Development and governance key to national security


Countering violent extremism and other national security priorities are advanced by the development of stable nations making progress on social development, economic growth, good governance and rule of law, say two leading experts.

“Military power alone cannot prevent radicalization, nor can it, by itself, prevent despair from turning to anger and increasing outbursts of violence and instability,” according to Admiral (Ret.) Michael Mullen and General (Ret.) James Jones.

A host of international terrorist groups — Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and ISIS, among others — have taken root in highly fragile regions and countries with shared characteristics, such as corruption and poor governance, weak institutions, high poverty and inequality, widespread indignity, and low quality of life for ordinary citizens, they write for Politico:

Local populations frustrated with poor governance and lacking meaningful opportunities to improve their lives or provide for their families are prone to tolerate, if not actively support, extremist groups that challenge government authority or assume the government’s role as social-service provider. To combat these groups and prevent such areas from serving as fertile recruiting grounds, training areas and transit routes for violent extremists, the United States and its allies should become much more proactive in helping address underlying conditions that, left unchecked, invite and foment instability.

Continued support for international aid and development, is a cost-effective way to promote American values and interests simultaneously, Council on Foreign Relations chief Richard N. Haas writes for Foreign Affairs:

In recent memory, for example, Colombia was racked by civil war and served as a major source of drugs coming into the United States. Since then, the provision of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid has helped stabilize the country and secure a delicate peace—saving countless lives and dollars as a result. Similar stories play out when Washington helps foreign partners address terrorism, piracy, drug trafficking, poverty, deforestation, and epidemic disease. When it gives aid wisely and conditionally, the United States is not a soft touch but a smart investor.

A resounding chorus of voices is singing off the same song sheet, notes Liz Schrayer, president and CEO of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. And their message is loud and clear: cutting one-third of our footprint around the world would endanger national security, threaten economic prosperity, and profoundly weaken moral leadership around the world, she writes for The Hill:

From the Millennium Challenge Corporation to Feed the Future and Power Africa, a transformation has taken place from providing merely a hand out — which we thank goodness do at times of humanitarian crisis — to providing a hand up. But there is more reform that is needed and our nation is well-positioned to continue building on this success with the nomination of Ambassador Mark Green to lead USAID.

However, the National Security Council currently does not have development, democracy or human rights positions on their organizational chart, says political scientist Sarah Mendelson [@SarahMendelson], a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council, and former senior official at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Cuts in foreign assistance will undermine U.S. moral authority and embolden autocrats, she suggests.

“I can think of a dictator or two who would welcome dramatic cuts to the U.S. foreign assistance budget, U.S. ambivalence toward international organizations — especially NATO — and the downgrading of human rights and civil society,” she tells Joshua Tucker, a Professor of Politics at New York University.

The argument that national security imperatives such as fighting terrorism demand a “hard power” focus at the expense of “soft power” subjects such as democracy promotion rests on a false juxtaposition, according to a recent analysis.

The success or failure of U.S. foreign aid programs is not entirely clear, in part because most aid programs have not been evaluated for the purpose of determining their actual impact, according to the Congressional Research Service. Recent reports and policy reviews suggest that aid evaluation frequency and quality have improved in recent years, though progress has been uneven, it adds.

But a new tool makes it substantially easier for policy analysts, program evaluators, and scientists to conduct analysis of development policies and programs using geospatial data, notes Dr. Bradley Parks, Executive Director of AidData at the College of William and Mary. It allows anyone to easily obtain datasets that fuse together georeferenced data on development investments with a battery of other measures from satellites, surveys, and weather stations.

AidData and Afrobarometer – a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy – this week announced the first fruit of a partnership: a subnationally geocoded dataset of all six rounds of Afrobarometer’s surveys in 37 African countries between 1999 and 2015. With generous support from the U.S. Global Development Lab, AidData spent more than 16,000 hours mapping Afrobarometer survey responses to specific villages and towns within these 37 countries.

With geo(query), you can now assemble a set of variables at geographical units and time periods of your choosing (using a supercomputer at the College of William and Mary), he adds. To get started, you can watch this two-minute tutorial, or go directly to geo(query) at For further info, email

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