Saturday, 28 April 2012

Why should Britain continue aid spending?

Today I spoke about the benefits to UK security of our development budget at the ResultsUK conference. Here is the argument:

There are lots of arguments for increasing UK development spending and often these arguments are humanitarian in nature, focussing on a moral duty to do something about suffering. I fully support these arguments. But development aid can also be self interested. At times this has manifested in propping up puppet regimes, or in opening up markets to exploitation.

I argue that self interest can be combined with what is morally right in international development policy. Specifically, I make the case for development aid’s ability to enhance UK security.

I believe that making a self interested case for development spending, alongside the moral imperatives, is extremely important, especially at a time when budgets are being squeezed. There is a strong public discourse which argues for the aid budget to be cut, and we need strong, persuasive arguments against that. 

DfID understands the connection between development and security and is orientating policy in this direction. There are some direct policies from DfID around governance and conflict resolution along with broader policies also feed into this benefit.

The task is huge and requires more in resources and commitment than the UK alone is capable of providing. This is what makes a multilateral commitment like the 0.7% of GNP target especially important. The UK must play its role in fulfilling this commitment and use all our diplomatic strength to encourage others to do the same. 

When talking about UK security we should understand it not just in terms of border sovereignty, but also in terms of the safety of British interests overseas. We should also understand that development aid in a general sense helps our security because unfairness can eventually lead to insecurity. 

Poverty and bad governance promote conflict and regional instability, so development aid which counters these not only benefits the countries in which aid is focussed but their neighbours as well. In turn this lessens the extended threat to the UK in our globalised world and helps to protect British interests operating in these areas.
It can be difficult to directly link development spending with specific outcomes, as security threats are diverse and uncertain. When working preventatively it is impossible to know which places would otherwise have developed counter to UK security. Some examples of areas in which development spending has a role in enhancing security are immigration, counter-terrorism, piracy and organised crime:

  •  Immigration can be perceived as a threat to UK security and is often caused by conflict, human rights abuses, famine and other humanitarian crises. Tackling these issues helps to reduce the ‘push’ factors of immigration.
  • Development is also part of counter-terrorism strategy, with the understanding that poverty, instability and failed states all increase the risk of international terrorism in the UK and against UK interests abroad. Even when terrorists do not originate from failed states, failed states provide space away from government in which training, radicalisation and planning can happen. Examples of this include Afghanistan under the Taliban and Somalia with Al-Shabaab at present. 
  • Another good example of insecurity affecting UK interests is piracy, which is allowed to continue through ineffective government in Western Africa. Keeping shipping routes accessible is vital to UK security and economic interests. 
  • Instability and failing states often provide fertile ground for transnational organised crime such as the drugs trade, people trafficking and similar. Accumulated power in criminal networks can be extremely difficult to break. In terms of UK security this is of greater concern when geographically closer. However, globalisation and trade bring distant concerns closer to home. For example, instability in Colombia has an impact here through trade in cocaine. These kinds of concerns are not always conceptualised as security issues, but as they represent a lack of state control over borders and are associated with criminality here, they can be conceptualised as a security issue. 

As you can see development spending and security is not a simple equation of certain actions and outcomes. Many of these threats to security may never happen no matter what we spend. However, working against the things which fuel these in a general sense is likely to have benefits for UK security and these benefits are enhanced by working in partnership with allies. 

A key part of enhancing UK security is good governance around the world. This should be distinguished from previous policies which promoted ‘strong’ governments at all costs, and also be distinguished from the idea that democracy itself solves everything. Good governance IS about democracy and civil liberties, but it is also about functioning economies, the rule of law and state provision of goods. 

Development policy under this government works closely with defence and diplomacy to ensure that UK interests are identified and worked towards coherently. 

Where the UK undertakes military interventions, development aid forms an important part of strategy, both in terms of enhancing the safety of troops on the ground and as part of exit strategy. This is an issue where the war in Afghanistan provides a lesson of what can be done better in the future. 

Development aid is also used as part of diplomatic strategy, enhancing UK influence abroad. This influence helps security in two key ways: by encouraging intelligence sharing (for instance on terrorism with Pakistan), and encouraging governments to take action in ways which enhance UK security (for instance through extradition treaties).  

So, from a security perspective what would happen if UK development spending was to be drastically reduced? It is difficult to argue that there would be direct attacks in the UK or to measure a specific cost in other areas of government spending. The link between development spending and security is too complex. However, I do have some suggestions:

·         Of key concern is the multilateral effect of development spending. If UK spending is withdrawn it is even less likely that other countries will seek to meet the 0.7% target, magnifying the impact on our security.

·         UK diplomatic influence could decrease as we lose some of our bargaining power. Diplomatic influence is not reliant only on development spending, but as we have decreasing hard power, the contribution of development is increasingly important.

·         There would be a cumulative effect of lack of funding of humanitarian causes and support of good governance, which in some cases would lead to insecurity and failing states. This in turn would have an impact on the UK in terms of terrorism, transnational crime, UK owned enterprise abroad and UK supply chain. 

I understand that some people may argue that this level of self interest in development policy is wrong and that people should be helped on the basis of need instead. From a humanitarian point of view I whole heartedly agree. However, policy makers have to consider two key issues:

  •  Firstly that there are so many people around the world in need that it is impossible to help all of them adequately. Our own interest therefore serves to narrow the field.
  • Secondly, in difficult economic times it becomes harder to justify the protection of, and increases in the aid budget with the electorate. Articulating a stronger self interested argument would help ensure that protection of the budget continues, which is surely better than being caught in a turning tide of public opinion.

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