Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


US Development Policy


President Obama released his first national security strategy last week, as we anticipated. He argues Americans’ well-being is bound more than ever to events beyond U.S. borders and that U.S. policies—on the economy, climate, migration, technology and more—are linked to prosperity and security around the globe.  In short: what happens here matters there, and vice versa.

The idea that rich country policies matter sounds a lot like the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) mantra. Both the national security strategy and CGD president Nancy Birdsall’s chapter in White House and the World on “Why Global Development Matters and What the Next U.S. President Should Do About It” kick things off with discussion of tectonic shifts in the world’s political and economic landscape. The shared conclusion is that in an increasingly interconnected world, national security requires not just military strength but also skilled diplomacy, sound economic policy and innovative approaches to foster global development. Good development policy is no longer just the right thing to do; it is crucial to the safety and security of the American people.

A lot of what is in the 2010 national security strategy—including global development—isn’t new. President Bush elevated development alongside defense and diplomacy in both the 2002 and 2006 national security strategies. But Obama devotes more attention to the development and security implications of what are normally considered domestic concerns. The Obama strategy argues that national security “begins at home” and that strong economic, education, health care, technology promotion and migration policies are the foundation for U.S. global leadership. And the Obama strategy includes using U.S. leadership in international bodies—think the International Monetary Fund and the G-20—to “advance our own interests by serving mutual interests.”

The challenge is how to put the national security strategy’s priorities and principles into practice. My colleagues have a few ideas on climate, trade, migration, and the U.S. role in the international institutions that identify the synergies in U.S. and global development interests. The bigger question is how to craft what the strategy calls a “whole of government approach” that can coordinate planning and policymaking and create “a deliberate and inclusive interagency process” to “balance and integrate all elements of American power and update our national security capacity for the 21st century.”

While the basic idea of ensuring that all parts of government are working toward the same end is the logical ideal, it’s harder than it sounds. On U.S. global development policy alone, there has been a big effort to develop a coordinated strategy through just such an interagency process. But it has been slow and low-level turf battles between agencies continue while we wait for final agreement on the interagency process. I hope that the national security strategy gets the rest of the development policy ball rolling soon, so that the administration will have a development legacy beyond the global health and food security initiatives.

The new national security strategy also wisely recognizes the need to work in “close cooperation with Congress.”  As the distinctions between “domestic” and “foreign” policy fade in today’s interconnected world, the traditional lines between congressional committees (which are already often separate but overlapping) seem increasingly cumbersome. Ensuring the United States advances its own interests by serving mutual interests around the globe requires greater integration of foreign and domestic thinking. I’m not suggesting that foreign policy concerns alone should drive congressional debate, rather that it’s silly to consider “foreign” issues separately from “domestic” when the rest of the world increasingly matters to U.S. interests—and vice versa. Enacting a national security budget, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested in her remarks about the national security strategy, would also require some significant changes in the way business is done in (and outside) the halls of Congress.

Given that the national security strategy is essentially a report to Congress (mandated by the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986), there is reason to hope that the strategy’s arguments will be noticed. Whether Congress and the administration will work together to make some of the necessary changes to strengthen U.S. policy—and policymaking—is an open question. What do you think?


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.