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Should aid money go to peacekeeping?

February 25, 2013
Peacekeeping Mission

Pay them from aid money?

Today’s post is from Brenda Killen, Head of OECD’s Global Partnerships and Policy Division and Donata Garrassi from the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding

Is peacekeeping a cost-effective way of spending aid money, as UK Prime Minister David Cameron implied last week in remarks quoted by the BBC?

In 2010, some forty countries in situations of fragility received around $50 billion in Official Development Assistance (ODA), as aid is formally known. This represents 38% of total ODA according to OECD figures. Global peacekeeping has cost an estimated $8 billion a year over the past few years.

These are significant sums, especially when governments are seeking ways to reduce their deficits. But compare them with the costs of military operations. Between 2009 and 2010, for example, US Department of Defense spending alone for Afghanistan grew from $4.4 billion to $6.7 billion a month. According to US government data, the cumulative total for the War on Terror and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 9/11 is $1.283 trillion, of which about $1.2 trillion went to the Department of Defense with only $67 billion, or 5%, going to State/USAID.

ODA covers a broad range of activities from humanitarian interventions to stabilization, peacebuilding and statebuilding. (although peacekeeping is funded by a blend of ODA and non-ODA funds). Why is it better to use ODA as opposed to defence budgets for these initiatives? Because with ODA, taxpayers have a clearer idea of where and how their money is being spent. ODA is an accountable and transparent way to deliver development assistance, even if it is not the only one. ODA funding to fragile states is reported regularly by donors, providing taxpayers in these countries and governments and people in recipient countries with as clear as possible a picture of how much money comes in, from where, what it is used for, and how effectively it is provided. Military aid, on the contrary, and enforcement aspects of peacekeeping, are not reportable as ODA. It is difficult to know how much is spent, how, and on whom, let alone to assess the impact on national governments and populations.

The main issue is about the best way to support countries during the difficult transition out of conflict and fragility. It’s also about preventing conflict flaring up again, by addressing the  root causes of conflict, and promoting the growth and development that make conflict less likely in the future.

These are huge tasks. The human development record in fragile states is not good. Not one conflict-affected fragile state has achieved any of the Millennium Development Goals., and the share of world poor living in fragile states is expected to exceed 50% by 2015. What do these trends suggest? Tackling fragility and instability requires a long-term development strategy. A military solution (even one that drags on for years) will not solve the underlying problems. An army may manage to provide stability, but it is not designed to address the inequalities, sense of injustice and frustrations that lead to conflict in the first place.

Lasting peace needs more than peacekeepers. It needs economic development to  provide jobs, education, health care and other services. It needs the political involvement of the whole population, especially those with grievances, to promote social justice and to seek solutions other than violence. It needs well-functioning government and institutions. Building a lasting peace may take decades, so it needs long-term commitment from national and international actors to develop the local capacities and potential that will eventually make aid irrelevant.

This is not a military strategy or timescale. Un-glamorous development departments and personnel have the skills needed to implement cross-governmental approaches, use pooled funds wisely, and work in the multidisciplinary teams best suited to conflict-affected and fragile states. But vital as their contribution may be, it is secondary. Ultimately, transitioning out of conflict and ensuring long-lasting peace depend on the country itself, not foreign aid, whether civilian or military. So maybe we should start by asking conflict-affected and fragile countries for which we are designing strategies, re-allocating funds, and planning operations, what would work best.

Useful links

OECD work on conflict and fragility

Evaluating Peacebuilding Activities in Settings of Conflict and Fragility

International Network on Conflict and Fragility

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