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crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The United States has a longstanding relationship with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that dates back to 1960. The current foreign policy consists of environmental protection and healthcare solutions for Congolese people, but recently, the U.S. has held more interest in the DRC because of its ongoing political and humanitarian turmoil. Members of Congress have urged Presidents Trump and Kabila to address the crisis in the Democratic Republic for the following reasons:

Terrorism

Although the U.N. has sent thousands of peacekeepers, the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues through terrorism. Several armed terrorist groups have been exploiting the DRC for its natural resources, which displaces and abuses Congolese people — an issue that has continued since mid-1990.

These armed militia groups use funds from illegally extracting minerals to take over weakly governed sections of the nation and terrorize its citizens; the DRC has an estimated $24 trillion worth of unmined resources.

Politics

Political instability has added more tension in the DRC when President Joseph Kabila postponed the 2016 election and continued as president after his term ended. President Kabila has stated the need for “political dialogue,” yet the police force in DRC have discouraged protesting, political expression and political gatherings.

Protesters have experienced extreme action against them by DRC police including the 2015 tear gassing of student protesters and the mass murder of over 40 protesters in January 2016.  The following September, the opposing political headquarters was burned down and an additional 44 protesters were killed.

Congolese Citizens

The crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo has caused Congolese citizens to suffer from extreme poverty, murder and sexual violence because of the ongoing terrorism and political instability. The lack of governance has created an environment in which radical groups are able to freely commit these acts against Congolese people.

On top of the ongoing crimes against DRC citizens, the U.N. and African Union have not promoted sustainable development within the nation.

And add fuel to the issues of development, disease, malnutrition, lack of education and poverty that the Congolese people face every day; many multinational companies have withdrawn their business of buying minerals from the DRC, which in turn has caused multiple job losses and contributed to the nation’s ongoing poverty issue.

U.S. Action

Democratic Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Benjamin Cardin (MD), Richard Durbin (IL), Christopher Coons (DE), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Edward Markey (MA), and Sherrod Brown (OH) have urged President Donald Trump to address the crises going on in the DRC.

In a letter to the U.S. President, the six senators urged Trump to improve the implementation of the Coal Minerals Rule, enacting stronger sanctions and nominating key senior State Department posts, all to help resolve the conflict within the nation.

These U.S. Senators addressed the ongoing political and humanitarian crisis as “increasingly worrisome” and requested action if the DRC government refuses to comply.

President Kabila also received a letter from concerned U.S. Senators from both parties, which requested and encouraged the DRC leader to allow peaceful protests and political gatherings, to release the political prisoners who are being held, and respect freedom of the press. The letter stated:

 

“If the [DRC] government continues to refuse to implement the spirit and letter of the [December 31st agreement between the Presidential Majority and a coalition of political opposition parties], the U.S. should use the means at our disposal—including sanctions designations under Executive Order 13671 on DRC, anti-money-laundering regulations, and additional tools available under the Global Magnitsky Act—to affect the incentives of individuals who have strong influence over President Kabila to incentivize them to urge him to change course.”

Crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The U.S. has consistently held a relationship with the DRC, with foreign policies that focus on developing the nation and promoting democracy.

Because of the ongoing crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States has goals to encourage development, and USAID has invested in the DRC to promote the following: implementing mandates, the improvement of Congolese livelihood by regional developments, and root for peace should begin in eastern DRC.

More action from the U.S. government, the United Nations and foreign aid to the suffering Congolese people will help the nation tackle these severe issues and ideally promote the growth it needs for success.

– Courtney Hambrecht

Photo: Flickr

Education of ChildrenImproving the education of children has immense benefits. More educated societies normally have better economies, since education strongly determines employability. The life expectancy of more educated societies is also higher. Additionally, increased education encourages stronger political involvement and community service. The education of children affects what kind of life young people will have as adults.

The H.R.2408 – Protecting Girls’ Access to Education Act was introduced to Congress by Senator Steve Chabot on May 11 2017 and Senator Robin Kelly was the first cosponsor for this act. While neither Sen. Chabot nor Sen. Kelly were available for questioning, Sen. Kelly’s assistant James Lewis was able to answer the following questions about this act.

