Remarks to the InterAction Forum on the Role of Development in U.S. Global Engagement

By Maria Otero, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
U.S. Department of State

Originally posted on the Department of State website here.

Good morning. It’s an honor to be here this morning with all of you, and to share this opening session with my friend and colleague Don Steinberg. I come with enthusiastic greetings from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who asked me to convey her regrets that she could not be here with you today.

The topic for this morning is the role of development in US global engagement, and I think it’s great that you will hear from Don in a couple of minutes—because he really is at the helm of the United States’ development work, as the number two person at USAID. Don has been an invaluable partner for me at the State Department.

What I would like to do is share with you how Secretary Clinton and the State Department are thinking of global engagement in the 21st century. And to start, I would go back to the beginning of 2009, when the Secretary first began to lay out her priorities. In one of her first major speeches, she said, “Our approach to foreign policy must reflect the world as it is, not as it used to be.” She went on to describe the two inescapable facts that set the parameters of foreign policy and development today:

First, no nation can meet the world’s challenges alone. The issues are too complex and the threatening actors playing in the global arena are increasingly not just states—as they were in the Cold War or eras past—they non-state players such as criminal cartels, terrorist cells, rebel groups. And those that have engaged also globally – multinational corporations, NGOs- development and humanitarian – also find their work directly affected by these non-state actors.

Second, nations around the world are concerned with the same global threats, making wide-ranging and deep cooperation not just smart, but necessary.

These two facts demand a different global architecture—which in turn merits a different kind of global engagement in the 21st century.

Not long after that speech, Secretary Clinton mandated a review of the State Department and USAID’s operations, policies, and programming. The now famous (or infamous) “QDDR” pointed to the need for new approaches within U.S. diplomacy and development: As we face ever-tightening budgets, we need to be efficient. We need to work more closely and collaboratively with non-governmental actors, including many of our partners at Inter Action. As we face new threats and opportunities, we need to be nimble. And, if our action is to meet our ambition, we need to be effective.

So the QDDR process gave way to several recommendations on how to shift the way that State and USAID do their work—a shift that indeed reflects the changing circumstances around us, as Secretary Clinton described earlier in her tenure.

Those recommendations focused on how the United States can better lead through civilian power (the title of the QDDR), leveraging the great work by the State Department, USAID and nearly 40 other domestic agencies that work with partner governments and organizations abroad.

At the State Department, elevating our civilian power meant better understanding how our diplomats and policy makers are supporting governments as these provide for and protect their citizens—in other words, how we protect people and advance civilian security.

And, to do that, we need to build government institutions that can provide for thos individuals. This includes governments that respect basic rights of their citizens. It inclues civilian police forces rooted in the rule of law whose mission is to protect citizens. It includes court and justice system that are able to hold citizens accountable.

This pursuit of civilian security is grounded in the understanding that we will only achieve sustainable peace when we resolve the underlying grievances of individuals; it also acknowledges that conflict and crisis are present in many countries around the world, and one of our foreign policy objectives should be to help prevent conflict or mitigate its occurrence.

We now have a new appreciation for the many parts of the State Department that are advancing some aspect of civilian security. From the protection of human rights, to the provision of humanitarian aid, to combating human and drug trafficking, to improving law enforcement and the rule of law, to efforts that counter violent extremism to work that helps punish crimes against humanity: each of these elements is one piece of the puzzle that helps governments create more just societies for their people. By pulling them together—all told five bureaus and three offices reporting to one Under Secretary (me)—we have created a mechanism for a more holistic, coherent approach to support the protection of individuals and, ultimately, the stability of nations. Simply put, we have built on the traditional state-to-state relationship and institutionalized the State Department’s commitment to people.

This requires that we work internally in a more collaborative way towards shared goals. For instance, our Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Bureau is working more closely with the International, Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau on human rights training for police forces in transition countries. Our new counter-terrorism Bureau is collaborating more closely with the Office of Youth Issues on preventing violent extremism.

Outside of Washington, the collaboration continues in the field. In Central Asia, we have rule of law experts working alongside military and police personnel. In Kenya, local border control officers are working with US refugee coordinators to make sure fleeing Somalis are properly assisted.

