“We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.” –President Barack Obama
Many global development professionals expressed excitement at President Obama’s promises during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, February 12th. Despite an initial heavy focus on the domestic economy; withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, climate change, poverty and hunger eradication, and improved educational outcomes all made the cut. In order for the Obama Administration to fulfill its promises, a domestic commitment to international issues and a comprehensive multilateral strategy are necessary.
Hillary Clinton’s departure from the State Department will cause a significant shift in priorities. As arguably the most pro-development Secretary of State the United States has ever seen, Clinton has made crucial strides on issues such as gender equality and child nutrition. Although President Obama has demonstrated a commitment to continuing her efforts, new Secretary of State John Kerry will have to balance Clinton’s former priorities with his own. Kerry will also be faced with pressing international conflicts, such as North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and talks with Iran to alleviate tensions over their rumored nuclear program. Renewing commitments to programs such as Feed the Future will ensure that the first Obama Administration’s development legacy will continue.
President Obama must also commit to spending more on global development. Currently, less than 0.5 percent of the federal budget is devoted to foreign aid. Despite persistent economic woes, the US must continue to strive toward the 0.7 percent of national budget target set by the United Nations. Under the leadership of Prime Minister David Cameron, the United Kingdom is on track to commit the magic number of 0.7 percent of its budget to development this year. As one of the leading nations in contributions to foreign assistance, the United States can learn from this example. With new measurement mechanisms and accountability standards, foreign aid is proving to be increasingly more effective, making sure that every dollar spent is maximized.
Most importantly, the United States must increase involvement in the United Nations. In a poll commissioned by the UN Foundation, Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates reported that Americans demonstrate an overwhelming support for a strong US-UN relationship. More than 8 in 10 voters, including both Republicans and Democrats, say that the US should maintain an active role in the UN, with 6 of those 10 emphasizing the importance of US participation. Now is the perfect time for the US to have a voice in the next generation of the UN’s global development agenda. The future of the new framework of the Millennium Development Goals—known currently as the post-2015 agenda—is open for discussion, and the US should act early to dictate priorities and become a key leader on the issues.
According to the State of the Union, the US is off to a great start in 2013 where global development is concerned. By strengthening multilateral commitments and capitalizing on domestic support, we can remain confident that the President Obama will fulfill his promises to the international arena.
15 February 2013
This post is one of a series that I contributed to The MIDCM Column, a blog written by students in the Minor in International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland.