Today, Dr. Shah travels to West Point for the first time a sitting USAID Administrator has visited the Academy. His visit comes just over a year since President Obama elevated development on par with defense and diplomacy and one week before Veterans Day, offering an opportunity to highlight the importance of development to national security but also the importance of civilian-military cooperation.
There was perhaps no greater champion for these principles than George Marshall. Although he was one of the great generals who did not come from West Point’s hallowed grounds, it was his plan that sought “the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.” He offered a blueprint against hunger, poverty, and despair.
Just over a decade later, President Kennedy institutionalized this capability within the U.S. government by establishing USAID.
The military shares a particular bond with President Kennedy as it was at his initiative that USAID evolved but also that the U.S. Army Special Forces were institutionalized—another niche capability of skilled public servants trained to work alongside other cultures. These groups have championed our values and perpetuate the mindset of “nothing about them without them.”
USAID is able to work not just alongside the military but also in places where conflict is ongoing without US military presence, preventing further discord in a way that is integral to national security. Development is critical for enduring stability and the realization of peaceful human potential, and as former Secretary of Defense Gates stated, “Economic development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.” USAID is and will continue to be in many places so the military does not have to be.
There is perhaps less of a divide between service members and development practitioners than many care to admit. All are dedicated individuals who serve the public good and share a strong sense of mission, service, sacrifice and expeditionary nature. It is these shared values that make for better cooperation. Moving forward in pursuit of our national security objectives will require building upon our shared history but also a continued embrace for the portfolio of development.