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“Arrested Development”: How Bridging the Security-Development Divide Can be More than a Talking Point December 8, 2009

Posted by Guest Blogger in Analysis.
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Each Tuesday BFAD features a guest blogger- these are experts from a variety of backgrounds writing about what they know best.  This week features Brian Finlay, Director of Stimson’s Managing Across Boundaries Program.

“Arrested Development”: How Bridging the Security-Development Divide Can be More than a Talking Point

by Brian Finlay

During his tenure as Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan famously remarked that long-term security is not possible without development, and that sustainable development is not possible in the absence of security. Although leaders in the developed world have increasingly borrowed from his language in their public pronouncements and policy speeches, the inherent relationship between the goals of development and security has not been validated by a commensurate shift in national spending habits. Top-line development assistance worldwide in 2007 was about $104 billion, while total military spending exceeded $1.279 trillion.  In other words, for every dollar spent on international development, $12.30 was spent in direct support of global armed forces.

Today in Washington, a cottage industry has emerged to promote a rebalancing of our foreign spending habits, with Secretary of Defense Gates becoming an eloquent, if unlikely, advocate for change. But because development and security programs have for so long been treated as competing priorities within the national budget process, revolutionary change has not proven to be easy, despite clear evidence of the benefits of a new approach. Of course, any successful rebalancing of priorities must necessarily go beyond the mere reallocation of resources. At its core, it will require a wiser and more strategic channeling of our national investments so that spending on one side of the budgetary ledger better supports the objectives of the other. Although this “revelation” is neither novel nor revelatory, to date, evidence of successful leveraging has been all too sporadic, seemingly more dependent upon serendipity than implementation of a government-wide strategic vision.

Starting Big

According to successive presidents, Congressionally-chartered studies, and a broad array of national security analysts, the threat posed by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons is the greatest threat facing US and global security. In its final report, the 9/11 Commission found that, “The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world’s most dangerous terrorists acquire the world’s most dangerous weapons.” They therefore concluded that there is no greater government priority than preventing the proliferation of these weapons.

Beyond the devastating national security implications even a small scale nuclear incident would have for humanity are the profound repercussions such an incident would have on the international development agenda. The global economy would sink into a deep economic depression and the forces of globalization would be immediately stunted as a culture of fear and suspicion fundamentally altered the way the world did business. With such profound implications for both sides of the global agenda, there would seem to be no better place to launch efforts at bridging the security-development divide than with the millions of dollars spent annually to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Building Buy-in

While no responsible government can reasonably conclude that keeping WMD out of the hands of terrorists is an important goal, the vast majority of governments around the world are plagued with an array of immediate threats to the security and wellbeing of their people that seem to have little to do with the proliferation of advanced weapons and technologies. Extreme poverty still ravages the lives of one in four people in the developing world. Nearly 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day, and more than 1 billion suffer from chronic hunger. Every year, an estimated 2.3 million people are newly infected with HIV—more than 6,000 new infections every day. And access to education remains an elusive goal for huge swaths of the human race. Beyond the immediate human tragedies and challenges to global development, these enduring conditions have resulted in the devaluation of the nonproliferation agenda—particularly across the Global South, a growing zone of proliferation concern.

Despite the dramatic security dividends paid by US nonproliferation assistance as the Soviet Union disintegrated through the early 1990s, by the twenty-first century, innovation was no longer synonymous with US nonproliferation expenditures. Funding restrictions, intense Congressional oversight, and a general lack of imagination began to plague the Cooperative Threat Reduction programs, preventing once ground-breaking efforts from keeping pace with a rapidly evolving security environment. In some cases, early partnerships built across the FSU began to falter,threatening the sustainability of US government investments.

In the midst of a global economic crisis, governments around the world are being forced to do more with less. Downward pressure on global development assistance as well as security-related assistance has the potential to roll back the modest gains made over the past quarter century. In the interest of doing more with less, government should be challenged to think more broadly about how spending in seemingly disparate portfolios can be better leveraged to promote mutual gain. A modified Nunn-Lugar agenda—what some have called CTR 2.0—does have the potential to do what many policymakers and policy wonks speak of in the abstract: bridge the security-development divide, and provide a sustainable and innovative approach to preventing a WMD catastrophe.

As the very nature of security challenges are altered as a direct result of globalization, nonproliferation funding can provide a significant opportunity for poorer countries to tap into the traditional security-related assistance available from developed countries to help them meet their internal development goals while providing an early access point for wider security collaboration. Even in this one field, the potential opportunities for synergy abound. For instance:

  • In the global struggle against infectious disease, the detection of, and response to, biological weapons requires a functional disease surveillance and public health infrastructure;
  • The ability to prosecute criminals who may be trafficking materials or technologies of mass destruction requires a non-corrupt police force and a functioning judiciary;
  • The prevention of human trafficking and disruption of the drug trade rely upon many of the same resources and capacities necessary to detect and prevent nuclear proliferation; and,
  • Trade expansion and business development cannot occur unless borders and ports are safe, efficient, and secure.

At present, little coordination exists between disparate government entities tackling these challenges. If better coordinated, spending in one portfolio could greatly enhance progress for adjacent US foreign policy objectives. For security-conscious Northern governments, leveraging these synergies builds buy-in among governments of the Global South that might otherwise be lacking. For developing world governments, this “dual-use” assistance can provide new avenues of support for identified in-country needs in a fiscal environment where development dollars are becoming increasingly scarce.

Turning Rhetoric to Reality

Moving forward, traditional donor governments like the United States have two central challenges if they intend to make real gains against the proliferation threat. First, they must help draw a link between nonproliferation assistance and the security and economic development needs of recipient states. Only when governments of the Global South better understand the benefits of more robust nonproliferation engagement to their top tier priorities—from public health to infrastructure development and economic growth—can they be reasonably expected to fully inculcate a culture of nonproliferation security. And second, though no less challenging, donor governments must better organize to leverage security and development assistance dollars to better effect. Both communities have much to learn from, and achieve through, better coordination.

If the United States Government believes its own rhetoric that proliferation of WMD is the greatest threat to our nation’s continued survival, we should lead by example and develop an interagency committee of donor agencies—including State/USAID, the Departments of Defense and Energy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and others—to share information in key target regions, leverage one another’s programmatic activities, and ultimately promote a more robustly-funded set of development activities while simultaneously building a sustainable multilateral nonproliferation effort. By vesting this coordinating responsibility of this committee within an Ambassadorial-level office that seeks neither the securitization of development, nor the wholesale raiding of security dollars to promote development, all constituencies can find mutual value in enhanced information-sharing and programmatic collaboration.

Better coordination between the security and development communities has been a distant goal for policymakers for decades. Nonproliferation assistance provides a pragmatic opportunity to turn that rhetoric into reality in a pilot effort that addresses the greatest threat to global security—one that cannot be met without the inveterate collaboration of the developing world.

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