A good friend of mine, who knows her stuff upsidedown and backwards, criticized the tone of the incoming U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on issues of poverty and humanitarian relief. Her argument, including a link to Rice’s article, can be found here. It’s worth reading, but I strongly disagree with it. I was going to post my counter-argument as a comment on her blog, but it was a bit long and I had no other content for today, so I’ve put it here instead. So go check out her argument, and here’s my response:
“I think you’re being unfair to our new Ambassador. We have to look at Rice’s background. Her two big things are human security and weak states, which go together. It’s really her niche.
Mainstreaming the human security doctrine is a massive pain in the ass, because we have an entire political discource (and industrial base and contracting constituency) built around the traditional state-centric concept of security. The article you linked reads like an attempt to convince advocates of traditional security models to treat human security seriously. She has all these book blurbs and such with titles like “Poverty breeds insecurity,” and this really isn’t debatable, even if saying it out loud could have potential policy results. Further, it’s crucial that it be said out loud.
Your main objection is here:
“poverty reduction –and development generally– should never, ever be framed or approached as a security measure.”
Unfortunately, this is unrealistic. Framing it 100% purely as a humanitarian measure, all the time, is not a winning strategy for gaining political support, or even moral high ground (sometimes, security does matter.) I agree that we don’t want to overmilitarize foreign policy (AFRICOM anyone?), but there has to be some middle ground here.
You say: “if development is approached as a way of reducing threats to U.S. national security, it’s going to involve military means.” This would be news to the United Nations, the General Assembly of which has spent the last 8 years trying to reign in the cowboys even while publishing papers like this one. Rice is trying to make American policymakers take human security seriously, in the way that Europeans and other non-U.S. governments do.
Also, whether we like it or not, security forces and purely humanitarian NGOs exist on the same plane. Whether in Afghanistan, Congo, or anywhere, you’ll find both Doctors Without Borders and Dudes with Machine Guns. There’s an entire emerging literature on how to manage relations between NGOs and armed forces, coming as much out of good international institutions as out of the caverns of Foggy Bottom.
(As soon as the professor I asked emails me back, I’ll try to post a link to what is basically a palmcard that was put out recently featuring a set of guidelines for cooperation between military forces and NGO staff. It details what they can and can’t ask of each other, regulations, etc. for using vehicles, requesting protection, things like that. For a long time, no one really clarified this stuff and it was a shitstorm in the field.
Most human rights organizations are not now, and never have been, pacifist. Not UNHCR, not ICRC, not MSF, certainly not the think-tanks like ICG. The choice simply isn’t between militarized foreign policy and pure humanitarianism. Wish is was, maybe, but there isn’t. The question is, to what extent will we treat human need seriously as a part of our security doctrine? To what extent will the health and welfare of individuals be treated as a matter of concern on the scale of traditional state-based security fears? On this, Rice is not only on the right side of the issues, she’s a leader on them.
Some of your other comments are more a general critique of neoliberalism than anything specific to either the Ambassador or the administration. You wrote:
“It’s not going to involve any readjustments to the institutions of the global economy, which so favor rich countries and their citizens over poor countries and theirs.”
No, but no American government is in this business. Maybe the Kucinich administration, but not in my lifetime. Same goes for this:
“Nor will it involve working in cooperation with the poor, because, after all, poor people are known to harbor irrational, menacing ideas about all sorts of things, including why they’re poor in the first place and how that can be changed.”
This complaint is about the last 60 years of development policy and all the national and international institutions involved, including the “better ones” such as the E.U. with it’s horrible agricultural policy, rather than being a problem of the incoming U.N. Ambassador.
If anything, Susan Rice’s view of the world is more likely to consider “working in cooperation with the poor” than any previous U.S. leadership. Nothing in her view contradicts something like the Grameen Bank.
It’s a big reach to take Rice’s view of development and conclude that she finds poor people dangerous. You’ve phrased it like it’s a personal attack on the poor. All evidence on civil wars, contagion theory, and state failure suggests: Poverty is dangerous. It’s dangerous to the people living it, and it’s dangerous to the people in the states next door and increasingly next-next door. Characterizing this position as Susan Rice Hates the Poor isn’t fair.
Anne-Marie Slaughter sums up Rice’s concept of security:
“…her experience with Africa has sensitized her to the many ways people can die violently — not just in conventional war.”
For me, this is a great thing to hear about a public official. No Clintonite will be bloodless or mistake-free, but Rice is as good as they come. She, like everyone who was ever in contention for a position in the administration, supported the Iraq War in 2003. EPIC FAIL if there ever was one. But, she came around faster than anyone else and has repeatedly defended the drawdown and called on the administration to swear off permanent bases back in 2005. For what it’s worth, international rock star John Prendergast says good things about her. (I trust his hair. I trust his hair and I’m a straight dude.) I don’t see Rice’s worldview as terribly different from someone like Samantha Power, who you have a higher opinion of.
I have general problems with liberal internationalism, as you and I have discussed elsewhere, but I think Rice and the weak states / human security stuff deserves a little more credit here.”