Monday, September 15, 2008

"The Technologies of Peace"

Someone recently sent around this article on Peace Corps in the Harvard International Review and it got me thinking. It addresses two separate but related issues: the need for a better funded PC and the role of increased access to technology in the PC mission.

A better funded PC could be an invaluable tool in improving the US image and our ability to project soft power abroad. Slabbert's Niger example (PC wanting to give training to recently elected local officials in that country) would have been a fabulous opportunity to demonstrate a genuine American committment to democracy, and a much more effective one than our current misguided attempts. The refusal to allocate $200,000 to the project attests to the current administration's bizarre definition of democracy (not to mention its disregard for other "US core national values"). I hope the next administration has a better appreciation for the value of Peace Corps's work and its potential for contributing to a constructive foreign policy.

On the second issue, I'm not sure that giving PCVs unrestricted access to technology would have the sort of magical benefits the article suggests. The access to information would be helpful, but the skillsets of the people we work with don't necessarily lend themselves to being "plugged in". Training in information technology can be instrumental in improving quality of life under certain circumstances, but the human element is so much more important to our effectiveness. The money it would take to equip us all and maintain that equiptment would be better spent expanding PC operations (I especially like Carter's idea of PC being politically neutral, within the bounds of security).

We have relatively regular access to the outside world, obviously, with the technology currently available to us. That being said, I wouldn't mind an upgrade. :) I'm just skeptical of technology being touted as the next revolution in development. Additionally, the image of the US abroad won't be improved by plopping someone down in front of a computer. That requires human interaction, cultural exchange, and a sincere interest in improving the lives of those we serve.

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