Aid for Security? Is UK regressing from its ‘moral’ leadership on aid?

“What is very healthy about this government is that DFID is no longer seen as, nor does it see itself as, a sort of giant NGO. It is very much part of the government on the national Security Council. DFID, the Foreign Office and the defence secretaries work incredibly closely together”. David Cameron, Guardian, 21st Feb. 2012

During his last days of his gaudy trip to India, which was one of the colorful highlights of the current UK’s foreign policy, David Cameron hinted that some of aid money might be transferred from DFID to the Ministry of Defense.  Following that there were debates on radios, twitter, and on major newspapers on whether aid money should be used for security or not. The Guardian’s popular development blog, had a debate and a poll asking ‘Should aid money be used for defence projects?’ There are a number of critics to that idea and there are people who think that is ok.  Supporting or opposing this idea depends on many factors one of them being ideology. Ideology influences aid policy. This is why, for example, there has been a big difference between the UK’s major political parties (Labour party and Conservative party) on aid policy and management.  In this short entry, I can’t discuss these differences in details but if somebody is interested, he/she can read my PhD Thesis, which has extensively analyzed UK’s aid policy and the role of political parties’ ideologies on aid policy decision-making. With regards to who said what in the debate, I will also not cover that in this brief entry. However, I will briefly throw my thoughts on this.

Before anything, I think the context and timing was wrong for such a suggestion. For those who follow on UK’s aid policy, it was only recent that the UK government announced that it will cease giving aid to India.  But when Mr. Cameron was in India he discussed about arms and military deals to India. Now talking about the idea of ‘aid money for military’ during the same trip was not very wise. UK has decided to stop giving aid for poverty reduction in India on the basis that India has one of the biggest economic growth and GDP, why would they forge arms and military deals to the same country that has space capabilities and nuclear power?  I can’t quite correlate the two, but I guess there is a link that will be clear over time. Imagine ceasing aid, discussing arms and military deals, and then suggesting aid money for military purposes…doesn’t it ring a bell?

Well, using aid money for security can be right or wrong depending on how one defines security. If we look at security from the perspectives of Copenhagen School of Thoughts’- i.e. the New Security Agenda, it is ok to use aid money for security. In general, the New Security Agenda conceptualizes security’s threats to include poverty, diseases, etc. Those are the same things that aid fights. In this way, aid is linked to security. In connection to this, aid was also, supposedly, used to ‘win hearts and minds’ in the wars against terror. In this light, aid was used to reduce poverty, create employment opportunities, build schools, and other projects with a general aim of fighting grievances and reducing risks of radicalization and extremism. When aid money is used for security in that way, I do not have a problem. In fact, one of the rationales to giving aid is in the era of new terrorism is to fight radicalization, hatred, and extremism. Many a times, for example, Tony Blair kept reminding the Muslim world of the amount of aid UK gives to the Muslim majority countries such as Bosnia, and Pakistan. He did that to counter the perception that the West is against Islam and/or the UK’s foreign policy is unfair to the Muslim countries.  In light of this, we see aid money is used for security purposes.

However, when aid money is given to directly support military, I think that is very wrong. There are many risks to that. For example, in a humanitarian or conflict situation, when aid is linked to military, aid workers are put into risk because they will not be ‘neutral’. Apart from that military and armed conflicts are linked with many interests both commercial and power/influence, for that reason, aid should not in any way be linked to armed conflicts.

What I think is that Cameron is now portraying his real ideology. May be he does not need to detoxify or modernize his party anymore. Or he wants to please some of his Conservative fellows who never liked the idea of ring-fencing the aid budget amidst cuts in all other departments but NHS. In fact, I was wondering how happy would Liam Fox, the former Secretary of State for Defence, be to hear such news if he was still in office.

All in all, I think the Conservative government, despite its effort to maintain what the Labour government established in 1997- a vibrant moral DFID, which was becoming a moral authority and leader of development aid in the world, is regressing back to the 80s and early 90s when UK aid was a foreign policy instrument used to meet UK’s strategic interests including arms trade.  The quote above underlines the Conservative’s way of managing aid. Whenever the Conservatives were in power aid was managed under the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) so as to prioritize its use a foreign policy tool. However, the Labour government broke that path in 1997 by establishing an independent development department with a cabinet seat. DFID did great things and it became so institutionalized in a short period of time that it’d been a great shame if the current Conservative-led government reduced it to a unit within FCO. In fact, when Cameron became the party chairman in 2005, he started to modernize his party and promised to keep DFID as independent department, which he did. However, the quote above shows that there are other ‘smarter’ ways of reducing DFID’s mandate to become a tool for foreign and security policy.


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