“Militarising aid” vs. “Running away from conflict”

The battle lines are starting to be drawn over how development assistance and peacebuilding do or don’t support each other, or can or can’t be made to work together, and about whether bad governance and insecurity are the right targets for international development policy and assistance.

This blog has been covering these issues, especially in reviews of the development policies of the UK government (21 Aug 2009) and Conservative opposition (24 Oct 2009). A defence of the pure poverty-reduction-equals-development position comes from the Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting with a critique of what she and some of the big development NGOs call “the militarisation of aid”; the Letters page carried my own response along with another couple of takes on the topic

This is a debate about the fundamentals of an important component of international policy. It is not just about development and conflict but about development and politics. The UK Department for International Development is discussing it now and drawing up a new policy paper; Norway’s NORAD is working out how to put last year’s development white paper into practice; there will be a Wilton Park conference on it in March; western donors as a group are discussing it through the OECD ‘s International Network on Conflict and Fragility.

The UK is a surprisingly influential player in this field because the Department for International Development is not only relatively big, but is also very active in international debates. As the debate here warms up, it will be very worthwhile to monitor which way the policy winds are blowing in London.

3 responses to ““Militarising aid” vs. “Running away from conflict”

  1. What is welcome about this discussion is that it provides an opportunity to consider how we should combine all the arms of our international activity in places like Afghanistan, where we have committed our armed services to conflict. DfID cannot remain apart. How much of DfID’s budget is spent in Afghanistan, and on what, are questions to be decided in the light of what Afghanistan’s overwhelming needs are and how DfID can usefully contribute to the UK’s collective response to them. They are not questions for DfID alone any more than fighting the Taleban or Al Qaeda are for the MoD alone.

    The same approach applies elsewhere. If we continue to be interested in being useful in the world, we should look in a similar, co-ordinated way at how we deploy resources in other countries which evidently need support.
    Aid is rarely a pure form of doing good. It makes an important statement to givers and recipients about our standing in relation to the people who run their country. Badly governed countries may need more effort in governance than water. With limited resources, we may have to choose which to assist. We may have to recognise that helping one without the other is a waste of effort, and do neither. We also need to recognise where our interests lie, which of the possible recipients most merit our limited funding, and how we best combine with others. These are questions of international, not just aid policy.

  2. This is just one strand of the convergence of a number of areas. Conflict + peacebuilding, humanitarian issues + development issues, the effects of climate change, and trade/the economy and economic measures are all coming together. We want to develop and stimulate the economy of a country to raise the standard of living for everyone in that country, but we only want to encourage the ‘good’ industries – eg green energy and not guns. But if you need to stimulate the economy of a country in the first place, the chances are that it is a poor country that’s insecure, which means there is already an innate desire of individuals and groups in that country wanting to arm themselves, to feel more secure. And climate change will ultimately affect poor people more, but in that country they’ve already chosen guns….

  3. This debate has been ongoing in the international arena for some time, that it has finally been ignited within the UK is welcome. The acceptance of development and/or aid as being inherently political is not a new assertion, the UK’s engagement within Afghanistan has added the military and conflict considerations, and brought the debate into sharp focus. However, the terminology is misleading, aid is not “running away from conflict” rather aid is running away from democracy.

    Presently the prevailing terminology, which reflects a world view, focuses upon communities and international apparatus for delivering development and aid and protecting rights. An additional focus upon individuals, as citizens, and the State as the apparatus primarily responsible for delivering services and protection rights, would bring the debate to an uncomfortable issue for international development: democracy.

    Tacit acceptance of the pivotal role of the citizen – State relationship is evident in the good governance, civil society and capacity building focus of development assistance. It is now necessary to turn implicit into explicit, by incorporating a social contract perspective into development thinking and practice. A strong and functioning social contract between citizens and the State is the very essence of sustainability, development and peace.

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