Development at Gunpoint?

Why Civilians Must Reclaim Stabilization Aid

The current multibillion-dollar campaign to counter transnational terrorism, defeat insurgencies, and stabilize fragile states blends diplomacy, defense, and development. A principal tool in this vast effort is humanitarian and development assistance -- what has come to be known as militarized aid. Flows of aid to fragile states have grown significantly over the past decade and are increasingly concentrated on a few frontline countries. The rhetoric of foreign assistance policymakers is infused with terminology derived from national security and counterterrorism doctrine. Defense ministries now control vast aid budgets.

Militarized aid is delivered by soldiers or private contractors at the behest of a political-military leadership. In Afghanistan, for example, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) weld military, aid agency, and contractor components to multiply force where, in the words of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, ”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 afterward.” Yet it is unclear whether militarized aid is effective. In research carried out for the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, Andrew Wilder dubbed militarized aid ”a ‘weapons system’ based on wishful thinking.” And it appears increasingly evident that such aid actually damages the greater stabilization effort in three ways: it erodes humanitarian principles, spreads risk, and is often of poor quality.

Humanitarian principles are derived from the laws of war. These principles include, among others, humanity (aid must save lives and alleviate suffering), impartiality (aid is based solely on need), and independence (aid is not suborned to political or military objectives). These are not abstract, do-good notions. They are born of conflict, and there are hardheaded reasons why they define a civilian space for aid.

Adhering to these tenets assures those in war-torn communities that the primary interest of aid workers is helping civilians survive with dignity. As a result, they grant humanitarian organizations access and protect aid workers’ safety. They may even mediate with armed opposition groups on the aid organizations’ behalf. This is how relief agencies continue to operate in violent places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

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