Jeff Goodson is a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer.  He worked 29 years for USAID (1983-2012), on the ground in 49 countries, including in conflict states in Africa, Asia, Latin America, eastern Europe, and the Middle East.  Goodson was USAID Chief of Staff in Afghanistan from 2006-2007, and Director of Development at ISAF HQ under General David Petraeus and General John Allen from 2010-2012.  The opinions in this article are his alone.

Socioeconomic development plays a major role in cold, conventional and irregular warfare.  Recent history illustrates how the nature of that role varies with the nature of the conflict and portend likely development execution in future operations.

The Marshall Plan (1948-1951)

The modern era of international development started after the end of World War II.  Secretary of State George C. Marshall, convinced that ”the key to restoration of political stability in Europe lay in the revitalization of national economies,“ launched a program in 1948 to help rebuild Europe and prevent the spread of communism.

The Marshall Plan ran from 1948-1951. The U.S. spent about $189 billion (2016 dollars) on food, staples, fuel, machinery, and investment in industrial capacity, most of it going to the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.  A similar programfor Asia spent about $86 billion, most of it bound for Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan and the Philippines.

The Early Cold War Era (1951-1961)

The success of the Marshall Plan led to the creation of the Mutual Security Plan at the end of the Korean War.  This plan was also designed to help develop allied countries, and contain the spread of communism.  For the next decade, the U.S. spent about $21 billion a year under this program on overseas economic development.

With economic development well-established as an offensive element of the Cold War, in 1961 President Kennedy signed the new U.S. Foreign Assistance Act (FAA).  The FAA created the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), with lead responsibility for foreign aid.

The Vietnam Era (1961-1975)

U.S. involvement in Vietnam started ramping up in the early-1960s, and development quickly became an integral part of the Vietnam War strategy.  The transnational Mekong Delta Project, designed to catalyze regional economic development, was one of the most visible elements of President Johnson’s strategy.  Far more effective, however, was the Civil Operations and Revolutionary  Development Support Program (CORDS).

CORDS started in 1967 and was largely overseen by the famous John Paul Vann—a former Army lieutenant colonel employed by USAID. As the primary mechanism for executing the civil-military counterinsurgency strategy, CORDS was designed to win the hearts and minds of Vietnamese villagers.  It rolled out in every province and district in South Vietnam and established a strategic and operational model that is still studied today.

CORDS ended in 1973, overtaken by a more kinetic U.S. military strategy.  Implemented by teams of personnel from USAID, DoD, State, the U.S. Information Agency and CIA, CORDS was arguably the high water mark for USAID in expeditionary development.

The Late Cold War Era (1975-1990)

The late Cold War was widely considered a global chess game between the west and the Soviet Union. Since a USAID presence strengthened the hand of U.S. ambassadors in countries where there was Soviet engagement, small USAID programs sprouted like bluebonnets. As an example, by the end of the Cold War USAID had field programs in twenty-three of the twenty-four countries of central and west Africa. A few short years later, with the Cold War over, that number had dwindled to eight.

The Post-Cold War Era (1991-2001)

The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 was the first tangible indicator of the impending crackup of the Soviet Union. By 1991 the dissolution was in full swing.  With a view towards ensuring that the Union stayed dissolved, Congress ordered USAID to seed some of the former Soviet republics with small democracy programs, and help them shift from communist to capitalist economies.  For about ten years, this work contributed to relative calm in great-power affairs.

The Post-9/11 Era (2001-date)

The fall of the trade towers on September 11th shattered that calm, and radically changed the modern context for development at war.  While insurgencies are as old as the cave man, dealing with a global holy war executed by Islamic religious fanatics was terra incognita.

Since 9/11, Islamic jihad has diversified, metastasized, and spread like kudzu.  Now one of the most common global catalysts of conflict, it has precipitated a much greater focus on irregular warfare—counterterrorism (CT), unconventional warfare (UW), foreign internal defense (FID), counterinsurgency (COIN), and Stability operations.

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