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Editorial: You Can’t Buy Peace: The US’s Flawed Foreign Aid Strategy in Afghanistan         

(Editor’s Note: This article kicks off our 2017-2018 online editorial submissions! Feel free to submit by emailing

Author: Doug Berger

Despite more than 100 billion dollars in international aid, mostly from the US, and the sacrifice of thousands of NATO soldiers, Afghanistan remains on the brink. The Taliban controls the largest share of the country since the US-led coalition toppled its regime in 2001—the Afghan Government controls less than two-thirds. Afghanistan’s GDP is increasing slower than its population and it ranked seventh to last in Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perception Index. How can this be?

Much of the blame lies with the United States’ flawed aid strategy. Rather than supporting development, we have attempted to buy peace. Aid is disproportionately distributed to the regions with the most conflict, leaving Bamiyan and Daikundi, the most secure provinces since 2001, the poorest and least developed. The instinct to try to “win hearts and minds” in areas with a strong Taliban presence is understandable, but it has had disastrous consequences.

More than 80% of aid has gone towards short-term projects designed to improve the local security situation, such as walls around schools, or repairs to local irrigation infrastructure. While these projects have certainly done some good, long-term economic development and institution building have been neglected. The result: When NATO troops began to pull out in 2011, economic growth plummeted from well over 10% to just 2% and the poverty rate increased from 36% to 39%.

Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that this aid has failed in its primary objective: demonstrating the benefits of supporting the Kabul government. An internal report produced by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) found that its “stabilization” program had the opposite of the desired effect. In Taliban controlled villages receiving aid, opinion of the Taliban, rather than the US or the Afghan Government, improved—villagers generally believed that the projects must have been approved by the local Taliban militia.

USAID had been justifiably reluctant to provide aid through the Afghan government, which suffers from widespread corruption. However, Afghanistan has consequently lacked the resources to combat that corruption and build local institutions. Until 2014, 90% of all aid was spent outside Kabul’s budget. Significant US aid was (and continues to be) funneled through international corporations and multiple layers of subcontractors. This has lead to inefficiency and higher overhead costs—in 2012 just 30 cents of every dollar USAID spent actually went to aid—half the norm for other aid groups like the World Bank. In 2014, the US pledged to provide 50% of aid directly to the Afghan government, but with the security situation deteriorating, the window to build a stronger Afghan state may have passed.

In a situation as complex and difficult as Afghanistan, no solution can work perfectly, and any improvements will be gradual. However, there are a number of ways the US can improve its aid strategy to encourage better outcomes. Rather than attempting to buy peace, aid should concentrate on long-term growth and institution building. This necessitates a shift in focus to more secure provinces—long-term investments won’t pay off under constant threat of violence. For humanitarian reasons, aid to war-torn areas certainly shouldn’t be cut off, but the emphasis must change.

Sustained economic development would help the Afghan government collect revenue and decrease its dependence on foreign aid. Surely the chief goal of aid must be to reduce its necessity in the future. To this end, the US should focus on improving Kabul’s revenue collection capability, which remains relatively low at 10.7% of GDP.

Finally, when providing aid outside the government, USAID should strive to democratize the process—avoiding the use of international corporations. Rather than imposing projects based on what we believe the population’s needs are, programs should leave decisions on what to build where up to the local population. When possible, locals should be given the resources to complete projects themselves. This buy-in would empower the local population and help improve perceptions of the US and Afghan government.


2017 Journal

We’re proud to present our 2017 Journal: The Global Commons! Please head over to the current issue section of our website to view it.

Democracy in Tunisia

Another excellent paper we received, “Islamists for Democracy: Explaining Ennahda’s Democratizing Role in Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution”  is from Shawn Patterson, a student at Tufts University studying International Relations.

This paper analyzes the success of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, especially in light of the failures of various other Arab Spring Revolutions to bring about democratic states, and can be accessed by clicking on the hyperlink below.


The Failure of Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia

As a lead up to our journal publication in April Hemispheres will be featuring some of the excellent submissions for this year’s journal that we were not able to include.

This paper is by Jazil Waris, an undergraduate pursuing his A.B. in Government at Harvard University, and details the failure of nuclear deterrence to prevent conflict in South Asia.


Hemispheres 2016 Edition: Emerging Actors

Click Below To View!

Tufts Hemispheres 2016 – Emerging Actors

The Hemispheres News Digest

Late January in International Relations

Zika Virus

The Zika virus, transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, is part of a recently expanding outbreak. The virus currently has no known vaccine. 3 to 4 million have been affected in the past nine months. Symptoms include conjunctivitis, fever, and a skin rash lasting from 2 to 7 days. Read more about the Zika Virus here.

While the symptoms may not sound severe (in fact, most affected individuals don’t even know they are ill), people suspect that there is a connection between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barre syndrome, an immune system disorder, as well as microcephaly, a serious developmental condition that has grown increasingly ubiquitous in Brazil. Thus, the spread of the virus has triggered global travel warnings for pregnant women released by the CDC and other health organizations. The New York Times updated “Short Answers to Hard Questions About Zika Virus” on January 28.


