Feb 9, 2014

does humanitarian aid forestall political solutions?

As someone who watched Phil Hartman kill it on Saturday Night Live in the early 90s, I'm old.

Hartman's second-to-note Bill Clinton impersonation is on full display in the classic skit in which the rotund politician interrupts his mid-morning jog to meet, greet, and eat with regular folks at a local McDonald's. As Clinton finds a way to sample nearly everyone's meal, he discourses on various policies, including a memorable analogy for why an international military force would be necessary to secure humanitarian aid in Somalia.

Also, I'm old.

The serious point, which I'm winding toward, is that humanitarian aid isn't delivered in a vacuum. By changing the cost of inaction, aid can potentially forestall political solutions. This point is argued by Tamer Qarmout and Daniel Beland in "The Politics of International Aid to the Gaza Strip," found in The Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 2012.
Within the context of the Israeli occupation, international aid to the [Palestinian Authority] has allowed Israel to sustain its occupation without bearing the expenses of providing for the basic humanitarian needs of the people under occupation. In this environment, donors play an integral and direct role in the conflict by alleviating any sense of urgency to end the occupation.
Even if you're inclined to balk at the loaded terms in their analysis (I don't intend to wade into a debate about the legitimacy of Israeli and Palestinian territorial disputes), the analysis raises the troubling prospect that aid perpetuates a problematic status quo.

Mark E. Manyin makes a similar argument in "Assessing U.S. Assistance to North Korea," from Asian Review's Fall 2003 issue.
From a humanitarian perspective, sending food to North Korea arguably diverts limited supplies of food aid from other needy, and more accountable, countries. Furthermore, as discussed above, the volume and consistency of international aid has allowed the North Korean government to institutionalize emergency food assistance as part of its annual budget needed to feed its people and remain in power. Therefore, although international food aid has saved thousands of lives, it also has indirectly subsidized Kim Jong Il's regime and allowed the government to avoid making much-needed economic reforms.
The age of the evidence--11 years and counting--only bolsters the claim that continuing aid has potentially contributed to the perpetuation of Jong Il's repressive dynasty.

Berhanu Nega and Geoffrey Schneider, in "International Financial Institutions and Democracy in Africa: The Case for Political Conditionality and Economic Unconditionality," found in The Journal of Economic Issues, June 2011, note that
..there is evidence that foreign aid is used by dictatorships for political purposes and that humanitarian aid is frequently denied to families that are considered opponents of the regime (Human Rights Watch 2010), which argues for the denial of all forms of aid to the worst-behaving dictatorships. Properly structured aid programs may be able to exert pro-democracy pressure while preserving aid for the poor, but this may not always be possible.
The upshot is that, in a consequentialist framework, the equation isn't simply aid saves lives, therefore aid good. Political conditions, long term, may be necessary to prevent suffering.


Anonymous said...

So this page is an Aff argument right?

Mr. Anderson said...

I'd say it's the opposite. States and/or aid organizations might have good reason for establishing political conditions, if they look at the big picture and realize that a corrupt or oppressive regime will stand to benefit most from unconditional aid.

Anonymous said...

this is definitely a neg argument!