The QDDR: A Chief Architect’s Insight

In December 2010, the Secretary of State released the First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR).  It represents the most thorough examination of U. S. international development policies by the Department of State since the Statutory Authority for the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 was passed from the Administrator of USAID to then-Secretary Madeline Albright in the last year of the Clinton Administration.
(Slaughter speaking at SAIS, Johns Hopkins)
(Slaughter speaking at SAIS, Johns Hopkins)

At a recent discussion on the QDDR, Anne Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning under the Obama Administration, spoke of “smart power” and elevating development to the “core of foreign policy”.  So whether in Rwanda, Costa Rica or Afghanistan, the development dimension should go along side diplomatic engagement with the state.  Slaughter mentioned seven key ways through which the QDDR envisages governments engaging with the world:

  1. Through civilian power
  2. By working with regional organisations through multilateral cooperation
  3. Through global systems, i.e. economic systems
  4. Through development
  5. By ensuring conflict prevention
  6. By utilizing and elevating women
  7. Through non-state actors.

Although some reviews of the QDDR (pdf) have suggested a lack of substantive proposals, Slaughter spoke of how specific lessons have been learned from experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and applied.  In response to a question on the reality of implementing such extensive overhaul, Slaughter stated that it would only truly work through the “constant back and forth between the big vision and very concrete small steps”.

As some have pointed out, what remains clear, is that the QDDR is at least in part a public relations document.  Behind the spiel of “leading through civilian power” and “multilateral diplomatic engagement in conflict prevention”, the defining test for this ambitious set of reforms is whether the State Department and USAID can implement them without slipping into a top-down approach which could fail to provide visible results.  Slaughter addressed concerns about the risk of creating unnecessary bureaucracy (through two new agencies covering energy security and conflict & stabilisation operations) in suggesting that these should infact reduce bureaucratic inefficiencies.  The two-year target for implementing major QDDR reforms, which Slaughter describes as effectively “rebuilding USAID”, is ambitious.  With the enormous commitment to build civilian power through hiring 5,500 new Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel, the taxpayer will be expecting tangible outcomes, and the QDDR presents an opportunity for USAID to demonstrate its ability to have a substantive impact.


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