On May 17th, the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute jointly hosted a discussion on USAID’s role in countries emerging from conflict, the Agency’s efforts to prevent new conflicts and crises, and the challenges of both. Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg opened the discussion with remarks on USAID’s role over the past 40 years in conflict prone environments. DA Steinberg discussed how “the traditional dividing line … between hard national security issues and issues of human security, which are generally considered to be soft, are hopelessly and permanently blurred. Today there are no hard issues, there are no soft issues. Crisis and conflict no longer remain in their separate boxes any more than they respect national borders. You simply cannot achieve or even adequately address the fundamental goals of promoting governance, sustainable development, and international stability and cooperation in the presence of conflict and violence.”

USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg, American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar Mauro de Lorenzo, and John Norris of the Center for American Progress discuss development and national security. Photo credit: G. Barahona, USAID

To illustrate this, DA Steinberg focused specifically on USAID’s role in six main areas in conflict and post-conflict environments: restoring security, building a political framework, kick starting the economy, ensuring justice and accountability, promoting civil society, and getting the regional context right. Presently, 25% of USAID staff is based in 24 countries that are most vulnerable to armed conflict and 70 to 80% of the Agency’s budget is dedicated to humanitarian response, transition, and development in these settings. “Today, USAID people in the field have to be a combination of diplomat, humanitarian relief coordinator, security expert, military liaison officer, public affairs officer, risk manager, and even psychologist. We’re asking our staff to implement security sector reform, to mobilize and to reintegrate armed combatants, to support transitional justice mechanisms, to administer elections, to empower and protect women and disabled persons, to conduct humanitarian demining, to return refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes, to build roads and other infrastructure in the presence of armed combatants and so on.”

Mauro de Lorenzo, AEI visiting scholar and Vice President, Freedom and Free Enterprise at the Templeton Institute also commented on the hard and soft power distinction and encouraged a “more relevant distinction …between things you can measure and things you can’t, things you can use to demonstrate a connection to something to which we care about, whether it’s improved security or it’s economic growth, or it’s democracy.”

De Lorenzo discussed the critical need for economic reform from the onset of USAID activities in countries emerging from conflict instead of waiting until security and political reforms are well underway. He highlighted three USAID investments that support early economic reform and enable smarter aid decisions in development. First, USAID’s funding to initiate the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index that reviews and ranks measures of business regulations for local firms in 183 economies and selected cities at the subnational level. Second, the work of Hernando de Soto and the Institute for Liberty and Democracy supported by USAID, that works with governments to study property rights bottlenecks, solutions, and public documentation. Finally, de Lorenzo talked about USAID support for innovations in financial services, such as mobile banking in Kenya and encouraged more economic reform activities specifically in post-conflict environments.

John Norris of the Center for American Progress built on DA Steinberg and Mr. de Lorenzo’s arguments on economic recovery. He discussed the need to understand how economic growth supports the momentum to make recovery possible “by giving people a sense that there is economic viability in a place and actually creating some jobs for [people] without a lot of training … many of them who probably still have weapons and who are very comfortable using force.”