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Ideas for a fairer world

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Can There be a New Compact Between Diplomats and Aid Agencies?

By Richard Gowen, Phoebe Griffith. Source: Tuesday 13th April 2004

There is a widely held belief among development practitioners that foreign policy makers are out to get them 'in the national interest', argue Richard Gowan and Phoebe Griffith.

The main reason for this is that the political function of aid is deeply resented by aid practitioners. In the ultimate analysis, development is inevitably political: it shapes the capacity and accountability of governments and helps to define the place of recipient and donor states in the international system. This does not mean that we should further politicise aid. It does, however, imply that there is need for a fuller dialogue between the development and foreign policy communities.

The development community's uneasiness about entering into dialogue with foreign policy makers is warranted. Much of the foreign policy community is instinctively inclined to prioritise stability or short-term political advantage even if development priorities are put at stake. Examples of double standards still abound. Valerie Amos's pre-Iraq tour of African members of the Security Council (Angola, Cameroon, Guinea) and the promises of aid that followed was rightly received with scepticism. Likewise, the introduction of security conditionalities into decisions regarding development aid should also be questioned, particularly in the case of countries with poor human rights records such as Pakistan and Mauritius.

Yet, while it is easy to stereotype foreign policy specialists as incurable pragmatists, it would be wrong to ignore the more progressive among them. They are not necessarily fringe figures, after Afghanistan and Iraq, many European foreign policy analysts are forming an agenda that emphasises the importance of sustainable, domestically-driven development with strong civil society components. They have more common ground with the development community than the latter might allow for.

Indeed, the language of development is creeping into security analysis. Sven Biscop, a Brussels-based expert on European security, has argued that "rather than terrorism or WMD, the most important threat emerging from the new security environment seems to be the growing gap between the haves and have-nots . . . a gap which can best be expressed in terms of access to the essential global public goods." Carl Bildt, the former UN envoy to Bosnia and now a member of the High Level Panel on UN reform, has emphasised the importance of convergence between security and development policies.

The key question that this raises is whether security is a precondition for development or vice versa. Javier Solana's European Security Strategy, approved by the European Council in December 2003, explicitly puts security first. This choice acts as the basis for a strong endorsement for conditionality - creating new rifts with the development community.

Yet, before we condemn "conditionality" outright, we should see that it has multiple meanings. The development community has recently moved towards, not away from, certain conditional policies, devising complicated contracts for the implementation of aid agreements. For example, most development practitioners would agree that one of the strengths of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) is the mutual accountability framework that they provide. Likewise, by seeking to work increasingly with local counterparts in the developing world, international NGOs are having to move towards models of engagement which allow their partners to work independently while still fulfilling funding requirements and ensuring that core values are respected.

This form of conditionality relies on transparency, unlike political conditionality, which tends to be entwined with the obscurities of diplomacy. If we are to forge a new relationship between development and foreign policy, it is necessary for us to think how we can include political issues in binding contracts. Transparency should be at the core of these, marking a step-change in how we do politics with poorer states. To overcome vested national interests, it might be easiest to do this through organisations such as the EU rather than at the state level.

In a recent report from The Foreign Policy Centre, Julian Braithwaite (a senior adviser to Lord Ashdown in Bosnia) advocates the formation of EU contracts with problem countries. The aim of this strategy would be two-fold: it would help pool everything that the EU has to offer, including not only aid budgets but benefits falling outside the remit of development agencies such as visa-free travel and access to trade, giving them a clear identity and focus. The second aim should be to promote greater openness on the part of EU member states, subjecting individual member governments to peer review and annual audits.

This would be a radical departure. It might not only create new trust between the development and foreign affairs communities but - rather more importantly - between donor and recipient states. Aid practitioners should note that, in the UK, links between the Foreign Office and DfID are widely held to be improving. A new dialogue on development is emerging - it should not be stifled by dogmatism.

Richard Gowan is The Foreign Policy Centre's Europe Programme Researcher.

Phoebe Griffith manages The Foreign Policy Centre's International Development Programme.