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cover page of Brookings-Blum 2018 report

Invigorating US leadership in global development

2018 Brookings Blum Roundtable

The preservation of leadership in global development has been a priority for U.S. administrations since World War II, based on the belief that U.S. economic assistance is an instrument for peace, prosperity, and human betterment.

Today’s era is different. For the past two years, President Donald Trump has proposed cuts to foreign assistance, but has been resisted by a bipartisan coalition in Congress. In a world where development dollars are called upon to tackle myriad challenges, questions of how aid is deployed and how it complements other sources of private and public finance in achieving development impact are crucial.

The 15th Brookings Blum Roundtable (BBR) will continue a conversation from August 2017, on challenges to and opportunities for U.S. foreign assistance and global leadership.


There is an urgency to SDG implementation. Time is running out. If the estimated trends do not change, many lives will be lost or damaged, and, in the longer-run, development trajectories for the next few decades will be adversely affected. A narrow window of opportunity that exists today is closing. If the U.S. is to exercise global leadership with its foreign assistance, it should view its contributions and support through a Sustainable Development Goals lens. This would reinforce the long-standing principle of U.S. assistance that it respect universal country ownership rather than a U.S. driven agenda.

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America First Budget

The America First era brings new complexity for those of us who believe that U.S. global leadership is central to advancing America’s national interests. From engaging our NATO allies to trade alliances, the impact couldn’t be more challenging. Yet, while other international issues have struggled to bridge the partisan divide, a strong bipartisan consensus successfully pushed back against proposals that recommended dangerous cuts to U.S. tools of global engagement.

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A U.S. Marine stands on top of boxes containing tent material from U.S. relief organisation USAid, as he and Philippine soldiers prepare the load to be deployed by airlift by U.S. military to victims of super typhoon Haiyan, at Manila airport November 13, 2013. Philippine officials have been overwhelmed by Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons on record, which tore through the central Philippines on Friday and flattened Tacloban, coastal capital of Leyte province where officials had feared 10,000 people died, many drowning in a tsunami-like wall of seawater. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay (PHILIPPINES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT MILITARY) - GM1E9BD0WA102

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission, Chaired by Lord Mark Malloch-Brown and comprised of business leaders from around the world, reports that it will likely require around $2.4 trillion a year of additional investment to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030. It also estimates that achieving those goals could open up as much as $12 trillion of market investment opportunities in four categories—food and agriculture, sustainable cities, energy and materials, and health and well-being. While that represents an enormous opportunity, it also prompts the question of what options exist to bridge the current gap in financing.

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A man looks out of the window of his colonial-era house in Freetown, Sierra Leone November 19, 2012. Sierra Leone's elections were generally well conducted, saw a large turnout, and will help consolidate democracy in the West African state if the eventual results are accepted peacefully by the contenders, European Union observers said on Monday. REUTERS/Joe Penney (SIERRA LEONE - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS SOCIETY) - GM1E8BJ1MSC01

According to the World Bank, 2 billion people live in countries affected by fragility and conflict, and they constitute the youngest and fastest growing populations, globally. Fragile states are the primary source of historic levels of people displaced by violent conflict, which rose even further in 2017, to 68.5 million—equal to the combined populations of California, Texas, and Maryland. Today, refugee flows threaten to destabilize regional neighbors and continue to roil the politics of European allies. The challenge of state fragility, framed as both a global security threat and as the principal obstacle to reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is prompting accelerated efforts to create the clear evidence and joint frameworks needed for effective action, creating an even more urgent opportunity—and necessity—to harness the current consensus and apply lessons learned.

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United States Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Nikki Haley, introduces White House senior adviser Jared Kushner to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres before a meeting of the UN Security Council at UN headquarters in New York, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - RC15D8890F20

Evolution within the multilateral system is essential in today’s fast-changing context. The increased ambitions of the global community and the need for global public goods, reflected in agreements such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris climate accord, are creating a demand for improved results and coordination. The growing size and political influence of emerging economies, the enhanced agency of many developing countries, and an increasingly complex set of transnational issues are also reshaping the global context for multilateralism. The U.S., as an originator and investor, wields significant influence and advances its global development and strategic interests through the multilateral development system.

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An American flag waves from the back of a jeep as a history enthusiast, drives on the road near Omaha beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, on the Normandy coast June 2, 2014. World leaders will attend ceremonies in Normandy June 6, 2014 marking the 70th anniversary of the World War Two allied beach landings on D-Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol (FRANCE - Tags: CONFLICT ANNIVERSARY) - PM1EA621BKJ01

The United States has been a global leader in the development cooperation field for a long time. Thus far, despite a disturbing general attack on the rules-based international system by the current U.S. administration, country partners, international organizations, and other donors still look to the United States for leadership. Yet preeminence is ephemeral, built partly on historic inertia, partly on perception, and partly on real results. Indeed, inertia may be the key factor maintaining the U.S. position today. However, more is at play than that, including a Congress that is resisting isolationism and deep budget cuts in the foreign affairs budget accounts.

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