tip off

Aid for checkpoints? The militarisation of Australia’s aid

The Australian Defence Force directly delivers about half of Australia’s aid to Afghanistan. There are myriad problems with this approach, writes Gareth Bryant from AID/WATCH.

At a Senate inquiry into Australia’s aid program to Afghanistan this week, the Department of Defence revealed it had reported almost $200 million in military spending as “aid”. The acknowledgement raises serious concerns about the close relationship between aid and Australia’s military and police forces in Afghanistan.

The Australian Defence Force directly delivers about half of Australia’s aid to Afghanistan. In the four years to 2011, the ADF spent $215 million of Australia’s aid budget there, with only $37 million being spent on actual development projects. Pressure brought about by the inquiry forced Defence to admit that about 80% of its “aid” spending, including costs of military checkpoints and force protection, did not meet OECD guidelines on official development assistance.

The excessive role of the military in the delivery of aid in Afghanistan is a unique part of Australia’s aid program. It can be wholly attributed to Australia’s participation in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, known as Operation Slipper. The militarisation of aid is part of a broader trend from Western donors to use aid budgets to win the “hearts and minds” of local people in conflict areas.

Researchers have found that militarised aid is not effective and can cause harm to local communities and aid workers. A coalition of eight aid NGOs working in Afghanistan identified a number of problems with the approach, including a bias towards projects intended to deliver “quick fixes” over long-term development outcomes. Defence conceded this criticism in their submission to the inquiry, stating: “Time imperatives to consistently deliver immediate and visible benefits to local communities, militate against the conduct of formal cost/benefit evaluations.”

Defence justifies its approach according to the Australian government’s goal in Afghanistan, which is to “prevent Afghanistan from again being used by terrorists to plan and train for attacks on innocent civilians, including Australians”. Likewise, in training the Afghan National Police, the AFP is delivering aid in support of the government’s foreign policy goal of transitioning responsibility for security to the Afghan government.

These activities do not constitute a proper use of aid. According to the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD, police training for counter-insurgency work and all anti-terrorism activities are not eligible forms of ODA, as they primarily deal with threats to the donor. In other words, all Australian government activities in Afghanistan that are related to Operation Slipper — whether delivered by the ADF, AFP or AusAID — are not aid.

From AusAID’s perspective, the NATO-led coalition’s security, diplomatic and development objectives are all “inter-linked”. AusAID has a strategic partnership agreement with Defence that states the two bodies are “natural partners” that work to “promote Australia’s strategic interests”. In this context, the co-option of AusAID to the broader objectives of the war means the admission by Defence doesn’t address the widespread misuse of aid by the Australian government in Afghanistan.

*AID/WATCH is an independent membership-based watchdog, which acts as an independent monitor of Australia’s aid and trade

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