President Trump’s national security strategy is a mixed bag

By Emily Huie, Senior Policy Manager, and Jackie Quiñones, Assistant Director of U.S. Government Relations

President Trump released his National Security Strategy this week, and while Russia and China have dominated the headlines, we at ONE have looked at how it does on development issues. Our verdict: it is a mixed bag. It has shifted away from the approach of previous administrations, which gave equal importance to the three main foreign policy tools: the “3 Ds” (Diplomacy, Defense, and Development). However, it does include several nods to how development supports America’s role in the world. Ultimately, while there are several things in the strategy that ONE supports, several things give us pause. The real test will be in the actions the administration takes now that it has articulated its plans for engagement with the world.

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President Trump’s National Security Strategy promotes a development model of partnership with countries. It is committed to moving away from assistance based on grants and towards approaches that “attract private capital and catalyze private sector activity.” It highlights the example of U.S. economic support to post-World War II Europe (the Marshall Plan), South Korea, and Japan, which was instrumental in helping them to become successful democracies and some of the most prosperous economies in the world.

While ONE is supportive of investing in countries so that they can move beyond the need for aid, it is worth noting that the assistance the U.S. provided to Europe and Asia under the Marshall Plan was more than just trade agreements and private sector engagement. The United States generously provided large amounts of traditional development assistance as well – grants, technical support, food aid, and other goods and services.

As the United States government aims to help countries successfully transition away from reliance on aid, we hope it will not opt out of the important long-term work that keeps the poorest of the poor alive, and helps the world’s least developed countries build up the institutions that will support healthy, educated, and equitable societies. Without these, countries will never be able to generate the real and sustained economic growth that reduces poverty.

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ONE supports the emphasis on private sector engagement, and it is our hope that one day, aid will no longer be necessary. However, in the near term, the private sector cannot be the singular focus of the United States’ development strategy.

A highlight of the strategy is its call for modernizing the United States’ development finance tools so that U.S. companies have incentives to capitalize on opportunities in developing countries. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is a small U.S. agency that helps attract private investment to poor countries that might otherwise have trouble getting companies to do business there. OPIC is actually a key implementer of the Power Africa program, which is helping to expand access to electricity across the continent – a key ingredient for sustained economic growth. For its small size, OPIC has outsized impact (it actually puts money back into the U.S. treasury each year), and ONE supports efforts to enhance and expand its reach.

Another highlight of the strategy is its clear call for the United States to remain a leader in providing humanitarian assistance in the face of disasters around the world. This same section also includes language supporting food security and health programs that save lives. We at ONE are concerned that the strategy confuses emergency assistance with development assistance here, especially because long-term development assistance is precisely what saves the U.S. and the wider global community from having to spend even more money on short-term emergency responses. We applaud the Administration’s commitment, at least in word, to these important programs but would caution against using the terms “humanitarian” and “development” interchangeably. The two are very closely linked, but also distinct in critical ways.

A group of residents at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. (Photo credit: ONE)

A group of residents at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. (Photo credit: ONE)

A few more highlights that ONE was excited to see in the strategy: a focus on women’s equality, the role of good governance, and the opportunities that new technologies might open up for development in the years to come.

These bring us to our last and main point: the good and the bad of this strategy do not exist in a vacuum. It is what happens next that really matters and one big part of that is the budget. President Trump’s first budget request, had it been enacted this year, would have had disastrous consequences for the United States’ ability to invest responsibly in development. We have no reason to believe that his budget request next year will be any different. Based on this, we have a hard time seeing how this strategy can be implemented.

This national security strategy, like all before it, is primarily a messaging document; and the messages it’s sending are mixed. ONE will be watching closely and advocating aggressively to ensure that the best version of this document is implemented and that the United States continues to be the global leader in caring for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.


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