1. How will supporting the education of children in other countries benefit the U.S.?
Many children around the world, especially refugees and displaced persons, are vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist organizations, cartels and organized crime. By investing in their education, we live our values and enhance our security.

2. How will this act affect taxpayers?
This bill prioritizes existing aid dollars to better match our values and goals. While this will not cost taxpayers more money, it will help us realize more effective gains on our current investments.

3. Specifically, how will funds be allocated to support children’s access to education?
By leveraging funds in partnership with host governments, we can develop innovative approaches that educate young people, especially girls, for a brighter future, despite the harshness of their current reality.

4. How will the implementation of this act emphasize girls’ education in particular?
Displaced people, especially girls, are extremely vulnerable to sex trafficking, slavery and terrorist recruitment. Education is a shield against those nefarious actors and organizations. By focusing on educating, empowering and uplifting girls, we also create strong and thriving communities that can integrate into new communities or hopefully return to their homes to build a brighter, more peaceful future for their nations.

This is an excellent example of an act that focuses on improving foreign nations’ education of children while supporting greater global security. The best way Americans can influence the success of acts like this one is by calling their state senators and asking for their support.

– Emma Tennyson

Photo: Flickr

Power Africa Initiative
President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative is looking to solve a monster problem in sub-Saharan Africa, where two out of three people lack access to electricity. Power Africa suggests “ambitious but achievable” goals, including the creation of 60 million new electricity connections and 30,000 megawatts of new and cleaner power.

According to President Barack Obama, “Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity.” With Power Africa, the U.S. is investing in Africa’s potential. Obama has brought together private and public organizations, political leaders and power generation experts with the goal of improving peoples’ quality of life and stimulating economic growth.

USAID’s goal with the Power Africa Initiative has been “to remove barriers that impede sustainable development.” A recent article in Bloomberg, however, claims that after three years, those barriers are still in place.

Writers Toluse Olorunnipa and Tope Alake cite evidence that Power Africa “has fallen well short of its goals, so far producing less than 5 percent of the new power generation it promised.” They highlight political dysfunction, policy bundling and economic hurdles as major obstacles to progress.

USAID, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, is aiming to implement policy and regulatory reforms, and the Department of Energy has partnered with the Clean Energy Solutions Center in the Power Africa Initiative to “help governments design and adopt policies and programs that support the deployment of clean energy technologies.”

With over 120 public and private partners, the Power Africa Initiative has the potential to make an enormous impact in the African continent, despite the bleak progress reported.

In September 2016, President Obama argued that progress is being made, citing successes involving “solar power and natural gas in Nigeria; off-grid energy in Tanzania; people in rural Rwanda gaining electricity.”

Obama went on to say that the global community must continue to invest in Africa’s youth in order to build upon the progress that has already been made. It may be that maximizing investment in Africa’s young people will “spur Africa’s energy revolution.”

As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to assume office, his choice of cabinet members is demonstrating a philosophical shift in foreign policy. It is uncertain at this point whether the incoming U.S. administration will continue to support international development projects such as Power Africa.

As long as funding continues, however, the initiative will continue to make an impact.

Tim Devine

Photo: Flickr

goals_of_foreign_policy
Though the specific goals of U.S. foreign policy have varied with different administrations, the United States’ experience with isolationism in the twentieth century has ushered in a new and more active form of foreign policy. The U.S. Department of State declares that the focus of foreign policy is the promotion of human rights, based upon the content of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To advance the well-being of foreign nations, the Department of State website states that U.S. foreign policy seeks to secure peace, strengthen democracies, fight crime and corruption and “prevent humanitarian crises,” among other goals.

The existence of human rights on a global scale is not only in the best interest of foreign nations but of the United States as well. Successful U.S. foreign policy in defense of human rights often results in the decline of national security threats and the maintenance of the balance of power among nations. U.S. involvement in global affairs also works toward cooperative foreign trade and global economic interaction.

Creating specific U.S. foreign policy is often a balance of interests in which diplomats and leaders must decide which issues require direct and immediate attention at a given moment. Henry Kissinger, National Security Adviser and Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, stated that when creating foreign policy it is necessary “to separate the urgent from the important and make sure you’re dealing with the important and don’t let the urgent drive out the important.”

