Aid, ‘Securitisation’, and meeting poor people’s needs – A view from the UK

Security vs securitisation 

In its first six months, the British Coalition government has made a number of statements which help to piece together what its approach to development will look like. Beyond a commitment to reaching 0.7 percent of GNI for aid by 2013 and a focus on ‘value for money’, one of the most striking elements of the approach has been greater attention to ‘conflict affected and fragile states’.

For example, the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review committed the UK to “using 30 percent of Overseas Development Assistance to support fragile and conflict affected states and tackle the drivers of instability… mean[ing] we could double the amount spent on such activities by 2014/15”

However, this focus on fragility has rung alarm bells with some in the development community who suspect a creeping ‘securitisation’ of aid and the sub-ordination of pro-poor objectives to an approach driven by donors’ national security interests.

These are legitimate concerns.‘Security’ can be a confusing concept and the word is often used to denote very different things. Sometimes, interventions carried out in the name of ‘security’ can have little to do with the wellbeing of poor or vulnerable populations. But Saferworld is worried that, in what has so far been a confused debate, the fear of misuse risks leading to a rejection of any role for aid in promoting security.

Doing so would fail vulnerable and marginalised populations just as much as its securitisation would because poor people want to feel safe and secure just as much as everyone else. At the same time, addressing poor people’s insecurity is a necessary part of creating the conditions for broader development to take root and flourish. 

In order to steer a path between securitisation and neglect to find a positive role for aid in promoting poor people’s security, we must first be clear on what ‘securitisation’ means. 

Defining securitisation

The following examples of securitisation are by no means exhaustive, but may help to define some of the issues currently being debated in the UK.

1. Donors’ perceived security interests determining where and how aid is spent

Ensuring the security of their citizens is a legitimate concern for donor governments. Similarly, we should not assume that donors taking an interest in more effectively meeting the needs of populations in ‘conflict-affected and fragile’ countries necessarily equates to securitisation.

However, if a short-term, ‘hard’ vision of national security does begin to define the aid agenda, with aid and development being seen as tools of ‘soft power’ to advance national interests, then serious concerns are raised about which parts of government decide where programmes are targeted, what criteria they use to make these decisions, and what pressures they face.

Perhaps even more important than where aid is allocated, is how it is used. A hard vision of security may emphasise interventions aimed at supporting the operational capacity of defence and security forces in developing countries, so called ‘train and equip’ programmes. Or aid may be used as a political lever, rewarding policies seen as in donors’ interests or supporting regimes seen as friendly to donors.

2. Aid being delivered by, or for, the armed forces

The prosecution of the ‘War on Terror’, particularly in Afghanistan, has seen the military giving aid in order to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of local populations, often through ‘Quick Impact Projects’ such as building a new mosque or school in a village the armed forces have just secured.

A tension has also arisen around the UK armed forces expecting civilian development advisers to consolidate combat gains made in Afghanistan by ‘doing development’ in areas that have been swept of insurgents. Whilst it may be understandable that the military want to use every means possible to achieve a positive outcome, this approach shows little understanding of what development means, the time frame it involves, or what kind of engagement with local communities produces successful development outcomes.

3. The securitisation of the development discourse

Whilst it is certainly true that there can be no development without basic security, and Saferworld would argue that security is a development goal in its own right, this does not necessarily mean that any kind of security focused intervention will have a positive development gain.

For instance, support which helps security services lacking in accountability to consolidate their influence on (or control of) power may just end up further entrenching the social and political divisions that keep certain populations marginalised – and perhaps even contribute to increased risk of further instability and conflict down the line.

A developmental vision of security and justice

‘Security’ is a public good that people in developing countries want and deserve. At the same time, successfully promoting the equitable provision of security and access to justice will help meet the objectives of the broader development agenda, and may have knock-on benefits for the security of donors themselves.

There already exists guidance for both working in fragile states and supporting security and justice provision. Saferworld believes both these sets of guidance provide valuable reference points that should be taken seriously by donors, development partners and developing countries.

However, in the current rhetorical debate on aid and security in the UK, the development community could take the initiative by defining a positive, development led vision of security and justice. Saferworld suggests this should include the following key points.

1. Always put poor people first The security we are concerned with is that of poor, vulnerable and marginalised populations: decision-making on security and justice reform must be informed by realities on the ground and involve the meaningful ownership and participation of those it affects. This may have longterm benefits for the UK’s own security – but that must not be the driving principle if security and justice interventions are to be effective.

2. Take a ‘human security’ approach Security and justice reform should be based on the needs of people as well as the state. Support for security and justice reform should not just aim to help develop capable, accountable and responsive services (the ‘supply side’) but also to empower communities to critically assess and engage in security and justice policy-making and provision (the ‘demand side’).

3. Recognise that security and justice are indivisible The ‘security sector’ and ‘justice sector’ are both parts of the wider ‘security and justice system’ and cannot be treated as separate entities.

4. Recognise that we cannot ‘deliver’ security or ‘provide’ access to justice Instead, the role of the international community is to promote and support the provision of accountable, transparent security and justice services.

5. Always begin with the context The challenges to equitable security and justice provision vary greatly from society to society, within countries as well as between them. Similarly, donors should always look at what already exists, the ‘informal’ security and justice mechanisms that communities often use in the absence of state provision, to see what can be built on and supported.

Rather than a ‘securitisation’ of the development discourse, Saferworld believes there is an argument for the ‘development-isation’ of the security discourse. But, for this to happen, both the government and the development community will need to find a way of engaging with notions of security that go beyond simply rejecting the link between security and development, or dividing interventions into separate ‘security’ and ‘development’ silos. Instead a fuller, more positive vision of what can be done to promote poor people’s security and access to justice must be articulated.