From the Bridge

November 28, 2011 By Admiral James Stavridis

Cross-posted with United States European Command Blog “From the Bridge.” Click here to view original posting.

Every year the Agency for International Development gathers together their 80 mission directors from around the world. At the invitation of my good friend and colleague, AID Administrator Raj Shah, I had the chance to speak to his senior team about their extraordinary work on global issues of poverty, disease, and economic development.

It may seem a bit strange for a senior military officer to come and speak to the leading practitioners of “soft power;” but it was a true honor for me. It reflects our approach at the Department of Defense to support our interagency partners in helping create security where and when we can.

AID was born out of the turbulence and destruction of the Second World War. It began as the Economic Development Agency to administer the Marshall Plan, then under the auspices of both State and Commerce Departmenst — the beginning of the idea of private-public cooperation, as many of the senior leaders came out of the private sector.

The organization was formally created by President Kennedy in 1961, and it is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. While “50” may not sound like a big number, it is impossible to quantify the hundreds of millions of people touched in positive ways by AID.

Today AID is using new technologies and approaches. With only 8,000 employees, about half of them non-US citizens in host countries, they need to be nimble and creative. Drawing on the private sector, they are pushing creative solutions to the field — ranging from solar-powered pumps that can supply water to thousands of students in Afghanistan to new cell phone applications that put sophisticated crop production information in the hands of farmers in rural areas.

AID is innovative and fits into the vision of such global thinkers as Bill Gates, who recently delivered a paper on innovation to the G20 in Cannes, France. They are also committed to private-public partnering, something we are exploring in US European Command. AID has relationships with 300 private voluntary organizations, and over 3,000 American companies.

I talked about the growing and valuable partnership between the Department of Defense and AID. In my three years as Commander of US Southern Command, I learned a great deal about the impact of development on security — notably in Colombia, where AID did a great deal to bring a virulent insurgency under control. In those days we worked together on everything from hospital ship deployments to legal training and human rights.

Together with State Department, this interagency approach can be called “the 3Ds — Development, Diplomacy, and Defense.”

In this turbulent 21st century, we need to build fewer walls and more bridges. US AID, under the creative and able leadership of Raj Shah, is doing exactly that.

Admiral James Stavridis is the Commander, U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe.