I love international aid. Seriously, when I heard it was being ring-fenced I (almost) jumped for joy. And it’s not because I believe in the notion of redistributing wealth – far from it!
No, I reacted with delight because I recognise something that too few politicians are prepared to admit: international aid isn’t about doing something noble, it’s about protecting British interests.
For sure, the application of international aid produces noble results. But when you break it down, the strategic objective of DfID is far from some woolly notion of placing our arms around the world in order to give it a great big cuddle: it’s about defence.
Stable and prosperous countries, societies and communities are less likely to descend into violence or produce individuals susceptible to recruitment by terrorists. Victory us!
Too often though, this more pragmatic side of aid is glossed over in preference to a more cuddly interpretation of our agenda. And that’s dangerous. It’s dangerous because it leads to situations where the very fact of providing aid to certain nations is called into question.
India is a case in point, with the following all-too-simple sentiment rolled out by the media at every opportunity: India has a space programme, why are we sending them aid!?
Well, for a start, the money being spent on a space programme isn’t serving our strategic objectives. And when it comes to spending British taxpayer money, that’s the only thing that matters.
No matter how wealthy a country might be, the question we have to ask is whether it is deploying its wealth in a way which is conducive to producing results which serve our strategic interests. If they aren’t then we have some choices:
1. Persuade them to allocate resources in a way we want
2. Provide aid to ensure money is allocated to the achievement of a defence objective we desire
3. Both of the above
It’s high time our political leaders painted it in such stark terms.