President Barack Obama Wednesday announced a new U.S. international global development policy focused on incentives for economic growth, rather than outright grants of food or financial aid. His address came at the end of a three-day United Nations summit on the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals.
Mr. Obama is making clear that the United States is not abandoning its role as a leading provider of emergency aid, as seen in its recent response to natural disasters in Haiti and Pakistan.
But in his address to the closing session of the review conference on Millennium Development Goals, he said the U.S. foreign assistance program will henceforth focus on helping low-income countries actually develop - moving from poverty to prosperity.
"Our focus on assistance has saved lives in the short term, but it hasn't always improved those societies over the long-term," said President Obama. "Consider the millions of people who have relied on food assistance for decades. That's not development, that's dependence, and it's a cycle we need to break. Instead of just managing poverty, we have to offer nations and peoples a path out of poverty."
The themes sounded by the President in the address to the 140-country gathering are not entirely new, and incorporate some initiatives begun by the previous Bush administration including its Millennium Challenge grants to countries that commit to good governance and self help.
But the approach has now been incorporated in an unprecedented presidential policy directive on global development signed by Mr. Obama earlier Wednesday.
The directive declares that development in the world's poorer countries is vital to U.S. national security and is a strategic, economic, and moral imperative for the United States.
In the speech, Mr. Obama defended his roll-out of the new policy at a time of hard economic times in the United States. He said progress in the poorest countries can advance the interests of people far beyond their borders, including Americans.
"When millions of fathers cannot provide for their families, it feeds the despair that can fuel instability and violent extremism," said Mr. Obama. "When a disease goes unchecked, it can endanger the health of millions around the world. So let's put to rest the old myth that development is mere charity that does not serve our interests. And let's reject the cynicism that says certain countries are condemned to perpetual poverty."
Mr. Obama said the new U.S. strategy will seek to break down trade barriers and combat official corruption, which he said in many places is the single greatest barrier to prosperity, and a profound violation of human rights.
The U.N. summit delivered a mixed report on fulfillment of the Millennium Development goals set by the world body ten years ago.
Most advanced economies including the United States failed to reach the goal of devoting seven tenths of one per cent of their annual gross national product to development aid, though officials say the U.S. remains by far the largest single donor in terms of total assistance.
Leaders of developing countries urged rich countries to stay committed to development goals, with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, among others, complaining of a protectionist trend spawned by the global economic downturn.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon Wednesday launched a $40-billion global strategy to make headway on maternal and child health, one of the slowest moving sectors of the Millennium goals - aimed at saving the lives of 16 million woman and children over the next five years.
The summit countries have set a revised 2015 deadline for fulfilling the millennium goals.