That doesn’t mean that there are no problems with the way some of the money is used. It doesn’t always have the effect it should, it sometimes ends up in the wrong hands, it can enable some regimes to divert their ‘own’ resources to armaments, and when it’s used to support the purchase of goods and services from the UK it can look more like a subsidy to UK capitalists than aid to developing nations.
Those things, important though they are, and as much as they need to be acted on, are detail; the headline is that the UK is standing by its promise to aid those underdeveloped countries. In that context, his announcement this week that money from the aid budget could possibly be used to pay for some of the UK’s military activities overseas was astonishing, and a significant step backwards.
He has a point, of course, when he says that economic development is difficult in strife-torn countries and regions (although those are often the places most in need of aid). Peace and stability are important determinants of economic success. But paying for troops and military hardware for use by UK forces doesn’t look a lot like economic aid to me. And if those forces ever get into killing people, it’s hard to see how that would look a lot like ‘aid’ to those on the wrong end of any military action.
It’s true, of course, that ‘peace-keeping’ doesn’t necessarily lead to actual military action, but if that was never even a remote possibility of the role, it wouldn’t need military personnel to undertake it. If using military personnel to enforce the peace doesn’t at least include the threat of lethal force, why are they needed?
There isn’t a simple black and white cut-off point between peace-keeping and intervention, however different the words sound. After all, wasn’t the intervention in Afghanistan supposed to be about bringing peace and stability to that country? I hardly think that particular intervention could ever be classed as ‘overseas aid for development’, though.
Paying for any part of the UK’s military out of overseas aid would be a travesty; it would make a complete nonsense of what was, at the time it was made, an honorouble and brave decision to maintain the economic aid programme at a time of domestic financial hardship.