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The most effective U.S. foreign policy: economic development

Caleb Stevens, at home in Michigan on Jan. 30, 2018, was shot in the leg while fighting the Islamic State in Syria. Stevens was operated on recently at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, informed the Security Council on March 12 that the U.S. is prepared for military action in Syria if the United Nations fails to stop indiscriminate bombing there (“US ‘prepared to act’ if Russia doesn’t cooperate on Syria cease-fire,” March 12). This year is the seventh anniversary of the breakout of Syria’s Civil War, which has already killed around 450,000 people and displaced millions. Maybe it’s time to reconsider what the U.S. could do to effectively relieve the situation. Is it military intervention, as Ms. Haley suggested? Does it actually work? The answer is no. More military intervention has led to further chaos and regional wars that have put in danger more civilians than the civil war itself.

The U.S. should instead shift its strategic focus from military intervention to non-military tools of development. “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers,” said Robert Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense. Today, the world’s most dangerous countries are also among the poorest. Poverty, weak institutions and corruptions make countries vulnerable to terrorists and violence. With that being said, an increase in development funding and a cut in debts owned by poor foreign countries to U.S. work better than weapons in maintaining global stability and building strong allies of U.S.

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The United States has not only humanitarian interest but also strategic interest in lifting countries out of poverty. Today one out of five jobs in U.S. is export-based, and 50 percent of our exports now go to developing nations. As people transition from barely surviving into becoming consumers, it opens new markets and creates jobs for U.S. companies. Last year, Wal-Mart entered South Africa as the first mass retailer to enter the continent, seeing recent strong economic growth in Africa. It plans on targeting the growing middle class and secure a majority holding in South Africa’s Massmart.

The Borgen Project is building awareness of the economic, national security and diplomatic reasons for strong U.S. leadership in addressing global poverty. As a Borgen Project supporter, I urge Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen to cosponsor the AGOA and MCA Modernization Act and protect the international affairs budget.

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Yuhan Cai, Baltimore

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