White House

WASHINGTON — The new United States National Security Strategy, released Monday, outlines a U.S.-centric development policy that prioritizes working with countries aligned with U.S. interests, calls for countering China’s influence, views development as a tool for U.S. security and puts private sector activity at the fore.

The strategy puts in writing what U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green has been saying in speeches since he took the position: That “the purpose of U.S. foreign assistance should be to end the need for it,” that U.S. foreign assistance will not promote dependency, and that it will prioritize working with countries, or “aspiring partners” as it puts it, that are aligned with U.S. interests.

“U.S. development assistance must support America’s national interests,” the strategy document says. “The United States will promote a development model that partners with countries that want progress, consistent with their culture, based on free market principles, fair and reciprocal trade, private sector activity, and rule of law,” it reads. “We will emphasize reforms that unlock the economic potential of citizens, such as the promotion of formal property rights, entrepreneurial reforms, and infrastructure improvements — projects that help people earn their livelihood and have the added benefit of helping U.S. businesses.”

The policy states that the U.S. expects other nations to share responsibility, but says that it will remain “a generous nation.”

Here’s a look at what the new strategy says about some key development issues.

 A focus on the private sector and economic growth

The U.S. can play a “catalytic role in promoting private sector-led economic growth,” to create future partners in trade and security.

The strategy points to the Marshall Plan and U.S. support in South Korea and Japan as examples of where U.S. aid effectively helped countries build their economies and become key markets for U.S. goods and strategic allies, and suggests using that as a model for effective foreign assistance.

“Some of the greatest triumphs of American statecraft resulted from helping fragile and developing countries become successful societies,” the strategy says.

The U.S. will mobilize public and private resources to maximize returns and outcomes, the policy says, while also reducing the “burden” on government resources.

“American-led investments represent the most sustainable and responsible approach to development and offer a stark contrast to the corrupt, opaque, exploitive, and low-quality deals offered by authoritarian states,” the policy states.

Competing with China

The strategy makes clear that this administration, like the last, sees China as a considerable threat, and that foreign aid will be used in part to counter China’s push for global influence.

“Today, the United States must compete for positive relationships around the world. China and Russia target their investments in the developing world to expand influence and gain competitive advantages against the United States,” the strategy reads. It goes on to say that China is investing billions in infrastructure around the world and that the U.S. “provides an alternative to state-directed investments, which often leave developing countries worse off.”

The policy highlights China’s role in Africa, where it has expanded its economic and military presence to become the continent’s largest trading partner, according to the strategy.

“Some Chinese practices undermine Africa’s long-term development by corrupting elites, dominating extractive industries, and locking countries into unsustainable and opaque debts and commitments,” the strategy says.

The U.S. seeks economic ties for market access and to create lasting relationships around common political and security concerns, and would like to see African nations integrated into the world economy, that can provide for their citizens, and manage security threats.

Development finance

As the administration has already announced, it is committed to modernizing its development finance tools. In this strategy, it says the motivation is “so that U.S. companies have incentives to capitalize on opportunities in developing countries.” Development finance will also be used as a tool to make the U.S. competitive with other countries for global influence, and remove any obstacles for U.S. companies wanting to do business in the developing world.

Ray Washburne, the chief executive officer of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. development finance institution released a statement alongside the strategy saying that it “rightly recognizes the power of mobilizing private capital in advancing our foreign policy and enhancing American influence” and that the agency looks forward to working with others in government to create a stronger, more modern development finance institution.

Fragile states

While many countries around the world have increased their focus on fragile states and made commitments to put certain percentages of their development dollars towards them, the strategy said that the U.S. will commit selectively.

“We will give priority to strengthening states where state weaknesses or failure would magnify threats to the American homeland,” the strategy says. The U.S. will prioritize programs where weak countries would create bigger threats to the U.S., such as Afghanistan.

The U.S. will also focus on working with reform-minded governments, people, and civil society, according to the policy, and work to ensure that there are lasting solutions, increased accountability, and a reduction of costs.

Multilateral engagement

The U.S. will continue to engage in multilateral forums and arrangements that affect U.S. interests to maintain influence and protect American values, the strategy says.

“If the United States cedes leadership of these bodies to adversaries, opportunities to shape developments that are positive for the United States will be lost,” the policy said. “Where existing institutions and rules need modernizing, the United States will lead to update them.”

The U.S. will work to reform the United Nations, will require accountability, and emphasize that responsibility is shared among members. “If the United States is asked to provide a disproportionate level of support for an institution, we will expect a commensurate degree of influence over the direction and efforts of that institution.”

The U.S. will also continue to play a leadership role at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, but will also seek reforms at those institutions. The U.S. will encourage multilateral development banks to focus on in high-quality infrastructure projects that promote economic growth.

Technology, internet, innovation

The U.S. government will incorporate innovative technologies into its development programs and work to protect a free and open internet.

The U.S. will look to digital technologies that can enable people to access financial services, reduce corruption, and improve transparency. And it will work with organizations, including the U.N. and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to promote “the free flow of data” and ensure that there are minimal barriers to “the global exchange of information and services.”

Governance and democracy

The U.S. will use its influence to encourage countries to improve governance and the rule of law. The strategy highlights the Millenium Challenge Corporation, which it says is already embracing that idea as it selects countries based on commitments to reform and then monitors and evaluate progress to those commitments.

Human rights, women’s rights, religious freedom

The U.S. will support those living under oppressive regimes and may use diplomatic sanctions or other tools to isolate states and leaders who don’t follow U.S. values.  “We will not remain silent in the face of evil,” the strategy states, adding that the U.S. will hold perpetrators of genocides and mass atrocities to account.

The U.S. will also work to empower women and youth, who are key to creating prosperous successful societies. It will support programs that work to advance women’s equality and  protect the rights of women and girls, as well as religious minorities.

Humanitarian assistance

The U.S. will continue its leadership in humanitarian assistance, according to the strategy, but will also expect other countries to step up.

As part of its humanitarian response, the U.S. will continue to respond to manmade and natural disasters. It will also support food security and health programs that address the root causes of hunger and disease. The U.S. will also support displaced people “close to their homes” to help meet their needs until they can return home.

Global health security

The policy outlines that the U.S. will work with countries to detect and mitigate disease outbreaks early to prevent the spread of disease and will “encourage other countries to invest in basic health care systems.” The U.S. will also work to protect the intellectual property of biomedical innovation and focus on improving emergency response and coordination systems domestically.


The strategy makes clear that the U.S. will continue to advocate for the use of fossil fuels as part of the world’s energy mix. “U.S. leadership is indispensable to countering an antigrowth energy agenda” the policy states, going on to say that “much of the developing world will require fossil fuels, as well as other forms of energy, to power their economies and lift their people out of poverty.” While that acknowledgment may have been welcome several years ago, some of the largest developing countries are turning away from fossil fuels.

The administration will work to protect the global energy infrastructure, improve the American technological edge in energy — from nuclear technology to better batteries and carbon-capture technologies. It will also seek to “ensure universal access to affordable, reliable energy, including highly efficient fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewables, to help reduce poverty, foster economic growth, and promote prosperity.”

What's the future of U.S. aid and development policy under the Trump administration? Read Devex news and analysis.

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.