The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) strives to prevent and promote violent extremism and development respectively. USAID’s mission is to “end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing [America’s] security and prosperity.” The mission itself outlines the answer in the fight against violent extremism: development.
What is Development?
While economic growth is a necessary condition for development, development is a broader concept that covers both social and economic progress. Dr. Amartya Sen, an economics professor at Harvard University who was awarded The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 1998, has said that development is about creating freedom and eliminating obstacles to greater freedom. According to Sen, obstacles include:
- Poor governance
- Lack of economic opportunities
- Lack of education
- Lack of health
Freedom is hard to measure, but other indicators illustrate the concrete aspects of development. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) uses the Human Development Index (HDI) to measure development. The HDI tracks changes in three areas: per capita income, health and education.
To track per capita income, the HDI measures GDP per capita, which specifically indicates material standards of living. For health, the HDI measures life expectancy, which is typically higher in more developed countries and which can be affected by the availability of food, war and rates of disease and natural disasters.
For education, the HDI measures adult literacy through the International Adult Literacy Survey. The Survey tests subjects’ abilities to understand and interpret text as well as to perform basic arithmetic.
The Relationship Between Violent Extremism and Development
Violent extremism and development have an inverse relationship: the more developed a country, the less likely it is for violent extremism to emerge; while development impedes violent extremism, violent extremism also impedes development.
Violent extremism impedes economic growth, and therefore development, by discouraging long-term investments. People living in areas plagued by violent extremism do not feel comfortable or optimistic about opening businesses and as a result, these areas’ economies suffer.
Besides stalling economies, violent extremism also taxes health systems, displaces people from their homes, prevents children from attending schools and drains government resources that could be put toward development.
Less-developed countries are vulnerable to violent extremism, which can grow more easily in the absence of strong social, economic and political institutions. Stronger institutions can address grievances that may otherwise fuel violent extremism and radicalization. Certain facets of development, such as steady governance, enable countries to control outbreaks of violent extremism if necessary.
In 2011, USAID issued The Development Response to Violent Extremism and Insurgency policy. Over half of U.S. foreign aid goes to countries in conflict or toward preventing conflict, leaving less than enough to put toward really helping people therefore undermining the other work USAID is doing.
USAID’s policy strives to stimulate growth and progress in developing countries as a method of fighting violent extremism. Through Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), USAID hopes to be able to devote more funds toward development rather than conflict in the future.
One of the overall program principles is to identify and address the drivers of violent extremism, such as exclusion and injustice. USAID partners with local and national governments in Africa, the Middle East and Asia — as well as NGOs — to specifically address such drivers before they can grow to become larger problems. The policy also targets specific populations, such as women and at-risk young men.
USAID’s policy and approach concentrates on:
- Youth empowerment
- Social and economic inclusion
- Conflict mitigation
- Improving local governance
USAID also strives to think locally and take a coordinated and integrated approach toward violent extremism and development. The program tailors its activities to meet the threat levels, political environments and material needs of each community it works with based on qualitative and quantitative data. For example, in Africa, USAID has “developed web-based training, built knowledge sharing platforms, and convened workshops to assure innovation and learning.”
In September 2014, President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly and said, “We will expand our programs to support entrepreneurship and civil society, education and youth — because, ultimately, these investments are the best antidote to violence.” Thankfully, USAID is one of the many organizations working to advocate for and promote such change-making efforts.
– Kathryn Quelle