So far, there are 31 reported U.S. cases of the Zika virus in 11 states and Washington, D.C. according to the CDC, all attributed to international travel. While the development of a vaccine is being pushed for internationally, efforts will most likely take years despite international mobilization for research and development (Source). Foreign Policy reported that there is a risk of Zika becoming endemic to Brazil, or a permanent feature of the nature’s ecology. The possibility of the disease making a permanent home for itself in the Western Hemisphere is one of great concern.

Syria talks

Syria peace talks representing the first political effort to peace in two years began as of January 29, although the role of the opposition in the talks remains unclear. The talks begin after long delays caused by uncertainty of who would form the opposition committee in the face of staunch boycotting against the talks. Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy, has urged the final opposition bloc to attend the talks regardless of whether the Assad regime lifts sieges. Kurds are invited as observers, rather than having their own seat at the negotiating table (CNN).

download.jpegThese “proximity talks” to be mediated by Mistura are complicated by recent events. First, Syrian government forces have advanced with the help of Russian airstrikes, reducing the government’s incentive to negotiate. As the civil war has been ongoing for over five years, killing over 250,000 and causing over half the Syrian population to flee, the opposition remains uncertain whether the negotiations will be fruitful according to the Atlantic.

Myanmar ends military-only rule

In the general elections of November 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory after nearly 50 years of military rule. BBC further explains the election here.


National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi applauds as she attends a farewell ceremony at the Parliament in Naypyitaw

National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi applauds as she attends a farewell ceremony at the Parliament in Naypyitaw, January 29, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

On Monday, these elected MPs will take their seats in Parliament after an emotional celebration in the capital of Naypyidaw. However, there remain barriers to this celebration. The constitution, drafted by the military, presents Suu Kyi from becoming president. The military retains control over 25% of parliamentary seats and three security ministries, meaning that the legacy of the junta in Myanmar is far from over.
Next week, three presidential candidates will be put forward (one from the upper house, one from the lower house, and one from the military bloc). The houses will then vote together, with the new president assuming power in March (Source: Reuters).

The Hemispheres News Digest

Early to Mid November in International Relations

Opposition leaders executed in Bangladesh


Senior Bangladeshi opposition leaders Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury were executed Saturday for war crimes committed during the bloody War of Liberation in 1971 after a final clemency appeal was rejected.

Both members were convicted for genocidal atrocities. Mujahid was a senior member of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party, while Chowdhury led BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party), the main opposition force. (Source: The Guardian.)

Despite these accusations, however, there has been concern regarding backlash, as supporters of each politician have threatened justice and questioned the legal validity of the proceedings. A reporter returning from Chowdhury’s funeral was shot at repeatedly while inside his car. This event thus exacerbates concerns regarding instability in Bangladesh. Read more here.

China gets involved in the fight against ISIS

This week, ISIS executed Chinese national Fan Jinghui, prompting president Xi Jinping to “resolutely crack down” on such terrorist activity. This sentiment was exacerbated by the loss of 3 Chinese failway executives in the Malian siege.

China, with formidable security presence including over 2 million soldiers, has called to expand its presence internationally to combat terrorist threats. (Source).

Despite this, however, this represents a major setback and limitation for China in that it has not taken a more effective, direct response against terrorism such as officially joining the international coalition against the Islamic State before this point. As such, Beijing is contemplating a framework to send more troops abroad. Although China cracks down on terrorism within its borders, as it recently did in Xinjiang, it tends to let the United States, Britain, France, and Russia take the lead in terms of fighting international threats. China does not necessarily have to militarily intervene in the Middle East, but sitting on the international sidelines is becoming less and less of an option. Read more here.


Myanmar Landslide

90 people are reported dead in a landslide in Myanmar that occurred in the early morning of Sunday November 22. Located in the Kachin state, the landslide occurred at a jade mine when waste material collapsed, burying the victims. Among the victims are those who live close to waste dumps in hopes of finding pieces of jade to sell for themselves.


More people are missing and the Myanmar Red Cross along with local authorities are working to find them. Read more here.

Paris Update

This is the second day Brussels is under a city-wide lockdown. Belgian forces are on the hunt for several terror suspects including Salah Abdeslam, who was involved in the Paris attacks. He is described as armed and dangerous and according to friends, he was recently in Brussels trying to get to Syria. Interior Minister Jan Jambon says that the “terror threat in Belgium will not be over once Salah Abdeslam is out of harm’s way” (Source). It is unclear to whether Interior Minister Jambon believes there will be another attack, but this time targeted towards civilians in Brussels.


So far Belgian authorities have charged three people with involvement in the Paris attacks. A total of nine people have been named as perpetrators in this violent

2016 US Presidential Election Update

Following the Paris attacks, Democratic presidential hopefuls lined up in Iowa to debate. The primary focus of the debate was about how the US should best deal with the Islamic State (IS). Former Secretary of State and frontrunner of the Democratic presidential race, Hilary Clinton, was reported to appear stiff and defensive when her opponents challenged her. Although Clinton, compared to her opponents, is more knowledgeable and experienced with foreign policy issues, neither she nor Bernie Sanders nor Martin O’Malley provided a plan for managing the threat of the militant group (Source).


The Iowa debate ended with banter about the economy, minimum wage, Syrian refugees, and of course criticizing the Republican party. Read more here.