November 25th, 2011
01:10 PM ET

Slaughter: The future of foreign policy is public-private partnerships

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.

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Topics: Foreign Policy • Global • Ideas • Strategy • United States

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Joyce M. Simmerman

    I believe these efforts would need a LOT of "safeguards" to prevent discrimination on the size of the recipient business or other organization, with a percentage set aside for individuals. I would also like to see real safeguards against the same old corporations reaping the benefits, with some real enforcement on disbarring those which have failed to comply in the past, (e.g. Halliburton's egregious records or BIG PHARMA and bad science. Finally, what will distinguish this from grants and grantees at various governmental and non-governmental levels? What will guarantee that the "peer reviews" will be more fair than those for grants?

    November 25, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  2. Jon

    Has everyone forgotten the public-private partnership between our government and Halliburton? They took advantage of their no-bid contract in rebuilding Iraq and overcharged for EVERYTHING they could, most infamously contaminated water, which was exposed to our troops. In 2006 their were more private contractors in Iraq than soldiers, the first time in any war or "conflict" of any nation. Politifact addresses the claim that "Halliburton defrauded American taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraq" only as a half truth because of the word "defrauded" which they claim is inaccurate and chalk up to the govt's inefficiency and hastiness in sending supplies to please military leaders. The fact is with so many members our of govt having ties to businesses (the most obvious, ex-CEO Dick Cheney), this wasn't a fraud but the intended result of those in power.

    Saying that “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" implies our only other option is rely on the privatization of services, and strangely doesn't answer how they would be any more effective. I agree only with the article name that "The future of foreign policy is public-private partnerships" but the this fact only makes our future look grim to me.

    November 25, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Looking at the big countries around us with populations over 100 millions, how many of them function properly on the bottom-up basis? The PPP's function well in countries with the populace have a strong sense of civic-mindedness. In many countries that are autocratic or where businesses are done top-down, such PPP's are either non-existent or week. The resource scarcity is an explosive issue, that neither NGO's nor PPP's can deal with the conflictual parties.

    November 26, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • j. von hettlingen

      please read, populace THAT HAS a strong...., either non-existent or WEAK.

      November 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  4. Sid Harth

    I love public. Whatever that means. I love private. No comment. I love partnership. Especially between politicians and their sugar daddies who funnel unaccounted cash money funds into politicians' elections, Oops, reelections. I love America, the land of freedom, Oops, freedom to loot the treasury under all kinds severe laws to prevent such highway robberies. I love my national flag when it is burned in protest, say in Iran. I love quick solutions to very complicated, cancerous problems, such as man made hatred of Muslim people, their religion, their ways of life, their beliefs, their very faces.

    Please don't get me started on what American foreign policy, was, would be and ought to be. Everybody and their brothers-in-law, including honorable, Anne-Marie Slaaughter is up in arms, both figuratively and literally slaughtering it. Every single day, oops, hour, Oops, minute.

    Me too. I am guilty as charged.

    ...and I am Sid

    November 26, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  5. KingJaja

    Public private partnerships as a tool of foreign policy looks great on paper, but is very difficult to implement in practice. In short, it will not work.

    The 100 million clean stoves initiative will merely distort the market, keep local business out of business and destroy local industries. We've seen this before, with free shirts, free socks and free clothes distributed to Africans. They did not work and this will not also work.

    Business is as much a grit, trial and error affair as it is strategic. Academics don't make good business people and since academics like Ms. Slaughter dictate US foreign policy, this initiative is likely to fail.

    November 26, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  6. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    Just think. When the GOP regain power, they will start a war with Iran (totally unfunded of course). Then they will draft all the poor people to fight(die) in the war (just like the GOP wants) and give "no bid" contracts to the rich people. Killing two birds with one stone!!! Then we can use Iran's oil to pay for the war. And when the war is over, Iran will sell us cheap oil!!! Just like Iraq........Oh wait........Never mind.

    November 28, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  7. Alexis

    Hello United Nations and politics and diplomatic,

    I think about Palestinie – Israel trouble, and I can see that it is such country – Israel, that has religion background of conflict.
    It is rather not truth, that there is in the world such country which has troubles with being country in normal way as it was II World War, whichever it is country – democratic or communist. Because of that I ask you politics and United Nations do research, even deep (becaue they could hide it), if Israel do troubles for Palestine.because of religion. It I think change situation .

    November 28, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  8. Zoglet

    Please- no more of the same!

    November 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  9. Heiko

    As exptceed, the msm are playing up the poor, innocent civilians in Lebanon. Where is the sympathy for what Israel has had to put up with? See .

    February 9, 2012 at 7:33 pm |

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