Tuesday, September 27, 2005

[US Aid] Political Strings Tie Up U.S. Aid

Sanjay Suri
BONN, Sep 24 (IPS)

That the U.S. Administration under the presidency of George W. Bush is the bad guy of the world of development aid has become something of a truism of the times. The Bush administration has placed security above development, but amid fears that it might not contribute to either, and that it is in fact making matters worse on both fronts.

And so when something like 600 experts sat down to debate the relationship between insecurity and development in Bonn Sep. 21-24, the Bush administration proved popular as a punching bag. Coming just after the UN summit in New York where the United States pushed the millennium development goals further down the agenda than many wanted, the U.S. administration has been asking for it. The Bonn conference on insecurity and development, organised by the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI), became just another international ring for the punching.

The Bush Administration is not disconnecting security from development; an expert view is that it is just making the connections in ways somewhat different -- but not that different -- from most of the rest of the world. ''There is no question that the United States has progressively moved away from support for international economic development, particularly through United Nations and other multilateral agencies, and has a very militaristic approach to the world in general,'' Selig Harrison, director of the Asia programme at the Centre for International Policy, a leading think tank in Washington, told IPS.

''The size of foreign economic aid has diminished if we define aid as politically neutral development assistance,'' Harrison said. ''Our biggest economic aid has gone to some of our political clients like Israel and Pakistan.'' That has made U.S. development assistance ''basically a regime support system rather than any meaningful economic support programme.'' Take Pakistan, Harrison says. ''The liberal economic approach that the U.S. has displayed to Pakistan since 9/11 in terms of debt rescheduling, resumption of IMF (International Monetary Fund) programmes and bilateral help has certainly helped stabilise the Pakistan regime,'' he said. ''It has therefore served the political purpose of the U.S., in securing Musharraf's limited but what the U.S. considers important support for its fight against al-Qaeda.''

But that has not added up to development in Pakistan. ''I don't think we can say that U.S. aid has been reaching the poor of Pakistan. So we should be very cautious about claiming the economic progress of Pakistan because although it is more stable in the world economy largely as a result of U.S. aid, the internal political economy is not stable.'' When the United States is faulted, people usually think Iraq and not Pakistan, or even Afghanistan. The opposition to Saddam Hussein's dictatorship was a far too transparent pretext to get to its oil. Most people believe it was oil first, but not everyone thinks it was oil alone.

''If you ask the question what are they doing in Iraq, there are no doubt multiple motives,'' Simon Maxwell, director of the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) told IPS. ''Oil maybe, beacon of democracy in the Middle East, revenge for Gulf War Iàa whole lot of things are going on there. What people do is to then generalise from Iraq and construct an ideology.'' Perhaps the United States should not be judged by Iraq alone, and people in the world of development have been summoning the generosity to look at the half full part of the U.S. aid glass.

''In Sudan I don't know whether the U.S. did this for reasons of its own security or not, but they invested a lot in bringing about the peace in southern Sudan,'' Maxwell said. ''It seems for the time being to be a relatively successful process, and it brings to an end the war that has killed millions of people.'' So the U.S. does see that link between security and development, and it does work to bring the two together. That this area too has oil could of course mean something for the U.S. Administration. ''I suppose all countries try to marry their security interests and their development interests,'' Maxwell said.

Despite the holier-than-thou rhetoric from the Europeans, few believe European development policy is the same thing as altruism unmindful of self-interests. ''If you go back to the (British) Labour Party manifesto of 1997 which is when New Labour came to power, the development contribution to that started out by saying that there are reasons for doing development,'' Maxwell said. ''The first, for poverty reduction reasons, and that matters on its own account. The second reason given was, just look at the risks if we don't. Security-related risks, but also risks like disease, migration, climate change intensification.''

The United States makes those links under the Millennium Challenge Account under which it gives out development assistance. The aid ties U.S. security needs with development of those countries, perhaps understandably. ''If you believed that peace - freedom, to use their word -- was a necessary condition for development, what would you do?'' Maxwell said. ''You would emphasise issues like good governance in your dealings with all countries, you would invest quite heavily in building peace, and democratic states.''

The Millennium Challenge Account seeks to do that, he said. ''The account is quite large, and is organised in such a way that countries are rewarded for good governance on a range of indicators, of which quite a lot are to do with good governance and accountability, low corruption, a commitment to health and education,'' Simon said. ''There's certainly a great deal of investment by the U.S. in fragile states.'' But there are lots of things about U.S. development policy that Europeans find incredibly hard to understand,'' Maxwell said. ''They are obviously very directed in the way they use aid, for political purposes and to reinforce democracy,'' he said. And questions had arisen about ''the way aid was used to buy support for the invasion of Iraq.''

But while questions arise about the links the United States makes between security and development, ''I don't think we help ourselves if we assume that everything they do is wrong,'' he said. ''There are lots of people, even in the U.S. government, who are very strongly committed to development goals.'' The differences are naturally over what shape that commitment takes. There is perhaps the narrow and direct sense of serving self-interest, and the broad and indirect one that might well be more effective.

''Basically military security in the long run depends on equitable economic development in which the gap between rich and poor countries is steadily diminished, and among rich and poor within countries,'' Harrison said. ''So an economic support system motivated by client-state relationships and not by development criteria reduces the security of the world and certainly reduces the security of the United States.''

While the U.S. military was represented at the Bonn conference, Harrison said that might not mean much. ''I'm sure that the Pentagon would like to monitor a conference like this, but I wouldn't attach too much importance to it,'' he said. ''The U.S. monitors conferences all the time to see what's going on and to get ideas, but that's a long way from saying that this will have any direct impact on U.S. policies.'' But the United States has something to learn from Europe in the world of development, Harrison said. ''Europe has a collective consciousness of the need for sustainable development in the Third World, and holds out the hope that Europe will play a more positive role than the U.S. is playing at the present time in promoting bilateral and economic multilateral economic development.''

Europe has a dynamic for development ''that is diminishing in the United States and Japan,'' he said. But while the United States may not listen to voices within Europe, as at this conference, ''if Europe plays a more positive role, that will by force of example draw a response in time.''