|Institute for the Study of Civil Society
28 December 2012
Embargo - 00.01 hours 2nd January 2013
Armed forces should take over one third of Britain’s foreign aid budget, says new book
A new book by foreign correspondent and senior research fellow at Westminster think-tank Civitas, Jonathan Foreman, urges the Government to revolutionise its approach to overseas aid.
Among its recommendations is a shift of one third of the UK’s £8 billion overseas aid budget to the military to ensure that Britain is capable of mounting swift and effective emergency relief operations in the wake of disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and famines. This rather than increased aid spending is the real way to make the UK a “foreign aid superpower” according to the book, which is highly critical of current aid policy.
Emergency relief is the most effective form of aid, the book argues, and is much less prone to the corruption and waste that bedevils so much of Britain’s lavish aid spending. It also enjoys the highest level of public support.
Not only would money currently allocated to the Department for International Development (DfID) be diverted to the Ministry of Defence to pay for dual-use helicopters, planes and ships, but as part of a sweeping overhaul of UK aid policy, the department would return to the overall control of the Foreign Office.
The pledge to increase UK aid spending to 0.7 per cent of GDP by 2015 (which means spending an extra £3 billion over the next three years) should be scrapped, the book adds.
Other key proposals include funding the BBC World Service foreign language services out of DfID’s budget. Those broadcasts which cost only £272 million a year provide an invaluable service to listeners, promote democratic values abroad, and win more influence than conventional aid.
The 250-page Civitas publication, Aiding and Abetting, written by foreign correspondent Jonathan Foreman and based on extensive research across the globe, is scathing about the “exorbitant and self-indulgent” public relations motivation behind David Cameron’s decision to commit the UK to the 0.7 per cent target. It maintains that this “magic number” has no empirical basis in or connection to the amount that would be required to genuinely make a difference to global poverty.
Mr Foreman writes: “The powerful momentum behind current aid policy seems to have much to do with the Conservative Party leadership’s ongoing drive to ‘detoxify’ its ‘brand’ and market itself as ‘compassionate’. To the extent that an increase in foreign development aid serves this public relations purpose, its effectiveness or lack thereof at delivering a better life and future for various poor peoples around the world is presumably beside the point, although at $11 billion per annum it amounts to one of the most expensive marketing campaigns in history.”
“To ‘rebrand’ his party and cement the Coalition with the Lib Dems, David Cameron is apparently willing to take advantage of the real generosity of British people and simultaneously make life more miserable for the handicapped, the elderly and the otherwise vulnerable.
“More jobs will go, British servicemen will wait longer for their third-rate prosthetic limbs, the elderly will suffer, not because there is not enough money but because money is being thrown at projects and governments that we know will not use it effectively.
“It means that a set of policies trumpeted as manifesting generosity is in fact a cynical, ruthless and morally reprehensible con-job pushed by marketing gurus for whom their real-world effects in the underdeveloped world are largely irrelevant.”
The book urges the Government to follow the example of most other developed countries and abandon the 0.7 per cent target.
It also points to abundant examples where aid funds have been stolen by corrupt foreign governments and their officials, high and low, and where money contributed by the UK taxpayer has probably done more harm than good – and certainly failed to reach its intended beneficiaries.
The author cites Zimbabwe, where food aid has kept many people alive while preserving in power a regime responsible for the deaths of large numbers of people and the destruction of one of Africa’s most prosperous and best-educated societies.
Too much UK aid policy is naïve, founded on “ideologically conditioned fantasies and delusions” about the behaviour of rapacious political elites in poor countries.
At the same time the Aid Industry has evolved into a system of outdoor relief - or rather, fulfilling and lucrative employment -- for the British upper middle classes, and their kleptocratic equivalents in Aided countries, a system that has many of the least attractive characteristics of Victorian imperialism and missionary activity.
More controversially, the book suggests that Coalition enthusiasm for spending on dubiously effective foreign aid that might otherwise be spent on vulnerable people at home, may reflect the class backgrounds of the Cabinet. Mr Foreman writes that:
“Such people are perhaps more likely to engage with poor Africans and South Asians on their holidays than they are to encounter needy or vulnerable people in their own country. And it is hard to escape the impression that it is for this reason (rather than pure snobbery) that the PM and his circle apparently find it harder to empathise with a ‘chav’ in a wheelchair – even if he lost his legs in Afghanistan – than they do with disadvantaged people in the third world.”
