SOFT POWER: U.S. Development Agency Creating its own DARPA

December 6, 2012 at 7:37 pm Leave a comment

Leveraging Brainpower

TAMPA, Florida – The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) plans to leverage the resources of several top universities to create its own “think outside the box” research entity to tackle overseas threats that can ignite conflict in struggling regions – like food and water shortages, infectious disease and rapid urbanization.

Cities like Kinshasa are only going to become more crowded in future decades.

Cities like Kinshasa are only going to become more crowded in future decades.

By 2050, the world’s population will have grown by two billion to nine billion people, straining food and water resources – especially in the developing world, Beth Cole, director of USAID’s Office of Military Cooperation told a Special Operations conference here in Tampa this week.

“We realize that if we want to get ahead of the curve, we’ve got to look out to the future and one of the ways we’re going to [do it] is create a DARPA-like entity in USAID,” she said, referring to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – the Pentagon’s high risk research arm that has achieved several high return successes like stealth technology and the Internet.

Last month, USAID announced it was launching the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), a partnership with seven American and foreign universities designed as scientific problem solvers for global development challenges.

According to USAID, the network was created to tap research institutions and their students to: catalyze global action; support entrepreneurship and foster multifaceted approaches to development. Each university will establish Development Labs to work with USAID’s field mission experts and Washington staff to apply science and technology to solve key problems in areas such as global health, food security and chronic conflict. To get the labs going, USAID is providing a total of $26 million to the seven institutions: MIT, the University of California-Berkeley, Michigan State, Duke, Texas A&M University, the College of William and Mary and Uganda’s Makerere University.

Cole enumerated some of the global challenges that will soon confront the world and the organizations trained to keep it safe and peaceful.

Nearly two billion people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water. Globally, there’s been a 10 percent rise in water-caused disease. The World Health Organization recorded 1,100 epidemics in the last year – many of them spread by animals. “I want you to think about chickens in large cities,” Cole said, noting that the developing world – where economic and educational disparities, food shortages and disease have fueled violent extremist movements – is fast becoming an urban world.

She noted that 75 percent of the world’s largest cities are in the developing world – many of them in the littoral areas close to the sea. The populations of Nigeria and Pakistan “two fragile, conflict-affected states – one of them with nuclear weapons” are projected to grow 30 percent in the near future.

“How are you going to deal with security in teeming cities affected by one of these challenges,” Cole asked attendees at the Special Operations Summit sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).

She noted USAID and U.S. Special Operations Command (which oversees Green Berets, Army Rangers, Navy SEALS, Nightstalker helicopter pilots and other special operations personnel) have been cooperating for years in places like Afghanistan to improve security and economic conditions.

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Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Africa, Counter Terrorism, Latin America, National Security and Defense. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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