One only needs to read the latest newspaper headlines to find that the U.S. government has recently focused heavily on the urgent threats of Iranian nuclear capabilities and Russian force against Ukraine. Although the most urgent foreign affairs have assumed much diplomatic attention, the Obama Administration has recently chosen to shift some of its focus to U.S. relations with Cuba. Affairs in Cuba are at the moment a less urgent national security issue but an important human rights issue.

Goals of foreign policy with Cuba, as listed on the state department’s website, aim at re-establishing diplomatic relations, empowering the Cuban people by “adjusting” regulations and facilitating more travel to Cuba for U.S. businesses. The potential for future health collaboration may also provide greater opportunities to advance the well being of Cubans.

The Department of State hopes that the increased flow of information and goods – up to $400 in Cuban goods, $100 of which can comprise alcohol and tobacco products – will expose the Cubans to democratic society. However, Cuban President Raul Castro still hopes to partake in dialogue with the U.S. that “acknowledges our profound differences, particularly on issues related to national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and foreign policy.” Castro plans to maintain a “prosperous and sustainable Socialism,” which could prove a point of contention between the Cuban government and American businesses that settle in the Latin American country.

No policy change in regard to the 1962 embargo with Cuba will occur until Congress officially changes the law, but international progress and cooperation between the U.S. and its offshore neighbor have already returned Cuban and American hostages to their home countries and advanced one of the most important goals of foreign policy, human rights.

– Paulina Menichiello

Sources: The White House, The Guardian, USHistory.org Pew Research Center, The Washington Post 1, The Washington Post 2, CNN, NewsWeek
Photo: The Washington Post

152_accountForeign aid is one of the most controversial issues in the U.S., but many people who are against increasing foreign aid fail to realize that only less than 1 percent of the U.S. annual budget is devoted to foreign aid. Most of the people who want to cut foreign aid estimate that the U.S. spends up to 30 times more on foreign aid than it actually does.

The aid that the U.S. gives is divided into two subcategories — the 151 account and the 152 account. As the Center for Global Development states, while the 151 account deals with international development and humanitarian assistance, the 152 account is concerned with international security assistance. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department are the two groups that provide the most money for international aid. In 2010, the 152 account — international security assistance — was given 10.38 billion dollars in aid.

This money for security assistance is utilized in several different ways, and the programs are administered by the Department of Defense and the State Department. One of the most widely known programs that uses this security assistance is International Military Education and Training (IMET). IMET uses the money in order to provide training to foreign troops using U.S. military doctrines, tactics and equipment when necessary. An example of IMET in action is the security assistance that the U.S. has provided to Lebanon. Since 1985, the U.S. has had more than 1,000 Lebanese military students come to the U.S. for training and education.

In 2007, the U.S. spent $10,581 million on the 152 account, $16,287 million on the 151 account and a total of $68,408 million on their international affairs budget. While this may seem like a lot of money, in the same year, the U.S. spent $625,850 million on its national defense budget.

The 152 account is important because it provides security assistance to groups that need tactical training and weapons. It helps to ensure that the three core security objectives of the U.S. – enhancing U.S. security, bolstering America’s economic prosperity and promoting democracy abroad — are carried out. The security assistance training programs, such as IMET, are supposed to improve the relations between the U.S. and other countries and promote self-sufficiency.

– Ashrita Rau

Sources: CGD, Oxfam America Princeton The White House The White House FAS FPC GPO Congressional Research Service
Photo: American Foreign Relations

new strategy against isis
“Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

On September 10, President Barack Obama announced a new strategy against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. (Here, the group will be referred to as ISIS. Other sources have labeled the organization as IS and ISIL.)

The aim of ISIS is to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, throughout Iraq and Syria. So far, ISIS has claimed control over northern Iraq and the northeastern region of Syria. The extremist group also targets people who follow religions other than Islam, particularly Christians and the Yazidi, an ethnic minority in Iraq.

Until February 2014, ISIS was a part of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Differing strategies in establishing a caliphate in Syria resulted in the division of the groups. Today, both compete for influence over Islamic fundamentalists.

In an effort to reduce the amount of destruction caused by ISIS, the United States staged successful air strikes to keep the group out of Iraqi Kurdistan and limit their attacks on the Yazidi.

