Women and Youth in 21st Century StatecraftJanuary 10, 2011 By Richard Cincotta
Whether one supports or finds fault with current (and envisioned) U.S. diplomacy and international development processes and practices, most foreign policy analysts and academics will recognize the first Quadrennial Diplomatic and Development Review (QDDR) as a landmark document. In my opinion, the QDDR – titled Leading Through Civilian Power – is essential reading for those who seek a career in government or who otherwise need to understand the nature and purpose of the work that foreign service officers and USAID missions perform overseas.
Besides reviewing the core missions of State (see Chapter 2) and USAID (Chapter 3), the QDDR elevates conflict prevention and the United States’ response to humanitarian crises and post-conflict situations to a priority element of U.S. foreign policy (Chapter 4), and acknowledges that the diplomatic mission has extended beyond the confines of interstate relations and international institutional participations. In addition, the review stresses workforce and workplace reforms (Chapter 5) that could help U.S. embassies and USAID missions to function more effectively within the exceptionally limited resources that Congress provides (around one percent of the U.S. federal government budget).
While the review’s executive summary is a good place to start, it gave me the impression that the document largely dealt with organizational initiatives and streamlining bureaucratic process. Not so; the full QDDR describes a full array of tactical relationships and programs that State and USAID maintain with other U.S. agencies, international institutions, and NGOs. Within its introductory narrative the review makes implicit connections – some of them arguable – between elements of U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance (e.g., conflict prevention and stabilization, cooperative energy research programs, institution building and training, and humanitarian assistance), and American interests in terms of national security, economic growth, and global diplomatic power. Thus, the QDDR narrative could, along with the National Security Strategy, serve as a reference point for debates linking diplomacy and development to national interests.
“Twin Development Battlegrounds”
While the QDDR takes up numerous global issues, I paid particular attention to two that are at the core of my research interests and figure prominently in this timely and exhaustive document (I cannot claim to have read all 213 pages, plus two appendices): (1) improving women’s status and (2) ideologically engaging youth. I believe these twin issues are the diplomatic and development battlegrounds of the 21st century – where civilian power, strategically applied, will be critical to the long-term international political and security environment. Both feature prominently throughout the core narratives for both State and USAID and in the narrative on conflict prevention and post-conflict re-stabilization.
While the QDDR’s emphasis on women and girls is likely to be welcomed by many analysts and academics, it is not novel. Women’s well-being and status have featured as cross-cutting priorities in USAID programs for the past two decades. Nor is it surprising to see women and girls emphasized in a Democratic administration – feminists are a core constituency of the liberal wing of the party. However, this emphasis could be more than business as usual.
The State/USAID commitment to women’s issues may signal that these agencies (and the Department of Defense) have learned from their recent involvement in the Middle East and South Asia. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, women’s social mobility and legal status are hard-fought issues that separate the political forces of religious fundamentalism from progressive political movements. To me, the QDDR’s focus on women anticipates long-term U.S. involvement in some of the world’s most politically volatile regions – parts of the Middle East (particularly the Arabian Peninsula), sub-Saharan Africa (west, central, and east), and South Asia (specifically Afghanistan and Pakistan) – where women’s status remains low, fertility is highest, the growth of young adult cohorts is most rapid, and states are at their weakest.
America’s engagement with youth overseas is nearly as critical. In this case, the QDDR’s portrayal of the State Department’s commitment to communicating American values, history, and culture to young people overseas – described under “public diplomacy” (see Chapter 2, page 60) – seems less structured.
Previous to its incorporation within State, the U.S. Information Agency (USIA, established in 1953) took the lead in opening channels between young people overseas and all aspects of American culture and the American experience. USIA’s system of libraries, located well outside embassy walls and staffed by educators rather than diplomatic staff, and the cultural events that the agency sponsored left an indelible impression on two post-World War II generations. Since the demise of USIA in 1999, its approach seems to have fallen from favor – perhaps rendered passé by global communications or made unaffordable by security concerns. Whatever the case, many diplomats feel that U.S. public diplomacy activities overseas – now sponsored by the State Department – have yet to fill the gap left by the absence of an autonomous USIA.
Critiques and Usage
Besides a more structured approach to youth engagement, there’s not much missing from the QDDR. While the mechanisms for U.S. rapid response to overseas humanitarian disasters and post-conflict conditions have drawn hefty criticisms in the past (e.g., the collapse of the rule of law following the invasion Iraq), readers will find that the QDDR dedicates nearly the entirety of Chapter 4 to extensive plans for major reforms. For some critics – including authors Thomas Barnett, Shannon Beebe, and Mary Kaldor – however, the transformation of State and USAID’s civilian-led response to humanitarian crises and conflict is unlikely to go far enough.
For those whose livelihoods revolve around U.S. diplomacy and development – including foreign-policy-oriented academics and their students – I recommend reading the executive summary and then selecting specific chapters based on your personal interests. Students seeking a career in international development, for example, are likely to see opportunities that arise out of these reforms detailed in Chapter 4.
Sources: U.S. Institute of Peace, U.S. State Department.
Image Credit: QDDR word cloud, courtesy of Wordle.