The Tories are going to spend the aid budget on helicopter gunships!

by | Feb 21, 2013


Or so you might believe from your RSS feeds this morning. The Guardian, BBC, FT and others are all carrying the story that (as the Guardian has it), “David Cameron gives green light for aid cash to go on military”. Various NGO campaigners have predictably gone, well, ballistic.

But actually… both David Cameron’s actual remarks, and the background briefing subsequently given to the press, have stressed that all this would happen within existing rules on what counts as aid, i.e. the OECD DAC definition of ODA.

These rules are abundantly clear about what can and can’t count as ODA in the security and conflict domain. First and foremost, it counts as aid only if it’s “administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective”.

This principle is applied in a pretty conservative way, too. The rules are explicit, for instance, that activities to combat terrorism are “not reportable as ODA, as they generally target perceived threats to donor, as much as to recipient countries”; given the effect on development of Boko Haram or AQIM in the Sahel, you could well argue that that’s actually too restrictive.

What about peacekeeping? Bottom line: some of it’s allowed, but not “the enforcement aspects”. The sort of stuff you can include from peacekeeping, on the other hand, is stuff like human rights, election monitoring, rehabilitation of demobilised soldiers, advice on economic stabilisation, or mine removal. In other words, the sort of stuff that DFID already funds loads of, and rightly so. Spending on “military services and equipment” is only allowed if it’s being used for humanitarian assistance or development services.

Against this backdrop, people taking to Twitter and the airwaves to denounce the diversion of aid from schools to soldiers have either not got their facts right, or are being disingenuous. (In fairness, the anonymous government spokesperson who’s been saying that “hundreds of millions” could be diverted from DFID to MOD is being disingenous too – it’s very, very hard to see how that much could be spent through MOD while keeping within ODA rules.)

So it’s a non-story, basically – and I’m not sure that development advocates are helping their case by being this easy to provoke into fury even when the facts don’t warrant it.


  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is a Senior Fellow at the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) at New York University, and the author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren't Enough?(Penguin, 2017), a book about the power of deep stories to unlock transformational change. He lives in North Yorkshire and is currently working on political polarisation and learning dry stone walling.