A primer on Foreign Aid is a research paper written by Steven Radelet. This interesting read on international aid development summarizes aid effectiveness and references a number of renowned and prolific scholars in the field. Redelet thoroughly discusses the views of different scholars and where each one stands when it comes to answering the question “has an international aid achieved its goals to help the poor countries to develop their economies?” Despite wide disagreement between scholars and researchers of the subject, Redelete seems to follow the conclusion of many developmental economists including Jeffrey Sachs and the proponents of the Developmental Goals. He emphasizes the gap between the benefactors and the providers of international aid and makes a case for accountability and conditionality. Similar to our previous read from USAID, Redelet shows concern for too much involvement from donors in running the aid initiatives.
While going through the reading, a question that kept coming back to my mind was “is international aid a political tool rather than developmental one?” Although the author hasn’t discussed this particular question in the paper, it has become obvious to me that international aid is a more of a tool to influence the local politics of aid recipient countries than it’s a genuine scheme to help these countries. That’s not to say international aid is purely designed for political purposes, but its effectiveness is shadowed by the opposing interests of its providers. If international aid was free from politics and its ultimate and undivided goal was to lift poor countries out of poverty, I believe it could have achieved a lot more than it has for the last 50 years.
To show few examples that aid is indeed guided by the donor’s interests rather than the needs of its recipient’s, why international aid decreased at the end of Cold War? Some might have come with other reasons, but Redelete explicitly mentions that it was due to reduced tension between world powers to influence other countries. At the end of the cold war, the biggest providers of international aid reduced their donations because their greatest threat(USSR) was gone and now they didn’t have to bribe other countries to stay a close ally of the West. Being an ally of the West was the only option left. In other words, donor countries didn’t have the incentive to keep giving out aid.
A decade later, international aid has reached its highest of 92 billion USD. The questions that begs asking is what happened? Did the providers of international aid all of the sudden felt the urge to help the poor? No. It was because a new threat to the West has emerged. Al-Qaida carried out 9-11. For the first time since World War II, a U.S soil was attacked by an outside power. This time an international terrorist group. The U.S and its allies once again used their tool (international aid) to have the rest of the world rally behind their cause.
The aim here is not to criticize the West for using their money to influence the politics of the less developed world but it’s to take the mask off of international aid and call what it is –the donor’s foreign policy to broaden their influence without regard for the needs of its recipients. As Steven Radelet explains, international aid funds dictators and perpetuates ineffective, corrupted governments. From a developmental perspective, it makes zero sense why the most developed world and the vanguards of democracy would fund oppressive regimes to stay in power with no positive change in sight. However, it makes a perfect sense from international relations and foreign policy perspective.