'Rising rest' affect U.S. development aid [Commentary]

The United States is developing its second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) — a broad assessment of the State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and their effectiveness in furthering the country's foreign-policy objectives amid a changing world of rising powers.

The first QDDR, completed in 2010, outlined an expansive framework for augmenting and leveraging U.S. "civilian power" to advance core American interests in a changing world of new threats and rising powers. This new round should concretely address another challenge: how to re-calibrate U.S. development aid given the increased involvement of countries such as China and India in this area.

The U.S. cannot curb emerging power participation in an aid sphere it has dominated for 50 years. However, the new QDDR can lay a framework for securing American interests by strategically engaging rising assistance providers and institutionalizing foreign aid alignment with traditional allies.

As their material strength expands, the "rising rest" have continued to augment aid provision abroad. Bilaterally, China has expanded development assistance several fold, Turkey's development agency is operational in 33 countries, and India will soon launch an aid provider. And multilaterally, the "BRICS" — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — announced they will establish a development bank to rival the World Bank. And the China-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Agency declared plans for a comparable initiative.

These development aid alternatives have yet to seriously rival, let alone supplant, the U.S.-devised and dominated aid architecture. At the same time, such changes signal that Western sources and designs on development assistance are being challenged and are no longer the only game in town. This has important implications for U.S. national security.

Funded by its taxpayers, U.S. development aid advances America's economic interests by swelling the ranks of free-market-oriented states, viable trading partners and destinations for goods. And it shores up U.S. security by helping transition weaker polities into reliable allies and more stable states.

As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, foreign aid is not "charity" but "an investment in a strong America" that "lifts other people up and then reinforces their willingness to link arms with us in common endeavors." And as USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah rightly stated regarding how the U.S. benefits from allocating bi-lateral aid: "By doing good, we do well."

The world in which the U.S. provides aid, however, is changing; and whether its taxpayers who fund this aid continue to reap the aforementioned rewards of "doing good" depends on remaining a guiding model and source for its provision. Two policies could help the QDDR respond to and secure core American interests in this changing world.

First, where strategic interests overlap, the U.S. should work with and through rising powers as aid providers. The 2010 QDDR rightly called for "burden sharing" with "emerging centers of influence" and described initial steps for doing so. The new QDDR should go further and consider clear avenues and associated mechanisms to engage like-minded emerging donors on aid-related issues of shared importance. Areas where results matter more than who gets the credit — such as conflict prevention/management — are ripe for this form of engagement, which would provide cost-share opportunities in an era of ever-tightening aid budgets and a means to forge relationships with select members of the rising rest. Such engagement would not be cooperation for cooperation's sake, but mutually-beneficial collaboration that could also lay a basis for tackling bigger issues of the coming decades, from climate change to the next Syria.

Equally important to engaging emerging powers is reinforcing Western positions on aid provision. Accordingly, the U.S. should deepen and further institutionalize cooperation with the E.U. on foreign aid, including objectives, approach and spending. Through the E.U./U.S "development dialogues," the transatlantic allies have made admirable progress in aligning development policies and country-specific priorities. Given the diffusion of power internationally and rise of foreign aid alternatives, however, the allies could benefit from a game-plan that projects further into the future to shore up shared Western positions on aid goals/provision. A long-term result of these steps could be a consolidated U.S./E.U. development institution where pooled resources are implemented through common delivery mechanisms. This could present a united front for preserving Western aid objectives — assistance linked to reforms toward "market economies backed by democratic institutions" — to alternatives on offer from the likes of China, who offer aid with "no political strings attached."

By selectively embracing emerging powers and committing to its core principles, the U.S. will ensure that aid remains a viable foreign policy tool now and in the future.

Patrick W. Quirk is a Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy of the German Marshall Fund in Washington DC. His email is pquirk@transatlanticacademy.org.

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