1) Abandonment of the 0.7% target
The 0.7% of GDP aid target should not be enshrined in law and should be abandoned. Britain’s aid budget should be subject to at least the same austerity measures as those essential departments of state upon which the welfare and security of British citizens depend.
2) A Royal Commission on Aid
There needs to be an honest and public determination of the primary purposes of British aid, and the degree to which it should be designed to win influence for the UK or to serve other policy goals including the prevention of conflict and mass migration.
3) Reabsorption of DfID into the FCO
Given that DfID seems to be unwilling and unable to reform itself, and experience of other government departments indicates that even the most determined minister is unlikely to be able to reform it from above, the best hope for DfID would be reabsorption into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
4) Budget Transfer to the MOD and Military Dual-Use Projects
Up to one third of Britain’s foreign aid budget should be diverted to the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces. The armed forces have the capacity to deliver certain key kinds of emergency aid more quickly and more effectively than any NGO or international aid agency.
While being able to transport emergency food and medical supplies over large distances and in the most difficult circumstances and terrain, they also have the capacity to maintain order in refugee camps, to defend themselves from predation by bandits, rebel groups and government forces, and to avoid the Goma syndrome in which refugee camps become guerrilla bases.
5) DfID to pay for BBC World Service
The BBC’s World Service foreign language broadcasts, damaged by recent cuts, should be funded from the DfID’s budget. These broadcasts are relied on by many millions of people around the world for their accuracy and have played a vital role in movements for liberty and better governance. The World Service genuinely wins influence for the UK.
6) DfID to develop genuine counter-fraud and auditing capacity
DfID should increase the budget and staff of its Counter-Fraud unit and Internal Audit Department. Both units should recruit staff with appropriate financial forensic skills or borrow them from the Serious Fraud Office.
7) DfID to shift focus from development to emergency/ humanitarian aid
DfID should therefore shift the emphasis of its spending to emergency humanitarian aid. This is a form of aid that is unquestionably necessary, and that for all its pitfalls is less likely to do harm than many forms of overseas development aid.
8) The UK to cut contributions to inefficient and wasteful multilateral agencies, in particular those of the EU
DfID’s recent commitment to focus more on multilateral aid is a recipe for greater waste.
Aid should abide by the Hippocratic principle of “first, do no harm”
The Hippocratic principle states that we should not do more harm than good. It might seem self-evident but, as Aiding and Abetting demonstrates, foreign aid is not always an indisputable good. The UK government does not use the Hippocratic principle to assess the value of its aid projects.
However, assessing the relative success of an aid project is difficult in developing countries, who often do not keep proper records of their citizens.
Success in UK foreign aid cannot and should not be measured by how much is spent but by what is achieved on the ground.
The book is highly critical of DfID’s ability to assess the transparency and lack of safeguards against supporting corrupt regimes, as the recent Rwandan aid scandal has demonstrated.
Mr Foreman argues, for instance, that DfID’s recent decision to lay off staff to give more money directly to aid projects is a huge mistake. Even with current staffing levels and its current budget DfID is unable to monitor effectively the projects it funds for waste, fraud and inefficiency.
Instead, DfID should be spending more, not less, on researching and assessing the worth of projects. More funds should be diverted to organisations like Transparency International and Freedom House "that genuinely promote the rule of law, democratic accountability and other aspects of good governance in poor developing countries.”
And more specialist staff capable of spotting and preventing fraud should be taken onto the DfID payroll.
Divert funds to the military to help deliver humanitarian aid
“DfID should shift the emphasis of its spending to emergency humanitarian aid. This is a form of aid that is unquestionably necessary, and that for all its pitfalls is less likely to do harm than many forms of overseas development aid.”
To ensure even emergency aid’s effectiveness, this should not be left to NGOs and charitable organisations, but to the army who can be both more efficient at delivering aid, as well as maintaining order – for example in refugee camps.
