The Development Challenge

PROMISES, PROMISES

As a matter of stated policy, there is no doubt that Washington is committed to supporting economic development in impoverished countries. In September 2000, it joined the UN in issuing the Millennium Declaration, in which the world pledged to cut extreme poverty in half and reduce child mortality by two-thirds within the next 15 years (aims later formalized as part of the Millennium Development Goals). In March 2002, the United States and the international community adopted the Monterrey Consensus, which laid out a multifaceted strategy to achieve these objectives by promoting the private sector in developing countries, opening trade with them, and increasing official development assistance (ODA). That year, the U.S. National Security Strategy promised to "secure public health," "emphasize education," and "continue to aid agricultural development" in low-income countries. "The United States and other developed countries," the document asserted, "should set an ambitious and specific target: to double the size of the world's poorest economies within a decade."

Most Americans, and perhaps most senior U.S. government officials, believe that the United States has been following through on such commitments. The U.S. response, public and private, to December's Indian Ocean tsunami has seemed to confirm the nation's generous engagement with those in need. Ironically, though, this outpouring of concern may obscure rather than clarify a deeper truth. Other than in response to disasters--famines, floods, and earthquakes--U.S. assistance for the world's poorest countries is utterly inadequate. It falls far short of meeting the needs of recipient countries, fails to tap into the vast U.S. capacity for providing aid, does not fulfill Washington's many promises to fund development adequately, and is a small fraction of what Americans believe the U.S. actually provides.

Without a new approach, Washington risks undermining the most important international development goals that the world has accepted--and plunging the international community into a maelstrom of recrimination. Without dramatic reform, the United States will increasingly be tarred as a country ready to invest in war, and perhaps in emergency relief, but not in peaceful development. The number of failed states will increase, spreading disorder and threatening global and national security.

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