Sharing findings on 'Dilemmas of international aid'
DLP Research Fellow Niheer Dasandi was among the speakers at a UCL Global Governance Institute event, Power, Development and Messy Politics: Dilemmas of International Aid, held in London on 18 January.
Niheer’s contribution to the discussion focused on a DLP paper co-authored with Lior Erez (University of Cambridge), The Donor's Dilemma: Thinking Politically About Difficult Choices. The paper is currently being considered for the 2016 Brian Barry Prize in Political Science, awarded annually by the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences.
The GGI event considered criticism that aid can do more harm than good if it helps maintain regimes known to be committing human rights abuses. Given the messy politics and extreme situations that donors and development NGOs often face in developing countries, how should they respond to the dilemmas that aid delivery presents? What rules should guide their actions, and how could these rules be justified?
Lior presented the framework that The Donor’s Dilemma paper offers to practitioners and policymakers to help them decide whether or not they should work with partners who are not committed to democratic governance. Niheer focused on why it is important to openly acknowledge and then try to address such dilemmas when giving aid to non-democratic states. He argued that this was a key issue for everyone seeking to think and work politically in development.
While it seems desirable to give aid to any type of government that is committed to achieving development, helping a non-democractic regime can also be seen as condoning or even supporting rights violations.
The Donor’s Dilemma paper suggests that there are three analytically distinct types of ‘donor’s dilemma’: complicity, double effect and dirty hands. Each type can be identified and dealt with differently, and it is possible to apply a ‘thinking and working politically’ approach to such dilemmas that is not normatively silent. On the contrary, analysing and understanding political contexts and constraints is indispensable for normative evaluations of the dilemmas generated by development aid.
Also speaking at the event was Jennifer Rubenstein, Associate Professor in Political Theory in the Department of Politics, University of Virginia, and author of the recently published Between Samaritans and States: The Political Ethics of Humanitarian INGOs. She discussed the dilemmas of rule-making in humanitarian and development aid, focusing on the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) and other rules for the aid sector.
She said that in trying to understand and evaluate these rules, they ought to be considered from a perspective suggested by the political-theoretical literature on emergency powers which examines how rules both empower political actors to deal effectively with emergencies, and constrain them from abusing that power. Rubenstein argued that aid organisations are, in fact, political actors that exercise political power and they therefore need rather more than useful checklists or aspirational goals to direct what they do. They need adequate power to act and clearly defined boundaries to act within.