“Up to one third of Britain's foreign aid budget should be diverted to the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces. The armed forces have the capacity to deliver certain key kinds of emergency aid more quickly and more effectively than any NGO or international aid agency.”
This would have the added value of helping to dampen the effects of the MoD’s austerity cuts, says Mr Foreman, and improve the military’s ability to carry out humanitarian interventions:
“Given the threat to core capacity presented by the Coalition’s deep cuts to the Defence budget, it would serve two complementary goals if some of DfID’s excessive and unmanageable budget were transferred to the military.
This paper argues that, even if the UK were still enjoying a boom rather than the worst economic crisis for many decades, there would still be a strong case for re-evaluating and changing the priorities, mechanisms and amounts of British foreign aid.
Not only is much of Britain’s foreign aid budget destined to be wasted or stolen by recipient officials and institutions, much of that which does arrive in the right place fails to promote economic growth and often does more harm than good to underdeveloped societies. Moreover the goodwill and security arguments for an increased aid budget are so much disingenuous nonsense designed to justify policy decisions made for less-principled, party-political reasons.”
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Notes for Editors
Civitas: The Institute For The Study Of Civil Society, is a leading independent Westminster think tank. Their latest research includes a study of Industrial Policy entitled A strategy for economic growth: a modern industrial policy
At a time of cuts in public expenditure, the UK government’s commitment to increasing foreign aid to 0.7% of GDP seems perverse. Many recent non-altruistic justifications for the UK’s lavish aid budget – such as the claims that more generous foreign aid will stop mass immigration, prevent wars such as that in Afghanistan and secure goodwill and economic benefits for the UK have little or no basis in reality.
This paper argues for a radical rethinking of Britain’s foreign aid policies and fundamental reform of the Department for International Development (DfID). Its position reflects not only the evident failure of six decades and more than three trillion dollars in official development aid (ODA) to foster economic growth in many poor parts of the world, but also the negative effects of much of that aid on the people and governments of some of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries. Not only has there been no correlation between high levels of development aid and economic growth; there is evidence of an inverse relationship between the two, thanks to the corrupting effects of aid on fragile polities.
This paper also examines the complicated and often troubling realities that underlie emergency or humanitarian aid.
An understanding of what works and what does not work in the various forms of aid is hard to reach partly because of the lack of genuine accountability and transparency in the aid industry and partly because dishonesty – for the best of motives – has so often been the industry’s default setting.
Aid organisations behave as if good intentions matter more than outcomes. This is as true of Britain’s DfID as it is of private non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international organisations like UNHCR.
DfID compares well with other international donor bodies with regard to efficiency and transparency. It still stands accused of muddled thinking about priorities; self- deception about the feasibility of checking projects on the ground for waste and corruption; disingenuousness about the historical effectiveness of bilateral and multilateral development aid; and cultural inhibitions about using aid in ways that might benefit the United Kingdom and its people. In general, DfID’s operations continue to be informed by an extreme absolutist view of aid, one that is suspicious of any benefits that may accrue to the UK. This is inappropriate for a government department.
Although this paper highlights the failings of development aid and the much less well-known problems intrinsic to humanitarian aid, it does not advocate the ending of all British foreign aid. Rather it urges that future UK aid be reality-based rather than faith-based, i.e. it should rest on realistic assumptions about the likely fate of donations to poor country governments, UN agencies, international bureaucracies, major global charities and local NGOs.
This paper does not take a position on the desirability of democratic and humanitarian conditions on aid, though it takes exception to the hypocrisy and inconsistency with which the UK government currently imposes such conditions. It makes little moral sense for instance to cut off aid to Malawi because of that country’s treatment of homosexuals but to continue subsidising destructive regimes in countries like Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Aid conditionality may well be desirable in general but it requires a pre- existing clarity about the primary goals of British aid.
Despite decades of lavish failure and negative outcomes including the enrichment of corrupt tyrants, the subsidizing of warlords and the subversion of good government, aid work of all kinds continues to enjoy uncritical support from sections of the media. This is not surprising given the existence of a nexus between Western media organisations and the aid agencies on which many of them depend for access and transport in conflict areas.”