The role of the military in the delivery of aid is a unique part of Australia’s aid program. Initially, military contributions were designed to enable the provision of humanitarian aid. Over the past two decades however, this approach has evolved into a new phenomenon, whereby military forces manipulate humanitarian aid in order to achieve tactical and political objectives. While the military can play an important role in the immediate aftermath of a humanitarian crisis, particularly through the provision of transport and creating a secure environment, researchers have found that militarised aid is not effective and can cause harm to local communities and aid workers. Aid funding to the military has influenced the nature of ‘neutral space’, irretrievably blurring the lines between humanitarian actors and the armed forces. The close relationship between aid and Australia’s military and police forces in Afghanistan exemplifies the enhanced security focus of the Australian aid program.
Aid to Afghanistan
Australia’s participation in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, known as Operation Slipper 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. The Department of 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.
There are serious problems with using aid money to fund programs aimed at fighting terrorism. This is partly due to the fact that there is no precise and comprehensive definition of terrorism in international criminal law owing, to the immense variety of the motives, forms, authors, conditions, objectives, etc. that are linked to the terrorist movements that have been active in the world. Terrorism in real life is so diverse and complicated in all of its elements that it makes it very difficult to make generalisations.
Critiqued against the OECD criteria, all Australian government activities in Afghanistan that are related to Operation Slipper — whether delivered by the ADF, AFP or AusAID – are not aid. At a Senate inquiry into Australia’s aid program to Afghanistan in December 2012, revealed almost $200 million in military spending being reported as ‘aid’. The acknowledgement raises serious concerns about the close relationship between aid and Australia’s military and police forces in Afghanistan. Pressure brought about by the inquiry forced the Department of 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.
Aid for counter-terrorism and police development programs
The Australian Government’s pursuit of the security agenda through aid warrants ongoing scrutiny. Interventions based on Australia’s security and counter-terrorism capacity have overtaken and replaced interventions based on poverty alleviation and sustainable development. This new security focused direction is one that has ignored the recommendations of the Simons Review and as a result is undermining the effectiveness of poverty reduction in the aid program.
According to OECD criteria, 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. Nevertheless, The Australian Government’s development agency, AusAID, has explicitly taken up counter-terrorism in its aid policy and budget. Inconsistent with its poverty reduction mandate, the aid program’s contribution to counter-terrorism efforts centres on two themes:
- To build the capacity of partner countries to manage terrorist threats by strengthening counter-terrorist and broader law enforcement capacity, and
- To promote environments conducive to economic growth and poverty reduction to minimise the potential for terrorist networks to develop.
While it is understandable that countries like Australia want to protect their citizens and their defence and security interests by combating international terrorism, it is questionable whether diverting scarce aid money to this end is the appropriate way to fund these policy pursuits. That is to say, build the capacity of Timor-Leste’s police force, may be in both governments’ national interests, but is it an activity truly directed at reducing poverty?
Timor-Leste Police Development Program
The largest single Australian program in Timor-Leste is the Timor-Leste Police Development Program, which is managed directly by the Australian Federal Police. This initiative is a $74 million multi-year program that runs until 2014. Current aid spending is focused on infrastructure development, training accreditation, the provision of manuals, and the refurbishment and support of safe houses in the community. Under these circumstances it appears that our aid program is skewed away from the poverty alleviation targets of the Millennium Development Goals. Instead, Australia is pursuing an alternative program of promoting regional security, without adequately targeting the source of poverty and the real needs of communities.