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The Militarization of Aid and the QDDR

The militarization of aid is increasingly a controversial issue. The recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and even Pakistan bring opposing perspectives into sharp focus. Humanitarian and development assistance prioritizes the relief of suffering by increasing aid and human development from a position of neutrality. By militarizing humanitarian aid, priorities extend to countering transnational terrorism and defeating insurgencies, thus foregoing neutrality for political/military objectives.

At a basic level, militarized aid is distributed by soldiers and/or private contractors under political and military management; but it can also include “integrated missions,” in which humanitarian workers operate in conjunction with (usually under the protection of) military forces in hostile environments. Those in favor of integrated missions employ the interdependence line of reasoning: In a post-conflict stabilization environment, no one actor (be that aid or military) is able to achieve operational success independently. Cedric de Coning points out that, “a collective (combined) and cumulative (sustained over time) effect is needed to achieve the overall peacebuilding goal.”

Those against aid militarization argue that an agenda of political partiality, designed to support a political transition process, contradicts the humanitarian need for impartiality, compromising mission success and jeopardizing the safety of both innocent civilians and NGO workers. For example, in a December 2010 report, Refugees International contends that, “USAID’s use of development contractors and frequent embeds with the military have dangerously blurred humanitarian principles by associating such programs with a party to the conflict”. The consequences of blurring humanitarian and military operations are reviewed in Rod Nordland’s December 13 NY Times article about the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan.

The fundamental dilemma of militarizing aid, as my former Professor framed it, is whether a soldier can shoot at your cousin one day and then help rebuild your schools the next? On the one hand, U.S. Defense Secretary Bill Gates seems to think so, arguing that, “the U.S. military’s ability to kick down the door [must be] matched by its ability to clean up the mess and even rebuild the house afterwards.” On the other hand the U.S. Department of State seems to disagree: aid responsibilities must come under greater civilian control. To bring aid under greater civilian control, the Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) sets out a plan for increasing overall aid effectiveness by wrestling development responsibilities back from the Department of Defense to the State Department and USAID. In Secretary of State Clinton’s words, the document helps define and establish “‘civilian power’ – the combined force of all of the civilians across the U.S. government who practice diplomacy, carry out development projects, and act to prevent and respond to crisis and conflict.”

There are no straightforward solutions to resolving the controversy around aid militarization. The QDDR proposes many innovative ideas, including the creation of the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, which houses the Bureau for Crisis and Conflict Operations – undoubtedly an office that would play a large role during times of post-conflict “stabilization.” However, innovative ideas may not be enough if they are not backed by realistic implementation strategies (read QDDR: Concepts Are Not Enough, by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)).  At this point it is unclear whether the changes proposed by the QDDR would lead to greater or less collaboration between the U.S. government’s civil and military offices in post-conflict state building, and whether this would lead to more or less effective aid delivery.

One thing is clear:  In the increasingly complex period between war and peace, dubbed post-conflict stabilization, both sustained security and development are essential. Resolution of this controversy is not likely to be an “either/or” solution (to militarize aid or not), but rather some sort of compromise. As international conflicts continue to increase in duration and intensity, and innocent civilians continue to be employed as both targets of and shields against the violence resulting from combatants at war, this will remain an essential dilemma to solve. The UN Human Development Report of 1994 said it best when arguing, “Without peace, there may be no development. But without development, peace is threatened.”

1 Comment

  1. […] development organization into a sustainable, social enterprise; civ-mil relations and more on the militarization of aid; a Mythbusters-worthy investigation into the quality and cost of Afghan bottled water; a discussion […]


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