Author : Pratnashree Basu

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Apr 27, 2023 Updated 30 Days ago
The motivation behind deploying aid is often spurred by geopolitical and diplomatic considerations rather than purely developmental goals
Conditions apply: A case for not delinking politics from development cooperation Development cooperation is understood to serve the purpose of assisting countries in their efforts to make social and economic progress. It is a fairly new concept in international relations; it gained currency only after World War II, prompted by the crises that led to the two World Wars; the extent of the destruction caused by the latter; and the scale of rebuilding required. Development cooperation plans like the Marshall Plan—an American initiative enacted in 1948 to provide foreign aid to Western Europe—and international agreements during and after World War II were the outcomes. Former colonial powers used development aid to maintain special relations with former colonies, spheres of influence as witnessed during the Cold War, and subsequently, to ensure regional stability, lasting solutions to fragile political systems, access to markets and resources, and so on. Today, development cooperation is fundamental to finding solutions for global, regional, and even national problems.
Former colonial powers used development aid to maintain special relations with former colonies, spheres of influence as witnessed during the Cold War, and subsequently, to ensure regional stability, lasting solutions to fragile political systems, access to markets and resources, and so on.
Development cooperation, used as an instrument of diplomacy, is referred to as development diplomacy, which comprises the repurposing of aid in a way that serves public diplomacy objectives as well as the achievement of development goals concurrently. As a tool of diplomacy, development cooperation can be used to support regional integration and cooperation. Donor countries can use aid to support regional organisations, such as the African Union (AU) or Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and to promote regional cooperation on issues such as trade, security, and environmental protection. Development aid, thus, became a tool to maintain existing alliances and create new ones. It is an important dimension of international relations, particularly relations between developing and developed countries, and also between and among developing countries as it forms the link between foreign policy and development cooperation. The accommodation of geostrategic and geoeconomic concerns is both an inevitable and an inalienable component of development cooperation.

The geopolitics of development cooperation 

There are numerous instances of ‘altruistic development assistance,’ which aims to address global challenges while following the principles of sustainability. It comprises aid geared towards supporting efforts to strengthen health systems; education and training programmes to help build human capital; promoting technology transfer and sharing of best practices between developed and developing countries; and providing assistance and support to countries facing humanitarian crises. However, the geopolitics of development cooperation has had a complex history since political, economic, and strategic factors play a role in the allocation and delivery of aid. Therefore, while aid can be a useful instrument for promoting development, the motivation behind deploying aid is often spurred by geopolitical and diplomatic considerations rather than purely developmental goals. Regardless of the changes and intricacies in global relations, interstate exchanges have been and will continue to be determined by realpolitik. And as long as realpolitik prevails, development cooperation will continue to have strings attached. But a lack of strings does not necessarily imply a more ethical or acceptable form of cooperation.
An assessment of the politics of aid is critical for enhancing the main (moral) goal of aid—to sustain development and reduce poverty.
This is because it is political motivations, and more appropriately, geopolitical motivations that drive the world order, and also because an estimation of the varied political motives behind aid dispensation can act as a measure of aid effectiveness. In other words, an assessment of the politics of aid is critical for enhancing the main (moral) goal of aid—to sustain development and reduce poverty. Thus, while ‘no strings attached’ makes for great publicity by appealing to ethics, it is essentially the nature and pull of the strings that make the difference. As they say, the devil is in the details. For instance, aid given by China is essentially a loan with strict regulations, no waivers, and as has been witnessed, comes at the cost of the recipient country’s sovereignty if the regulations are not met.

Development diplomacy competition in the Indo-Pacific 

Development cooperation has played a significant role in shaping the economic and political landscape of the Indo-Pacific region long before the region was recognised as the ‘Indo-Pacific’ with all its ramifications. One of the first and major donor countries for the region was Japan. It has been a major player in development cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in Southeast Asia. Tokyo’s development aid has focused on infrastructure development, including transportation and energy projects, alongside health and education programmes. Japan has also been a key supporter of regional integration initiatives, such as the (ASEAN) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Like Tokyo, Washington has also supported regional initiatives such as the Lower Mekong Initiative and the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor. In addition to development aid, the US has also been a key supporter of regional security initiatives, including counterterrorism and maritime security. Australia has been another significant donor of development aid in the Indo-Pacific region focusing on supporting economic growth, reducing poverty, and promoting good governance alongside support for regional integration initiatives, such as the Pacific Islands Forum.
The overarching narrative has divided the region into ‘like-minded countries’ led by the West on the one hand and China on the other.
The ‘competition’ in development cooperation was prompted by China’s rapid and overriding emergence as a major player in development cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Based primarily on infrastructure development, Beijing’s entry has been accompanied by a sufficient degree of ambiguity and apprehension in recent years for its predatory and appropriating nature. Beijing’s conditions of aid delivery have, thus, altered the geopolitical landscape in the Indo-Pacific. The overarching narrative has divided the region into ‘like-minded countries’ led by the West on the one hand and China on the other. Most countries within the region are prompted to follow a delicate tightrope walk trying not to irk Beijing while opting into cooperation frameworks and platforms that can help to balance against China’s extending footholds across the region alongside a disregard for the international rules-based order. This scenario has complicated regional as well as global politics since the economic fate of all major powers is connected with the stability of the Indo-Pacific. However, at the same time, this offers scope for the creation of political incentives that would discourage non-compliance. It is naïve to assume that goals would always be altruistic as geopolitical factors affect how governments interact. Due to this, the case for not delinking politics from development cooperation forms an important component of the development cooperation discourse and practice.
Pratnashree Basu is an Associate Fellow for CNED programme at ORF.
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Pratnashree Basu

Pratnashree Basu

Pratnashree Basu is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata, with the CNED programme. She is a 2017 US Department of State IVLP Fellow ...

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