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Frontiers in Development Conference Keynote Address

Location: Unknown

It is my pleasure to join you today at the Frontiers in Development Conference as partners from around the world gather to address development challenges. I want to thank my friend, Administrator Raj Shah, for his kind invitation to speak today and for his outstanding leadership of USAID.

As we open the conference, we must recognize the economic challenges that cast a shadow over the development opportunities, investments, and practices about which you will deliberate. The United States continues to struggle with anemic growth and an unemployment rate of more than 8 percent. Our national debt today is approaching $16 trillion. Efforts to contain and reverse our budget spiral are complicated by financial pressures from an aging population, lengthy military engagements, and partisan gridlock. Many other countries, including some who have been important partners in global development, face even more severe economic scenarios.

Amid these financial threats and budgetary realities, it is inevitable that some will question the role of the United States in global development. A few members of Congress argue that all foreign assistance should be eliminated. A larger number would preserve assistance to Israel and some other politically popular elements, but would sharply downsize most development aid. Almost everyone expects that U.S. foreign assistance funding will be constrained for the foreseeable future. This may be true, and certainly planners at USAID must be engaged in efforts to squeeze the maximum value out of every dollar available.

But I would assert this morning that development assistance, when properly administered, remains a bargain for U.S. national security and for our own economic and moral standing in the world. Even in the worst of times, the United States remains a wealthy nation with interests in every corner of the globe. Foreign assistance is a key component of the U.S. national security strategy. Especially since the tragic events of September 11, it is evident that poorly-governed states with impoverished populations can pose grave threats to our national security. Nations that struggle with severe poverty and corrupt governance are at greater risk from terrorism and instability. Wars and extended military operations are enormously expensive in lives and dollars. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars in recent years fighting wars and preparing for military scenarios in underdeveloped regions of the world. If properly targeted, foreign assistance programs can mitigate national security risks and improve U.S. connections to peoples and governments. They may well save huge military expenditures down the road. This is one of the reasons why the Defense Department has been a strong advocate of a robust foreign affairs budget.

But beyond the national security imperative, I strongly believe that no global superpower that claims to possess the moral high ground can afford to relinquish its leadership in addressing global disease, hunger, and ignorance.

More than any other nation, the United States possesses a traditional moral identity. That identity is closely associated with religious tolerance, democratic governance, freedom of the individual, the promotion of economic opportunity, and resistance to oppression. This set of ideals was espoused in our founding documents and reaffirmed through the sacrifices of our own Civil War. It was amplified during two World Wars in which the United States opposed the forces of aggression and conquest. And it was reinvigorated through the struggle of our civil rights movement. Our moral identity has been illuminated by an idealistic rhetorical tradition that flows from Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, through Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan to the present day. Rarely do we take a major foreign policy initiative without some attempt to justify it on moral grounds. Rarely are failed foreign policies spared morally-based criticism.

In making this observation, I am not claiming that the United States is the undisputed moral compass of the world. Rather, I am saying that no nation is more closely associated with a set of historic moral precepts. And no nation is judged more meticulously according to its own articulated values. As an observer of global affairs for many decades, I believe this is a good thing. I believe our moral identity is an essential source of national power.

Despite missteps, the United States has been and still is a force for good in the world. This is indisputable from any objective point of view. In most respects, we have been an incredibly generous nation. We have rehabilitated former enemies like Germany and Japan, and we continue to help the former Soviet Union protect and then destroy the very nuclear arsenal that was once pointed at us. We have helped countries such as South Korea and Taiwan move from extreme poverty to impressive prosperity through our assistance and protection.

Our democratic institutions and political and social freedoms have been models for the world, and we have actively helped to nurture democracy in numerous nations. Even Americans themselves do not fully appreciate the international impact of the example set by our transparent political debate and the extraordinary degree of self-examination that accompanies American policy decisions.

Our advocacy has been one of the prime influences for human rights improvements throughout the world. It is telling that China and other nations often cite their indifference to human rights issues relative to the United States when seeking to establish economic or security ties with a problematic nation. The United States makes sacrifices every day on behalf of human rights, and our State Department devotes enormous time and energy to producing country reports on human rights and religious freedom that are studied around the world.

I would assert that as a moral nation, founded on moral principles, we diminish ourselves and our national reputation if we turn our backs on the obvious plight of hundreds of millions of people who are living on less than a dollar a day and facing severe risk from hunger and disease.

This is not to say that every human being or every country in a desperate circumstance is our responsibility. But the United States must be a leader in forging global partnerships and developing the most effective practices to achieve development goals. Beyond our own programs, the efforts of other nations and many non-governmental groups depend on the United States for direction, support, and even validation.

