There is no doubt that activities such as peacekeeping contribute to development. Indeed, DFID has long engaged in post-conflict, peace building activities, with few questioning the legitimacy of such work being supported by UK aid spending. So why is this so controversial?
There are two main concerns. Firstly, as explored previously on this blog, linking military activity (whether under a peacekeeping mandate or not), can have dangerous repercussions, increasing risk for humanitarian engagement. Secondly, it risks diluting aid, and (in this instance) carries the distinct whiff of domestic politics.
The militarisation of aid has long been criticised (see my previous post on this), and I won’t rehash the arguments here. But is this really about decisions as to whether peacekeeping is actually a development activity, or is this more about the need to placate an angry backbench Tory party and rightwing press who continue to complain about the protected status of UK’s international aid spending?
This looks like an effort to avoid the political embarrassment of yet another policy U-turn, backtracking on the 0.7% commitment, whilst actually doing so in practice. It will be interesting to see in the next few months what other activities suddenly become seen as ‘development’, leading to a recalibration of funding pots.
Would the diversion of DFID funds to activities not previously supported be such a bad thing, if a halfway decent case for their relevance can be made? Many activities have impacts on development. Improving the mix of renewable energy within UK power supplies would make such a contribution. Should DFID be investing in offshore wind turbines and research into tidal energy? Professional development through education of people from the global South arguably impacts on development. Should university scholarships for, say, African scholars therefore be counted towards the 0.7% target?
The answer surely has to be no. The decision to protect and increase aid spending was an important political message, especially at the international level, and at a time when aid commitments are being reneged upon and cut back. Dilution, which is what this is, sends the wrong message. Worse, it damages DFID and its own programmes. And to make it worse, diverting money to the Ministry of Defence is hugely problematic, especially given the UK’s recent military past. Humanitarian workers will not be resting easy this evening.