From the TUC

DFID and national security: not as joined up as they claim

22 Dec 2010, by in International

The Government’s strategic defence and security review, launched in October, was considered by many in the development world as potentially troubling. Would it herald DFID’s conversion from a development department into a sub-section of the defence establishment, focused only on preventing security threats to the UK? There were some suggestions in this direction, not entirely un-spun, and there is definitely a tilt in the direction of using overseas aid money to deal with fragile and conflict-affected states rather than the more peaceful end of the developing world. The key objective set out, on page 11, is

“an effective international development programme making the optimal contribution to national security within its overall objective of poverty reduction, with the Department for International Development focussing significantly more effort on priority national security and fragile states.”

But having read it in full (apologies for lateness!), there are actually huge gaps where a more joined-up approach might actually be useful.

What set alarm bells ringing? Well, for purists, the inclusion of DFID in a paper on national security at all – the development community is still worried that the current government will revert to previous Conservative government practices like the Pergau Dam affair, where money for infrastructure projects that were tied to UK company contracts was counted as aid. Recent decisions like deciding to spend money on building an airport on St Helena (used as a refuelling post for the Royal Navy in the Falklands campaign of the early 1980s) have fuelled those concerns.

And secondly, the main development-related element of this review was the news that almost all of DFID’s extra money between now and 2015 will be allocated to spending on fragile and conflict-affected states. The review indicated that at present, 22% of DFID expenditure is on such states, and the plan is to increase that proportion to 30% as DFID’s budget grows to reach the UN target that 0.7% of GNI should be spent on development. The only way to do that is spend all the extra money in fragile and conflict-affected states (there’s a useful table on page 46). Hat-tip to the UK Aid Network for its analysis of the expenditure implications.

But this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. For a start, it looks as if the net will be drawn rather widely: although we don’t know (and DFID won’t say) which countries fall into this category, it looks like Kenya is an example – fragile because of the violence that followed the last elections and the adoption of a new constitution, but hardly a clear and present risk to the UK, and not on the National Security Council list of countries which present a direct danger to the UK. Unions in such countries are well aware that conflict and state fragility are key reasons why people are poor, and the TUC itself has been critical of the limited amounts of development money gtoing into rebuilding Iraq, for example (there was an initial burst of aid after the invasion – almost certainly an example of too much, too early, rather than too little, too late – timing is everything in these cases.

And actually there is little in the three pages which concentrate on DFID (pages 44-46) which is objectionable. Indeed, a more trenchant criticism is why there is so little about development. For example, there is nothing in the sections on energy security, minerals, migration, or even in the section on delivery, and the realtionship between different elements of HMG’s presence abroad – although we’ve been led to understand that the FCO will take on a leading role.

So, my view is that there is a major piece of work to do on the relationship between security and development. But this isn’t it.