The realignment of the State Department is enabling us to reorient our global engagement and to define civilian security as a key component of our foreign policy. It also reinforces that civilian security ultimately depends on the degree to which governments themselves accept the responsibility, and indeed the opportunity, to become more responsive to and accountable to their citizens.

As much as we all want to create useful interventions to help people around the world, we know that a stable, well-functioning society begins and ends with good governance. And as we conceive of good governance in the 21st century, we are increasingly turning to openness—or the idea that increased transparency leads to more accountability, which in turn facilitates better government practices and services, and fosters trust between citizens and their elected officials.

One of the ways we are promoting open government is through the [aptly named] Open Government Partnership, or OGP. OGP was born out of a challenge that President Obama made to countries during the 2010 United Nations General Assembly. A year later, he returned to New York and with 7 other like-minded governments and nine civil society organizations launched this initiative, calling for governments to develop plans of action towards increased transparency and to make themselves accountable for completion of their plans. Eight months since that launch, 55 governments have met the eligibility criteria for joining OGP, have formally joined it, and have made more than 250 commitments to open government—poised to impact nearly two billion of the world’s people.

As Secretary Clinton said last week at OGP’s first annual meeting “the dividing lines of our era will not be between north and south, east or west, but between open and closed.” And with the stunning growth of OGP in under a year, it’s clear that there is a recognition of this new dividing line, as well as an appetite among governments to find their way to the right side of that line–on the side of openness.

But there is another important reason why I wanted to mention OGP today—and that is because of the model of engagement that it is presenting to the world. From its beginning, OGP has been a partnership not just among nations, but between governments and civil society.

From the oversight of the global initiative, to the development, implementation, and monitoring of commitments, civil society sits side-by-side with governments, engaged in productive conversation and collaboration. The conversation is not always easy, but the commitment is evident and I have witnessed myself a shift in the conversation—from adversarial to familial. As one fellow Steering Committee told me last week: “on the outside of OGP, you are government and I am civil society; but when we sit at this table, we are peers working towards the same thing—a better life for our fellow citizens.”

OGP is just one example of how US global engagement is changing, particularly in our approach to good governance. Secretary Clinton has also launched a Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society, providing a platform for formal exchange with all manner of civil society organizations, similar to our bilateral dialogues with countries around the world.

But I do not need to explain this to InterAction members, so many of whom work on a daily basis with the State Department and other US agencies. Just within the bureaus that I oversee, I know that InterAction members work with the United States government to protect civil society. For example, when the Cambodia government moved forward with plans to pass a restrictive NGO law, Inter Action members were among the first NGOs to take action. In this case, we had a development-oriented NGO taking the lead on a human rights issue, with great success—because the law has since been suspended.

I also know that we are working with InterAction members to promote the inclusion of vulnerable populations such as women, persons with disabilities, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, and LGBT people. I want to take a moment to thank Sam Worthington and the members of InterAction for their collaboration on the upcoming Leadership Conference on persons with disabilities.

By working with both governments, the private sector and civil society, including some of Interaction’s members, we have also helped develop the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC), so that humanitarian and development organizations can continue to safely and effectively stabilize and improve conditions in high-risk environments.

I could mentions dozens more projects in which one or more of you are involved, but we do not have the time, and I do not want to keep you from the real expert on U.S. development, Deputy Administrator Steinberg. So let me just close by saying that US global engagement is indeed changing, as it should. We are rebalancing civilian power, reorganizing to better promote and achieve civilian security, and we are inviting civil society to join us—not just as implementers but as partners in policymaking.

We know that we will be far more successful in achieving our shared goals if draw our solutions from all realms—governments, private companies, multilaterals, universities, nonprofits and so on. When you bring people together, tapping new expertise and resources from every corner, and think outside of your respective box, perspectives shift and challenges break down.

So as the world changes around us, we are commited to changing with it. On behalf of Secretary Clinton, I want to thank you all for standing with us. We are grateful to have Interaction as a partner—in times of stability as in times of change.

Best wishes for a very successful conference. Thank you again for all that you do.