As we move forward, it is critical for each of us to make these arguments. We should not be hesitant, even in this budgetary environment, to make the national security and moral cases for pure development assistance.

Further, we should be forthright in explaining that diplomacy and development are two distinct disciplines. Although diplomacy and development often can be mutually reinforcing, at their core, they have different priorities, resource requirements, and time horizons. Most obviously, diplomacy is far more concerned with solving immediate problems, usually associated with countries of strategic interest. Although we hope that our development efforts will sometimes yield short-term strategic benefits, this is not their primary purpose. In a development context, we are willing to take a much longer view of the world and devote resources to countries of less, or even minimal, strategic significance. We are willing to allow the diplomatic and national security benefits of development work to accrue over time. And we are willing to engage in missions for purely altruistic reasons. These differences underscore why development must be a goal that is independent of diplomacy, not merely its servant.

To maximize our development efforts, we will need robust partnerships. While historically, nongovernmental organizations and contractors have been natural partners with USAID as implementers, we must go beyond these traditional relationships. We should be expanding coordination with other governments, foundations, corporations, small businesses, inventors, and others who contribute value. With partnerships built from the ground up at the earliest stages of program development and sound financial structures for sustaining them, we can leverage scarce resources for maximum results.

We also must embrace transparency in foreign assistance programs. We should be forthcoming about where precious taxpayer dollars are spent, what goals they are meant to accomplish, and whether those goals are achieved. Secretary Clinton and Administrator Shah made an important commitment to transparency with the development of the Foreign Assistance Dashboard and the announcement that the U.S. would join the International Aid Transparency Initiative. But implementation of these efforts is lagging and should be accelerated to demonstrate our full commitment to transparency.

This is vital not only to provide taxpayers a clear picture of how their money is being used, but also to reinforce U.S. leadership in transparent economic development. Transparency helps level the playing field for U.S. companies, counters the propensity of resource-rich developing countries toward wasteful spending, and combats the corruption that the World Bank has identified as "the single biggest obstacle to economic and social development." Toward this end, the U.S. government should be moving forward with full implementation of the 2010 Cardin-Lugar Amendment, which requires all companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange to publish their payments to foreign governments for oil, natural gas, and mineral development. Failure to fully implement Cardin-Lugar would squander an opportunity to transform the development scenarios of resource-rich countries mired in poverty.

While foreign assistance investments often require significant time before demonstrating impacts, funding should flow to programs that demonstrate results. Our programs can only produce results when they are developed with results in mind. I raise this point, because a percentage of foreign assistance funding to some countries is moving away from traditional purposes -- including education, food security, and disease prevention -- toward climate change.

I have expressed concerns about individual USAID climate change projects and the growing share of these projects within our development budget. I have voiced these concerns as an ardent friend of USAID and the State Department and as someone who does not attempt to diminish the potential impacts of climate change or the opinions of scientific research on the subject.

My concern simply is that climate change projects are among the least likely to offer measurable development results and the most likely to be politically motivated. I don't doubt that some of these projects will produce results, and some may be top priorities in the recipient country or region. I also understand that some climate change projects are focused heavily on food production or disease prevention.

But if we accept that development dollars should be going to projects that will produce the most potent and the most demonstrable results for impoverished people, the standard for these dollars is extremely high. If ten million dollars are spent on a climate change project in a country suffering from malnutrition and uncontrolled disease, we must be able to demonstrate that those dollars will produce a better result than what could be produced through alternative initiatives related to agriculture development and disease prevention. My hope is that the USAID and the State Department will be examining proposed climate change projects under these exacting parameters.

I frequently have asserted that the United States should maintain a unique leadership role in global food security. Throughout our history as a nation, we have developed fertile cropland, improved efficiencies through technology, and benefited from the Green Revolution with enormous increases in crop yield. We have developed efficient systems for distribution of agricultural products for trade and humanitarian purposes. Our agriculture researchers at our land grant universities are the best in the world. They continually improve seed production through genetically modified organisms and address the impacts of pests and diseases. We know this sector, and we can perform extremely well in it. We continue to lead the world in our shipments of humanitarian food assistance and have now begun to focus on extending our agriculture knowledge through the Administration's Feed the Future Initiative, which I strongly support. Further, agricultural results are subject to close measurement and food can be the basis on which other development sectors are built. I believe all of these factors translate into an American comparative advantage in global agricultural development that we should be leveraging to maximum effect. I appreciate very much Administrator Shah's deep expertise in this area, and I anticipate even greater food security achievements by USAID in coming years.

I applaud the commitment that each of you has made to global development. Many of you have been engaged in development work for decades under difficult circumstances. I admire your courage, compassion, and skill as you continue to find new ways to deliver results. I look forward to supporting your work during my remaining months in the Senate and in the coming years.

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