Tue, 26 January 2010
I'm joined this week by John Simon, a visiting fellow here at the Center for Global Development. Before coming to the Center, John served in a range of influential positions, from U.S. Ambassador to the African Union to Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. During the George W. Bush administration, he was a member of the National Security Council, serving as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Relief, Stabilization, and Development. That last role placed him at the center of the American response to natural disasters including the 2005 South Asia earthquake and Hurricane Stan. On the Wonkcast, he shares some of the lessons he learned through those experiences, expanding on a blog post he wrote last week (a post I highly recommend reading!). John's six lessons cover the full range from the need for good logistical management of relief efforts to the need to start thinking about long-term reconstruction and private investment potential. I ask him to judge the relief efforts so far on each of the six criteria he laid out in his post. Some of the Haiti coverage takes on a new light when seen through the lens of John's experience. He gives a quick history of how the relationship between civilian aid agencies and the military evolved through the course of the Asian tsunami and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan and explores how the current response handles that relationship. On the need to prioritize critical supplies, John notes media reports of some relief shipments being turned away from the airport in Port-au-Prince. He tells me, "When I hear those things I'm thinking, 'Someone's doing their job. Someone's making sure that it's not first come first served." Listen to the Wonkcast to hear the interview. Have something to add to the discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.
Tue, 19 January 2010
My guest this week is Vijaya Ramachandran, a senior fellow here at the Center for Global Development. Vij directs the Center’s research on fragile states—countries where, often due to recent or ongoing conflict, the basic functions of government are weak or nonexistent. These states present special challenges to aid donors and practitioners, both in planning how to give aid effectively and in delivering it.
Vij explains that learning how to respond to state fragility will hold benefits for development even in more functional states. “"We certainly have a set of countries that are a complete puzzle to policymakers, to development practitioners, to the foreign assistance community,” she explains. “But there are other countries that have weaknesses within them, elements of fragility. They might not be fragile overall, but they may have certain areas that are in need of assistance, or they may at different points in time present as cases that are representative of very weak states.”
Together with visiting fellow Satish Chand, Vij is writing a book that will tackle these difficult issues. The book will include a set of papers that outline lessons learned by development practitioners in fragile states, and the first of those papers was just published this week. Written by Nicholas Eubank, the paper examines the fascinating case of Somaliland, a universally unrecognized breakaway republic that is home to about a third of Somalia’s population. Vij explains that, since it’s unrecognized by any other state, Somaliland has been completely ineligible for development assistance. Thus, she says, "It lends itself as a natural experiment on what happens when a government has no aid and no prospect of aid."
As it turns out, despite (or because of) a total lack of foreign aid, Somaliland has developed strong, accountable institutions of government and has outstripped the rest of Somalia on key indicators of development. In the podcast, we delve into why this might be the case and think about the implications for other fragile states.
Vij also previews some of the other papers that will be part of the fragile states series, covering topics that range from the interaction between military and development personnel in Iraq and Bosnia to the provision of basic services in Zimbabwe. You’ll find a complete listing of the forthcoming papers on our Fragile States page.
Listen to the Wonkcast to hear our conversation. Have something to add to the discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.
Mon, 11 January 2010
I'm joined this week by Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development. Nancy introduced Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when Clinton came to speak to CGD last week. On the Wonkcast, she shares her impressions of Clinton's speech and places it in the broader context of U.S. development policy reform—including two ongoing assessments, the White House Presidential Study Directive or PSD and the State Department’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review or QDDR. In the second half of the interview, Nancy reviews the past year in development and offers a policy wish for 2010. On Clinton’s speech, Nancy is enthusiastic about both the content and the significance of the messenger. "It was the first time that I can remember such a broad-ranging set-up of what development is, why it's important for Americans, from a Secretary of State," she tells me. Clinton’s passion for the subject—combined with her unequivocal language calling development an “indispensible” strategic, economic, and moral imperative—lends hope that the secretary will champion efforts to eventually elevate development so that it is represented at an equivalent level to defense and diplomacy within American foreign policy. As to the logistics of what that might look like, Nancy suggests a two-step approach. In the remainder of President Obama’s first term in office, she suggests that Clinton and new USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, guided by the findings of the PSD, ought to take a lead in untangling the difficult coordination problems within the government. As part of this, Shah should be empowered to deal with the larger strategic and policy issues that fall beyond merely implementing programs. “Then perhaps… if there is a second term, the question with Congress could be addressed of whether there should be a more independent agency on development that includes foreign assistance but also includes this strategic and policy work.” Nancy suggests that leaving a strong, institutional voice for long-term U.S. development policy would be a fitting legacy both for Secretary of State Clinton and for President Obama. (For more on the rationale for an independent development agency with cabinet-level status, see Birdsall’s introductory essay in The White House and the World A year ago, Nancy shared her policy wishlist for 2009 on our Views from the Center blog. Her original six wishes ranged from trade policy to climate legislation to the governance of the big international financial institutions. In the second half of this Wonkcast, we go through the list together and see how much was accomplished— and what remains undone. At the very end of our conversation, Nancy adds one policy wish for the new year. She hopes to get more people talking about the vulnerability of the world's poor to shocks of all kinds, whether from changes in commodity prices or from severe weather events. No more “just lending countries money when their house burns down, having them build up more debt, and then having another shock and another round of vulnerability... That loop has to be escaped," she says. One example of an alternative approach: insurance that pays out in the event of a major shock, such as a commodity price bust or hurricane. (For more on this idea, see Birdsall Urges Pittsburgh G-20 Summit to Prepare for Next Global Crisis.) Listen to the Wonkcast to hear our conversation. Have something to add to the discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.
Tue, 5 January 2010
My guest this week is Oeindrila Dube, a postdoctoral fellow here at the Center for Global Development and an assistant professor of politics and economics at New York University. She is the author, along with Suresh Naidu, of a new paper that examines the relationships between U.S. military aid to Colombia and paramilitary violence and electoral participation in that country. Her paper reaches the unsettling conclusion that U.S. military assistance dollars may in fact be responsible for raising the levels of political violence.
At the heart of Oeindrila's paper is an innovative approach that uses detailed data on paramilitary attacks and assassinations (available from 1988 to 2005) to establish quantitative evidence for a phenomenon that has long been suspected. "For decades,” says Oeindrila, “many NGOs have anecdotally been describing links between paramilitary groups and the government military that has this implication that … resources going into the country ... might be diverted to these groups. The nice thing is we are able to show that quantitatively."
Oeindrila’s data show that municipalities in Colombia that house military bases show statistically significant increases in paramilitary violence following stepped-up U.S. military assistance. She explains that the extremely localized effects provide strong evidence that government forces are not only providing arms and ammunition to paramilitaries but have also conducted joint operations with them.
Her quantitative approach also allowed her to answer a range of other important questions. She finds that while an increase in aid correlates with increased paramilitary activity, it has no impact on guerrilla attacks or on counternarcotics operations, calling into question whether military aid to Colombia is an effective means to either securing the country or decreasing narcotics trafficking.
Oeindrila's findings carry important lessons for policymakers studying any country where relationships between the government and paramilitary groups factor into the equation. In the last several minutes of the podcast, we examine several of these cases, including Mexico, Iraq, and Afghanistan. “We have to consider the links between armed non-state actors and the state anytime we start disbursing money,” Oeindrila tells me. “Otherwise, our military aid is going to end up financing groups that we are ... trying to counter.
Please do listen to the interview and read Oeindrila’s paper here. Have something to add to our discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.