Monday, December 20, 2004

Aid, Development, Peacekeeping

Frans Groenendijk has an interesting post about the politics of international development aid, specifically the question of whether or not it's working. Holland prides itself on meeting the UN target of 0.7% of gross national income, but it seems (if I have his argument aright) that there is a growing disagreement as to whether or not the focus on this number has distracted Dutch politics from the uses it's put to. Of course, the far right hasn't been slow to get involved, demanding an investigation (presumably of the sort that starts off with the conclusion and works back).

The Social Democrats, though, apparently want to broaden the focus and reconsider which policy fields can be defined as "aid". As Frans says, there is much to be said for this because you can't do development without addressing the wars. But (as I commented) there are serious risks inherent in any inclusion of peacekeeping in the aid target. After all it wouldn't be the first time that rich states attempted to use aid to favour their own economic and strategic interests, and who wants to find George Bush boasting about how much the US is contributing in "aid", having redefined the military payroll in Iraq as such? Another problem would be that of letting governments off the hook - if the Treasury can grab the public kudos of hitting the 0.7% goal without putting up any cash, just by altering the accounting definitions, you can bet they will.

But there is a genuine point here. Take Sierra Leone, for example. No, please. It's probably fair to say that none of the money spent in aid there during the 1990s did any good at all except in the sense of pure humanitarianism - feeding refugees and the like. Until the diamond-fuelled civil war was brought under control, no efforts at lasting change were worthwhile as they simply vanished under the next surge of violence. In the end, the only way to end the war in Sierra Leone was for one side to lose - they had already demonstrated their unwillingness to respect compromises. The British/UN intervention in 2000 was successful precisely because it demonstrated that the government of Sierra Leone would win, without ratcheting up the military insult to the country yet further like the Nigerian-led ECOMOG peacekeeping force had done after the coup in 1997, hammering Freetown with artillery and enriching its senior officers with diamonds. (If you're interested, there's an excellent account of the whole episode in Gwyn Prins's The Heart of War: Power, conflict and obligation in the 21st century. Which you should read anyway.) Surely it would be fair to consider Operation Barras and its various continuations a contribution to the development of Sierra Leone? If folk like Hernando de Soto are right, and the key to progress in the Third World is extending property rights to the poor, wouldn't (say) aid in creating an honest police force come under this heading?

Unfortunately, I suspect this is a good idea doomed by the fact it relies on politicians being honest. You can easily see how a security subheading of the aid budget could be used to camouflage or render nice the transfer of arms to countries that already have more than enough.

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