The Military-Civilian Development Nexus

This hasn’t been a particularly good week for anyone concerned by the creeping militarization of foreign policy in general, and development aid in particular. When President Barack Obama announced his Afghanistan strategy last month, a lot was made about the “diplomatic surge” element — roughly a thousand civilian posts to boost development work in the country. I remember thinking at the time that an increase of 1,000 civilians didn’t stack up so well with the increase of 21,000 troops that was announced at roughly the same time. But at least it was a start.

Only trouble is, the NY Times reported last week that there aren’t enough civilians to fill the posts, so instead they will be filled by military personnel. Admittedly, the military personnel will be reservists and contractors whose civilian jobs give them some expertise in the field and who, unlike civilian specialists, can be ordered into a conflict zone. But the bait and switch is still telling. Michael Cohen has been keeping an eye on this over at Democracy Arsenal as well, and has some comments worth reading.

Now, the Times of London is reporting that Britain’s international development secretary is set to give a speech in New York that will “mark a significant shift in the way Britain allocatesresources for impoverished countries.” The shift will involve including security issues in development programs, especially in countries either experiencing or emerging from conflict.

The problem here isn’t just the mission set, which blurs the boundaries even further between civilian and military aid, but also the funding stream. At a time when military budgets already dwarf those of civilian aid agencies, the latter will now be forced to include security missions like army and police training alongside more traditional development projects, like schools, roads and health clinics.

Other pernicious effects of tasking security missions to civilian agencies include the strong likelihood that development will be increasingly seen through a security lens. This at a time when the foreign policy establishment, in general, has already begun to see the problem of development and weak states in national security terms. Such a shift will also require using military personnel for the security components of civilian agency missions, which, like the converse example above, will ultimately create a homogenized militaro-civil development nexus indistinguishable from the “hard power” apparatus of national security statecraft.

The emerging consensus in Washington, and now in London, seems to be that development aid should be used to advance national security interests. I’d argue, conversely, that there’s no better way to ensure that neither the development nor the security goals are achieved. Instead, we should decouple development aid from our foreign policy agenda as much as possible, by putting it in the hands of an agency independent of either the State or Defense Departments. (I might have heard that first from Cohen. If so, Michael, consider this a citation.) If we’re going to attach any benchmarks, they should be based on governance and transparency — like the Millenium Development Goals — not diplomatic payback.