Leaked Document Hints at UK’s Plan to Tie Aid to National Security

A U.K. aid pallet for flood victims in Pakistan. A leaked document suggests that the U.K. government is planning to tie aid with national security interests. Photo by: Ashley Keates / The U.K. Ministry of Defence / CC BY NC-ND The U.K. Ministry of DefenceCC BY NC-ND

The United Kingdom’s coalition government is planning to introduce changes to the country’s foreign aid budget by tying development projects to the U.K.’s national security interests, according to a government document leaked to news agencies last week.

The Labour party said the document confirms fears within the international humanitarian and development community that the U.K. government plans to “securitize” the aid budget.

 “This document is deeply worrying, as it confirms the fears of many in the international development and humanitarian community that the government plans to securitize the aid budget, and weaken its focus in prioritizing resources on the poorest people and countries,” Gareth Thomas, a Labour party member and currently the shadow international development minister said.

“The revelation that part of the aid budget will now be directly controlled by the national security council suggests that other ministers will now be calling the shots on the aid budget instead of the development secretary,” he added while noting that the document marks a return to days when the control over U.K. foreign aid budget and priorities was under the foreign office.

The document indicates that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s new security council will have control over portions of the country’s foreign aid budget, The Financial Times says. This security council’s membership is expected to include the U.K.’s development, defense and foreign secretaries as well as the minister for security.

“The national security council has said the ODA [Overseas Development Administration] budget should make the maximum possible contribution to national security consistent with ODA rules. Although the NSC will not in most cases direct DfID spend in country, we need to be able to make the case for how our work contributes to national security,” the document states according to The Guardian.

The document is reportedly intended to guide Department for International Development staff who are in-charge of drawing bids for U.K. aid money. It also implies that development projects in fragile states such as Afghanistan and Pakistan are likely to be the ones most affected by the change, The Guardian notes.

 “We need to explain how DfID’s work in fragile states contributes to national security through ‘upstream’ prevention that helps to stop potential threats to the UK developing (including work to improve health and education, provide water, build roads, improve governance and security),” the leaked document states.

Thomas said that, while it is necessary to coordinate development and national security efforts in fragile states, there is “a significant risk that we will see our aid budget increasingly geared to narrow security priorities, instead of meeting the wider needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people.”

“”It is now becoming clearer why the Tories [the Conservative party] have abandoned over 80 of our key international commitments – including the pledge to put millions more children into school – as less resources will be available, with money being diverted to security priorities,” Thomas said as quoted by The Guardian.

The U.K. coalition government has protected the foreign aid budget from planned spending cuts as part of its commitment to meet the U.N. target of allocating 0.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product to aid by 2013. However the government has been under fire in recent months for alleged plans to use the foreign aid budget as climate change finance and ax up to 100 aid projects under DfID.

The government is currently reviewing all aspects of U.K. bilateral aid.

“A review of all of the UK’s bilateral aid is looking at all DFID’s programmes, but has yet to reach any conclusions. All DFID funding is and will continue to be governed by internationally agreed definitions of what constitutes aid,” a DfID spokesperson said according to The Guardian.

As Devex reported, U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell earlier defended the aid review to U.K.-based non-governmental organizations. Mitchell promised to boost funding for various anti-poverty projects and hold full public consultations before making financial decisions on all aid programs under review.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.