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Distribute Food in the Morning, Bomb at Midday and Build a School at Night

by Jurgen Wagner Friday, Aug. 07, 2009 at 9:23 AM

Military deployments are more or less elegantly redefined as development policy. Poverty represents by far the most important cause of violent escalation of conflicts. Military stability export maintains poverty.

Distribute Food in the Morning, Bomb at Midday and Build a School at Night

Interview with Jurgen Wagner

[This interview published in: IMI-Standpunkt July 2009 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

Question: The title of your study is “With Security, There is No Development. The Militarization of Development Assistance.” Can you tell us something about the connection of development policy and security policy?

During the Cold War, development policy and security policy were hardly distinguished at first. Both aimed at accepting the interests of western countries. Weapons shipments were always described as development assistance. However this undifferentiated mixture was strongly criticized from the 1960s. A consensus slowly arose that security policy and development assistance should be strictly separated. The latter should focus – at least formally – on immediately combating poverty.

The most important donor countries in the OECD Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) had to spend 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on development assistance according to UN resolution 2628 from October 24, 1970. Criteria for expenditures were laid down for this “official development assistance” (ODA). Military spending was strictly factored out. Funds had to directly fight poverty to fulfill the 0.7 percent promise.

This strict separation between security- and development policy existing at least on paper has extremely eroded in the last years. I describe this development in detail in my study.

How do you explain this?

The following argument is made. Violent conflicts in countries of the so-called third world would lead to “failed states.” This would prevent western investments and the integration into the world market, which are said to be the necessary conditions for sustainable development and fighting poverty.

Thereby, military deployments are more or less elegantly redefined as development projects. From this working model, the (military) stabilization of so-called failed states becomes the precondition for development and therefore the preeminent task not only for security policy but also for development aid.

Do you agree with this analysis?

I have an extreme problem with this argument. This argument is based on the assumption that violent conflicts in the so-called third world are caused by internal factors (greedy warlords, ethnic conflicts etc.). Accordingly “enlightened” western interventions are needed to free these states from their conflicts supposedly of their own making. This is simply false. The West has a critical responsibility for these conflicts through its weapons exports. The effects of the neoliberal world economic system leading to massive impoverishment of a large part of the world population should also be named here. In the research on the root causes of conflict, poverty represents by far the most important factor for the violent escalation of conflicts in the so-called third world. This is almost uncontested. Recourse to the military therefore becomes necessary to keep the boiler of globalization conflicts under control since no readiness exists from the western side to change anything in the rules of the dominant economic system with its exploitation mechanisms. Since neoliberal “reforms” are forced at gunpoint in the course of such “stabilization actions,” the cycle of poverty, conflicts and ultimately western military interventions to secure the existing hierarchy and exploitation conditions is perpetuated.

Fighting pirates at the horn of Africa is a current example of the causal chain between neoliberal “reforms,” impoverishment of the population, violent conflicts and western military interventions. When Somalia fell into a debt crisis in the 1980s and was forced to accept neoliberal policies through structural adjustment programs of the IMF, the state collapsed. Government employees could not be paid and the coast guard was laid off. As a result, European fishing fleets fished the region dry and took away the livelihood of Somalian fishers. The majority of the pirates now in the limelight of the general public are composed of these two groups – former employees of the coast guard and impoverished fishers. From a western perspective, they endanger the free trade of goods. Instead of tackling the causes of the phenomenon, NATO (“Allied Provider”) and the European Union (“Atalanta”) sent warships to the region to literally fight the problem.

From my view, military stability export is the necessary condition for maintaining the prevailing state of poverty, not a preliminary stage – as people like to argue – for fighting poverty. How sad that large parts of development policy are drawn before the carts of new stabilization actions. Both the European Consensus passed at the end of 2006 and the OECD development assistance boards resolved that supporting “stability export” is one of the preeminent tasks of development policy. Two authors of the German Institute for Development Policy correctly summarized the prevailing consensus as follows: “'No Development Without Security' is more and more a development paradigm necessitating new approaches in development policy." The argumentative carpet is spread here to redefine support of military “stabilization measures” as fighting poverty. In this way, a cross financing of these measures can be legitimated.

Can you give us some examples?

…In times of tight budgets, a marvelous possibility opens up here for militarists for cross-financing arms spending. The statements of the CDU politician Ole Schröder can be deconstructed here.

“Missions for example in northern Afghanistan and Congo are clearly development assistance.” By financing such “humanitarian missions” from the development assistance budget, the defence budget could be relieved by millions.

