3 June 2004 Edition

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Putting the gun into development aid

"To many people in the world today, especially in poor countries, the risk of being attacked by terrorists or with weapons of mass destruction, or even of falling prey to genocide, must seem relatively remote compared to the so-called 'soft' threats — the ever-present dangers of extreme poverty and hunger, unsafe drinking water, environmental degradation and endemic or infectious disease. Let's not imagine that these things are unconnected with peace and security, or that we can afford to ignore them until the 'hard threats' have been sorted out. We should have learned by now that a world of glaring inequality — between countries and within them — where many millions of people endure brutal oppression and extreme misery, is never going to be a fully safe world, even for its most privileged inhabitants."

-- UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

Voluntary organisations around the world have criticised First World governments for using development aid budgets as a new means of advancing their political and security interests.

Since the 11 September attacks on America, global security and the 'war on terror' have dominated the political agenda. This global focus on security and terrorism is impacting on the development agenda, drawing political and media attention away from development issues and, worse, influencing aid allocation and the nature of donor cooperation with developing countries.

In developed and developing states, the 'war on terror' is being used to justify practices that undermine the achievement of development goals and run contrary to international commitments on human rights.

What started as a US policy trend is now being adopted by international institutions and is becoming the focus of funding allocation for development policies.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) deals with issues related to cooperation with developing countries. At the DAC's annual meeting in April, attended by Aid ministers and representatives from the United Nations Development Project, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, ministers declared their interest in strengthening the links between aid and security development links.

The meeting, chaired by Richard Manning, head of the DAC, recognised that they are not doing enough to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals for 2015, which include reducing the percentage of people living in poverty by half, cutting child and maternal mortality and enrolling children in school.

However, one area where targets are being met is that of security. The high-level meeting adopted a policy statement on security. Reading the press release of the meeting, one may feel these Ministers see the world upside down. They declared how their supposed security reforms would guide "donor efforts to help developing countries address one of the primary causes of poverty — violent conflict and widespread public insecurity and fear". The failure to recognise that poverty and inequality are also the causes of conflict shows how detached from reality are some of these public representatives.

The discussion centred on whether military aid offered to developing countries could be counted as development aid. This attempt to equate poverty reduction with the acquisition of weapons by armies and police forces in developing countries horrifies NGOs. The proposal was rejected, but it will be discussed in different forums until the next OECD meeting takes place, when it will be back on the table.

What is evident is that governments of rich countries and the all-powerful and unaccountable international financial institutions have decided that the way to end conflict and insecurity is by reinforcing security forces in developing countries, despite many of those security forces' human rights records.

Carl Dundas of BOND -- an umbrella organisation that represents 280 voluntary organisations in Britain — points out how a number of states, most notably Australia and Denmark, are in the process of making counter-terrorism initiatives a key aspect of their development aid. "In the case of Australia," signals Dundas, "counter-terrorism has been explicitly integrated into its aid policy since 11 September 2001. In a recent statement, Alexander Downer, the Australian Foreign Minister, noted that 'the Australian aid programme is helping to build the capacity of developing countries in the region to respond effectively to potential terrorist threats, including through strengthening police, banking and customs authorities, drafting and enacting new legislation, and improving law and justice systems'."

Dundas denounced how, in the wake of the October 2002 Bali bombing, the Australian Government made Indonesia a particular target of its counter-terrorism assistance. Indonesia is notorious human rights record, including its military and militia massacres against the East Timorese population and oppression of the populations of West Papua and Aceh, also looking for independence.

Similarly, Dóchas — an umbrella organisation representing 34 NGOs in Ireland — has criticised how, after the Madrid bombings last March, the European Union approved a declaration in Dublin linking aid to anti-terrorism and security practices in developing countries. This is another example of what is being called the politicisation of aid, when the aid relationship between donor and developing countries is being manipulated to secure political support for the 'war on terror'.

A central feature of the US's approach to foreign aid is that the $21.3 billion foreign operations request for 2005 would provide big rewards for countries that have cooperated in the 'war on terror'. According to the State Department, around a quarter of the request — $5.7 billion — is slated for counter-terrorism, military, and other economic aid to "coalition partners that have joined us in the war on terrorism".

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