Breaking NewsLaw.com and associated brands will be offline for scheduled maintenance Friday Feb. 26 9 PM US EST to Saturday Feb. 27 6 AM EST. We apologize for the inconvenience.

 
X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Going into battle is only one way to wage a war. In the war against terrorism, an idea that dates back to the Marshall Plan seems new again: Using humanitarian aid to foster democratic ideals in volatile regions can be a powerful weapon. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, international relief organizations have been bringing this idea to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. While there are more immediate military and intelligence fronts in this war, aid groups are optimistic about their role in the effort. “The more the Hill is thoughtful about this process, the more they’ll realize that these are indeed some of the best arrows in our quivers,” says Michael Miller, president of Alexandria, Va.-based America’s Development Foundation. Miller says the nonprofit group’s mission is the international development of democracy — often working in hot spots such as Kazakhstan, Russia, Egypt, and Jordan — to develop civic organizations at the most local level. Currently, there are about 20 international relief organizations at work in or around Afghanistan that draw some of their funding from the U.S. government. Their immediate goal is to provide food, health care, and clothing to refugees and people in need. But they are also a means of sowing democratic ideals, even pro-Western sensibilities. The idea that aid groups have been bringing to lawmakers is that their work can prevent the kind of deprivation and political chaos that gave birth to Osama bin Laden’s organization, al Qaeda. “A lot of groups are saying targeted foreign aid might enhance this effort” in the war against terrorism, says Robert Gustafson, a former chief of staff to Rep. John Porter, R-Ill., and the one-time head of government affairs for Washington, D.C.-based Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn. Gustafson now runs his own lobby shop, representing the D.C.-based Foundation for Democracy in Africa, among other nonprofit organizations with international reach. Many nongovernmental organizations working in the Central Asian Republics to the north of Afghanistan are already engaged in economic development and democracy building with the help of U.S. money. One organization, the Washington, D.C.-based Citizens Democracy Corps, deploys seasoned business people to work as volunteer advisers in countries making the transition to a free market economy such as Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan. Their work, according to the organization’s Web site, “strengthens developing democratic institutions and free enterprise by focusing on the most dynamic sector of local economies — small and medium-sized companies and organizations that support them.” Another is CARE, whose food packages famously aided decimated parts of Europe following World War II. It states as one of its goals giving people “the ability to participate in decisions affecting their family, community and country.” CARE has programs in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, North and South Sudan, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen, among many others. Peace building is also a key theme for Mercy Corps, an organization based in the U.S. and Scotland that has programs throughout Central Asia as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services, whose work overseas includes efforts in Sudan, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, and surrounding areas. In August, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $1.23 billion in development assistance from its $15.5 billion foreign operations budget bill. Final action on the bill isn’t expected for a few more weeks. Though lobbyists for NGOs are divided on whether they think the amount will go up or down because of the shift in national priorities, most agree that any increase in overseas development spending this year is likely to come in a supplemental appropriation, perhaps out of the $40 billion that Congress gave President George W. Bush following the attacks. They are hoping that development aid money will increase in the next few years. CIVICS LESSONS As the plight of the more than 7 million Afghan refugees, many of whom remain within Afghanistan’s borders, reaches desperate depths, the kind of foreign aid that first comes to mind is that which meets the most primitive of needs: food, clothing, shelter, health care, and sanitation. There would seem to be little money or time for democracy building. Aid groups know that the essentials come first. But they say that creating civic organizations and more responsive governance fortify those basic relief efforts. “Part of the need right now is to strengthen governments,” says Jim Bishop, director of disaster response at InterAction, a D.C.-based coalition of 165 humanitarian organizations. “Many governments don’t have the capacity to purchase the commodities. The NGOs assist them, and the United Nations are the legs on which they stand.” Miller of America’s Development Foundation, which has an annual operating budget of $5 million, says his group works at building basic civic organizations — women’s economic groups, small businesses, and even town councils. “You deal a lot with conflict resolution issues, situations where you have to hear other people’s views and get everything on the table to deal with it,” he says. “They don’t have to resort to violent means to get attention, such as marches in the streets that can turn violent or — in the most cataclysmic [events] — in these high-profile terrorist attacks.” Aid efforts also temper the vilification of Americans and other Westerners, says Michael Levett, president of the Citizens Democracy Corps. “It’s a lot harder to hate the people you know and see who have contributed to your life than [to hate] someone in the abstract,” he says. Of course, nation building is far removed from the goals of most NGOs. But U.S.-sponsored NGO activity may complement covert nation building. “You get to use the NGO to enforce American policy,” says one Hill staffer who works on foreign aid issues. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, both of which share a border with Afghanistan, are two examples of countries where the United States needs to increase its support and influence if development is to play a role in the war against terrorism. Both have fragile political and economic structures that the feared influx of Afghan refugees could disrupt. Development there could help prevent a devolution into the kind of disorder that seems to breed terrorist groups, according to Gustafson and others. Levett adds that in those countries “two key elements would be the creation of a lot of jobs … and democratic institutions so people have an alternative mechanism to put forward their problems.” Of course, not all foreign governments are thrilled with the idea of U.S.-funded groups coming in. In many parts of the world, the United Nations is a more trusted vehicle for humanitarian assistance. Even so, providing aid can be a dangerous business. Until recently, the Sudanese government in Khartoum was bombing NGOs feeding people in the southern part of the country that is home to rebel forces. PLAYING A PART Since the Ronald Reagan administration, most U.S.-funded relief work has been channeled through NGOs rather than going directly from the U.S. Treasury to the foreign government. Working through outside groups is seen as preferable in that it provides more trackable results and minimizes diversion of the funds. As InterAction’s Bishop puts it, “There are some governments we don’t trust.” It also allows the United States to play “good cop, bad cop,” says the Hill staffer. Without the buffer of the NGO, when something goes wrong between the foreign government and the aid provider, “we take the hit,” he says. Aid organizations say their roles could prove crucial in the fight against terrorism. These organizations are creating “the basic building blocks de Tocqueville talked about and which we’ve had for hundreds of years,” Gustafson says. “A lot of people in the NGO community are saying, ‘Let’s think into the future here. Which of these programs make sense?’ “

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.