A lesson we can learn on development from Oman

October 20, 2010 By Jane Kaminski

While the U.S. is enmeshed in its efforts to rout violent extremism in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nicholas Kristof writes in a recent opinion editorial that the country of Oman has something to teach us about the role of development in fostering a safer world.

Four decades after Oman began a series of reforms emphasizing education, sustainability, and economic diversification, the country has a growing economy, and experts agree it is largely intolerant of terrorist activity. Its neighbor Yemen, by contrast, has remained largely isolationist and not embraced the kind of education and economic reforms as Oman, leaving its economy in decline and security unstable. With this comparison, Kristof makes a strong case for the national security implications of effective development.

Kristof emphasizes the expansion of Oman’s human capacity by educating women and improving its school system as a major factor in its success. Currently, Oman is described by the CIA factbook as a middle-income state, with an innovative economy. Through its initiatives Oman is now a modern, moderate, and stable state.

Yemen, which has a 50% adult literacy rate and a potable water supply that will run out in the next decade, has been lumped among those countries classified as “In Danger” and it is a known haven for terrorist and pirates. The counter-example of Oman suggests that the dire state of Yemen today might have been avoided or at least mitigated by effective development and educational programs, and the region may have been better for it.

In a recent letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USGLC Chair Dan Glickman touched on this very subject, arguing that the U.S. can’t afford to skimp on its development programs and that more and better development is in the economic and national security interests of this country.

These two countries illustrate the national security risks and opportunities for development. By ignoring opportunities to support and encourage a country developing a stable society and economy, we risk allowing more weak states to form and leave the world more vulnerable to terrorism and collapse. The case of Oman suggests that this is not inevitable and there are opportunities to assist states to strengthen and develop into moderate, stable societies that reject extremism in some of the most precarious regions around the world.