Isn’t it politically counter-productive to denounce “militarization of development policy”? Doesn’t such a thesis suggest presumably good development assistance that now is militarized becomes evil?

That is an important question. Development assistance is problematic and often causes – intentionally or unintentionally – a perpetuation of existing inequality. But there is a difference between financing questionable projects from the development budget and subsidizing military deployments. Sharply criticizing and rejecting this scandalous cross financing is absolutely right.

But one should not stop with this criticism. Development assistance contributes little – if anything – to fighting poverty. Even when development assistance is well-intended and well-executed, one should have no illusions about the range and relevance of its possibilities. Compared to the world economic system, development assistance has only marginal influence. The fundamental question is whether the problem must be tackled radically at the root and all efforts concentrated here, given the fact that mitigating the negative effects of the neoliberal world economic order is simply impossible. A system-critical analysis of developing policy is necessary where changing the neoliberal world economic order counteracts the causes of poverty in the North.

Unfortunately I see readiness to seriously grapple with the dominant policy only in a few organizations. The current cross financing is only the tip of the iceberg. In the last years, development assistance and other civil actors are increasingly pleaded for securing neoliberal exploitation conditions via the instrument of the so called Civil-military Cooperation (CIMIC)..

Will it become more obvious through this civil-military cooperation that development assistance is an extended arm of German foreign policy?

In any case, security-politicians aim at maximizing instrumentalization of civil actors for their special interest policy. In the future, permanent “stabilization” (control) will become more important than pure military victory, as the catastrophic situations in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate. Structures for the effective western occupation regime must be built under the mantle of so-called civil-military cooperation. “In the future, state action in the security project will presuppose a close integration of political, military, development, economic, humanitarian, police and intelligence instruments of conflict prevention and crisis management,” the white paper of the German army formulated.

This is tested for the first time on a large scale in Afghanistan. Daniel Fried, former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in the US State Department. Explained: “Many of these new capabilities are being tested in Afghanistan – which is also where we are learning how to better integrate civilian and military efforts. With each passing month, all of us Allies learn more about what it takes to wage a 21st-century counterinsurgency effort -- a combined civil-military effort that puts soldiers side by side with development workers, diplomats and police trainers."

This functions concretely in Afghanistan through 26 “Provincial Reconstruction Teams” (PRTs) units composed of both the military and civilians. Production of a “safe environment” and rebuilding measures are both covered in their mission. Formulated in an exaggerated way, these PRTs distribute food in the morning, bomb at midday and build a school at night. An article in the Small Wars Journal titled “The Integration of Special Forces and USAID in Afghanistan” describes how the US development agency contributes directly to fighting the insurgency. It gives targeted money as a “reward for communities that throw out rebels” and “strengthen the local capacity for resisting insurgents.” For USAID, “isolating insurgents from the population “ is vital. The article ends with the statement: “The development agencies must take off their kid gloves.” German civil actors are also involved in these processes. In a position paper, Caritas International sharply criticized that “relief funds are not coupled to actual needs but are oriented in fighting rebellions.”

On account of the loss of political neutrality, the large majority of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have categorically rejected this cooperation with the military. However they are no longer in a position to credibly differentiate themselves since the military gives the impression – consciously and successfully – that reconstruction and the military are inseparably interwoven. On this background, all civil actors in the eyes of the Afghan resistance become collaborators of the occupiers and thus legitimate targets. As a result, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), armed attacks on NGO members doubled in the last year. ANSO refers this development to the loss of political neutrality and predicts a further worsening of the situation.

How do these attacks on co-workers of civil organizations influence the relation of these organizations to civil-military cooperation?

Many organizations now insist CIMIC (civil-military cooperation) forced them to withdraw from Afghanistan, e.g. Doctors Without Borders and World Hunger Relief (Welthungerhilfe). In this context, the association of non-governmental German development organizations (VENRO) published a biting criticism of civil-military cooperation in a paper published in January 2009. It also expressed the fear that civil-military cooperation will be transferred in the future from Afghanistan “to other conflict- or post-conflict scenarios.” The proposals of the Science and Politics foundation working for the German government went in this direction in a study titled “Fighting Insurrection as a Commission.” The think-tank pleaded for a strategic planning unit in the German Foreign Relations office: “With the help of this planning unit, a common civil-military strategy for all current foreign deployments could be worked out and realized.” “The personnel of civil ministries occupied with foreign actions should be integrated in the structures of the Ministry of Defense for the duration of the deployments.”

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