Editor's Note: Anne-Marie Slaughter is the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. From 2009 to 2011, she was the Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department. Follow her on Twitter at slaughteram.
By Anne-Marie Slaughter – Special to CNN
On Black Friday, the apotheosis of consumerism and the celebration of private enterprise (entrepreneurial on-line marketers are targeting in-line consumers with ads sent to their cell phones while they wait to purchase goods in physical stores), it’s a good time to consider the power of harnessing private incentives to public goals.
Newt Gingrich made this point in the CNN national security debate for Republican presidential candidates on Tuesday night, arguing about how he would shave $500 billion out of the federal budget. “There are lots of things you can do,” he said, including giving foreign aid “in a way that we actually help people even more effectively and at a much lower cost by having public/private partnerships.”
Gingrich was unwittingly signing on to the Obama mantra. The Obama National Security Strategy mentions public-private partnerships over 30 times. Over the past 3 years both the White House and the State Department have set up offices to reach out to the private sector.
Notable successes include the Global Clean Cookstove Alliance, which brings together over 175 government agencies, corporations, NGOs and foundations around the world to secure the adoption of 100 million clean cookstoves by 2020, thereby reducing carbon emission, improving the health of tens of millions of families and increasing the security of millions of women.
Another notable initiative has been the Partnership for a New Beginning (PNB), a partnership created after President Obama’s speech in Cairo between the State Department, the Aspen Institute, and scores of corporations, foundations, and universities in the U.S., Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, the Palestinian Territories, Tunisia and Turkey. In barely over a year, PNB has supported over 70 projects connected with science and technology, economic opportunity, and education. Its 2011 status report can be found here.
The political argument for PPPs is that they stretch scarce government resources and ensure that they leverage other contributions of money, expertise and other in-kind resources. The initial emphasis on PPPs came from the Reinventing Government initiative under the Clinton administration, but the George W. Bush administration was also enthusiastic.
Equally important is the effectiveness argument: These alliances are better at taking advantage of local knowledge in developing countries and at pooling and learning from the experience of many diverse actors. And the energy, innovation and capacity in the private sector, both corporate and civic, are a vital foreign policy resource.
Finally, the kinds of global problems we face – proliferation of nuclear weapons, global terrorist and criminal networks, climate change, global pandemics, fragile states, resource scarcity (water, oil, minerals), civil conflict – cannot be solved by governments alone, much less governments increasingly strapped for funds.
Governments will be in the business of negotiating agreements, resolving crises and solving problems with one another for a long time to come, but top-down efforts cannot stimulate the widespread behavioral change that is required to address social and economic challenges. Those changes are most effectively motivated from the bottom up, through many different initiatives that come from individuals determined to improve their health, water and energy usage, education, security, etc. Former Army Colonel Richard Holshek has written persuasively on this score.
For the moment, government rhetoric on PPPs still exceeds the reality. A particular problem is that the federal government is still badly set up to engage corporations. A recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report on PPPs points out a number of operational problems due to government rules and multiple instances when the right government hand did not know what the left was doing. One consumer products company reports being approached by six different parts of the government, including parts of the same agency, to join in the same partnership.
Still, PPPs are going to be a very useful took in the foreign policy toolbox. Better still, they are an area in which the U.S. is very well placed to lead. As John Donahue and Richard Zeckhauser argue in a recent National Journal article, "From de Tocqueville's day to the present, Americans' knack for cobbling together pragmatic alliances has often served to offset our weak suit of formal government."
At a time when China is preaching the virtues and reaping many of the benefits of statism in its investment and assistance programs around the world, the U.S. can model a far more pluralist approach that involves parts of the state working together with a wide range of social actors. It is a model that simultaneously promotes collective effort and self-reliance.
Focusing on PPPs puts the entire Republican national security debate in a different light. The tools that most of the candidates focused on were both governmental and coercive: Sanctions or bombs for Iran; drones for terrorists; troops in or out of Iraq and Afghanistan; withholding aid for feckless allies like Pakistan. Once again, national security is simply a toughness test. Odd that a party so fixated on cutting back government and building up private enterprise and social capital would leave their principles at the water’s edge.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Anne-Marie Slaughter.