The actions of the militant group in Iraq and Syria have displaced thousands and placed many into a state of poverty. In Qaraqosh, a predominately Christian town in Iraq, 50,000 people have little access to food and water because of ISIS’s actions.

In its attempt to create a caliphate, the group is also raping and abducting women in order to use them as slaves. By targeting women and minorities, ISIS is forcing thousands into poverty. Access to basic necessities and human rights are severely limited. Poverty also compels some to join the extremist group, with no alternative to survival, and furthers its control of the region.

Identifying the force as a threat to national security, President Obama has taken action to provide military support for the Iraqi government. This effort will be continued and expanded, according to his most recent statements.

An additional 475 military representatives will be sent to Iraq to help with training, intelligence and attaining resources. The United States will work with international allies to increase intelligence and create a comprehensive strategy to eliminate ISIS. To address the number of people in Iraq and Syria being targeted, the United States will also provide humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the conflict.

In outlining the new strategy, President Obama highlighted the United States’ leadership. He drew focus to America’s, “capacity and will to mobilize the world against terrorists … our own safety, our own security, depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation and uphold the values that we stand for—timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.”

President Obama argued that the capacity and willingness to end a problem created a moral obligation for the United States to act. This obligation is not limited to military action. The new strategy against ISIS includes humanitarian efforts to alleviate the burden of conflict, which is closely related to poverty. Should these types of efforts continue, the United States could act as a role model for poverty-reducing strategies across the globe.

– Tara Wilson

Sources: Vox, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian,

helicopter_transparency_in_foreign_aid_black_blue_sky_countries_spending
Last year, the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) released its Transparency Index where the Millennium Challenge Corporation or MCC ranked first among 57 international aid organizations. While this merits a celebration for the U.S. in leading the pack, other U.S. agencies did not fare so well. The U.S. Treasury and USAID ranked 19th and 22nd respectively in the fair category, the Defense and State Departments ranked 27th and 40th respectively in the poor category and finally PEPFAR, a program from the State Department, ranked 50th in the very poor category. More importantly, in addition to the above mentioned there are 20 other U.S. agencies involved in providing foreign assistance that are not reporting to ATI or the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

In their effort to make foreign aid spending more transparent, in 2013, both the House and the Senate introduced The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013 (H.R.2638 & S.1271). Receiving strong bipartisan support, this bill promises to improve accountability, transparency and efficiency in foreign assistance programs. If signed into law, it would require the President to implement disclosure and reporting guidelines for all agencies providing aid. All data would be made public through the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, which the administration had already launched in 2010.

More recently, following the path towards more transparency in foreign assistance, the White House has revamped the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, to which until last year only as few as six agencies had posted their information. This shows a strong commitment by the Obama administration towards improving transparency, accountability and efficiency in foreign assistance.

However, while the promise of accountability, transparency and effectiveness is commendable, according the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network or MFAN, its success will greatly depend on strict enforcement measures. The absence of a clear timetable and the level of detail required from agencies to report their data makes for very inconsistent reporting. Moreover, MFAN has stated that linking the legislation more closely to the mission and work of IATI would provide for better and more useful information.

Notwithstanding some of the changes and efforts needed to bring about consistency, accountability and transparency in foreign aid, experts say we are on the right track. According to George Ingram, making foreign assistance data available is important on several levels. First, it helps donors and recipient countries make informed decisions. What is more, “it allows citizens to be better informed on government decisions and therefore better able to hold government accountable.”

At the citizen level, the benefits of an online hub for aid spending data are twofold. On one hand, it allows citizens to see for themselves how much of the national GDP is actually spent on foreign aid, instead of how much they think it is. On the other, it carries the promise of driving people to be more supportive of foreign aid assistance as they get a clear picture of how it is allocated and the global issues it is addressing.

Until now, one thing that remains clear is that everyone, from the White House to donors to the average citizen, can stand behind the idea of transparency. However, it is necessary to implement better guidelines and enforcement tools in order to achieve real transparency in foreign assistance.

– Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: Brookings, Brookings, MFAN
Photo: Bayanihan

Federal Poverty Level
The federal poverty level is a measure that is often cited yet seldom is it fully understood.  Currently, the federal poverty level is considered to be at about a $15,000 yearly income per two-person families and, of which, the extreme poverty threshold  is set to households that are living on less than $2 per day.  This definition is fairly controversial, and has been subject to change over the years based on a number of factors.  However, it is a key concept to understand, and not just for domestic policy but foreign affairs as well.

The federal poverty level, or threshold, has been in effect in its current state since the Kennedy Administration.  According to a paper by economist, Gordon M. Fisher, the level was initiated in order to understand the risks of living in poverty  and the affects of poverty on different groups of people.  During the Johnson Administration, the level was used as a target; particularly, during the administration’s War on Poverty.

The level was developed based on the cost of food for families at the time and what kind of nutritional diet a family would be able to have at different levels.  Under the first calculation of this threshold, done by an economist working for the Social Security Administration, the threshold was determined at $1,988 yearly income per two-person households.

Since its creation, while a number of revisions have occurred since the first set of calculations, the formula to determine the level has been an important factor in U.S. policy decisions.  When looking at global poverty, the extreme poverty measure is particularly important for the threshold has been used to set goals for anti-poverty measures.

The Millennium Project is one such measure that uses the federal poverty level calculations to influence foreign policy.  The project has a number of goals to keep the global economy move forward, but listed first on these goals is the effort to “eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.”  These goals were set in 1990 with initial targets set to hit these goals.

The initial target for the extreme poverty goal was to halve extreme poverty by 2015.  Reminiscent of Johnson’s War on Poverty, this goal looked to drive the force for a greater world society.  The goal actually was estimated to have been reached by 2008, an achievement that was praised as a major success for the Millennium Project.

Despite the fact that poverty levels are used by programs like the War on Poverty and the Millennium Project, the poverty threshold has a number of critics.  Popular criticisms are that the threshold is too low, as it still uses calculations from the 1960s, and are applied indiscriminately to very different regions.  Alternative poverty measures have been proposed by state governments and by groups such as the National Academy of Sciences.  Unfortunately, none have yet been adopted.

Federal poverty levels are important to understand considering they are most often used in discussions surrounding poverty.  The measures influence policy decisions and are used to track the path of the U.S. economy.  The indications are that extreme poverty is going down across the world, but what this says about actual poverty and what it says about the way it is measured could be debated in some corners.

Eric Gustafsson

Sources: The New Yorker, Huffington Post, UN Millennium Project, Social Security Administration, Center for American Progress

US_Farm_Bill
In exciting news in the war against global poverty, The United States Senate’s proposed farm bill has gained momentum and has bipartisan support. The Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954) has been a successful undertaking by Representative’s Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Adam Smith (D-WA), and has been applauded on both sides of the political aisle.

There are specific changes to the practice and policies of aid administration that would make this farm bill extremely effective as a means to combat poverty and promote U.S. interests abroad. It also stands to have a more stabilizing effect on local economies and food sources in the countries receiving aid.

Food aid reform has been one of the most critical tools of American foreign policy. The U.S. has spent nearly $2 billion annually since the 1950s to fight global poverty and provide food to the hungry, saving millions of lives. Many processes in food aid administration are stiff and ineffective and policy could be more effectively written to feed more people without additional cost to the American public.

Currently, most international food aid is required by law to be purchased from American farmers through the Department of Agriculture. Additionally, the food is also required to be shipped overseas in American vessels. This has meant profit for American farmers and shippers but has led to a food aid system that has been inefficient and costly to recipient countries

By forcing countries to purchase American commodities and have them shipped through American vessels, local food market prices are driven down and local food production is discouraged.

The newly proposed farm bill under U.S. President Obama has nearly half the $1.5 billion requested for food aid in 2014 could be used to buy food in bulk in directly from countries in need or to provide individual recipients with vouchers or debit cards for foods purchased locally. Food bought locally is nearly 50 percent cheaper in some cases, and mandates of this law allow for local economies to heal as hungry populations are being fed.

Effectively reforming our food aid system could mean millions more people will be reached with lifesaving aid without costing taxpayers one extra penny. Helping poorer countries become more stable and providing them with basic needs means a more stable global economy and less money spent on fighting the ravages of poverty and the violence it cultivates.

Nina Verfaillie
Feature Writer

Sources: Oxfam, The NY Times
Photo: Washington Watcher