The Roles of Aid in Politics Putting China in Perspective

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Murshed, S. Mansoob (2004), “Strategic Interaction and Donor Policy Determination,” in International Review of Economics and Finance, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 311-323.


  1. In motivating agents to exercise effort, attention needs to be focussed on intrinsic motivation as well as extrinsic financial payments. Outcomes will improve when effort is a signal of the agent’s ability and motivation. This means that the principal has to be seen to take the agent’s effort into account.

  2. The public sector is notorious for fixed wage contracts leading to minimal effort levels by the agent. When the agent’s type or quality is in doubt (adverse selection), incentive payments may be designed to make the agent reveal his true type. Even then a problem remains, as the inferior-type agent will reduce effort exacerbating moral hazard. This trade-off between moral hazard and adverse selection needs to be borne in mind even in principal–agent relationships involving legislature–aid agency relations.

  3. When a variety of principals with divergent interests interact with the same agent, they are not only better off colluding with each other, but would also be pooling their influence on the agent at the initial stage of the principal–agent relationship. In a sense they will be trading in their concerns. Examples of varying objectives include the dilemmas posed by strategic and commercial interests on the one hand, and developmental concerns on the other hand. Certain principals will be more interested in the former, and others (including NGOs) in the latter.

  4. In the context of endogenous domestic policy formation regarding aid, median voter preferences need to be considered mainly in direct democracies utilizing referenda. But usually it is powerful lobbies that influence aid policy. There will also be altruistic motivation regarding aid related to common humanity considerations. These altruistic motivations need to be worked on. In most societies, however, lobbies are most important because the few (rich and powerful) are far better at collectively organizing around their interests.

  5. When signalling credible commitment to preannounced policies is the problem, the governance structure in donor countries needs to generate extra and immediate costs to reneging on agreed policies. This is particularly necessary in donor countries where on many occasions a newly elected government commits to development and human rights improvements, but at some later stage reneges on them in favour of strategic interests.

Mushkat, Marion (1972), “The Politics of Development Aid, Its Planning, Financing and Strategy in the Seventies,” in Dritte Welt, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 197-233, Meisenheim.

Often researchers considering development and aid policy, assume the problem is of recent origin. In fact the U.N. Machinery For Aid And Development began to take form only 15 years after its creation and the U.N. Charter makes no specific mention of development tasks1. It is equally true that related activities by the Great Powers and other countries were determined by the changes in international relations, the instigation of competition in the fields of economics, society and culture and efforts to maintain spheres of influence by non-bellicose means2.

It is also true that presentation of the problems by the developing states were first formulated upon their transition from dependency to independence, as the process of decolonization developed in the sixties3. Still one cannot ignore the fact that the problem was raised earlier by the pioneers of the struggle for home rule, advancement of education and society among different peoples4 and also by the early fighters for fundamental change in the family of nations to further freedom, equality, justice, and peace through cooperation among all countries5.

It should be pointed out that this approach found concise expression at the Columbia Congress comprised of representatives from all religions held on the occasion of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. There it was stated that the peoples of all continents living under foreign rule have an equal claim to equality, freedom and their own culture as well as European aid to help them overcome their social plight. Gradually this stand gained prominence in other non-governmental conferences including not only Pan-African congresses but also in pacifist, inter-parliamentary, science and socialist gatherings6 as well as in deliberations on international law7 and in the activity programs of international organizations, particularly following World War I.

The League of Nations and the mandate system in particular and the ILO which were founded during that period, already reflected to varying degrees greater attention to dependent peoples and the obligations to aid their development.

This tendency grew following World War II. Hence the pertinent principles in the U.N. Charter – the role assigned to the Economic and Social Council, trusteeships and the Trusteeship Council, the Charter’s Declaration regarding non-self-governing (colonial) territories, the provisions concerning the activities of the U.N.’s specialized agencies and other organizations8. But until the 1965 Bandung Conference, and in fact up to the crises brought on by the Russian intervention in Hungary and the Suez Campaign in 1956, which gave prominence to the demands of the “Third World” on the one hand and to the initial crumblings of the blocs on the other – aid to developing countries did not play any important role either in Soviet or American foreign policy.

The U.S. aid activities up to this point reflected a continuation of the same policies – with but a change of address – applied already during World War II as a means of offering political, economic, military, and human support to the allies, this time in order to rehabilitate and unify them against a new enemy. That is why, starting from the Korean War in 1950 and especially in view of the USSR’s successes in developing nuclear weapons, the military and security aspects of aid became crucial.

The “Truman Doctrine” of 1947, which promised economic and military support to countries whose freedom was endangered by the Soviet threat, laid the foundations for the “Marshall Plan” of the same year and for the western alliance of 1948, which in 1949 became NATO. These steps, and continuing fear of the USSR led to an increase in the military share of this support, until 1953 it constituted two thirds of the total American aid, most of it direct to her European allies. However, at the same time it became clear that aid of a non-military nature was needed not only for security purposes but also for advancement of the U.S. economy in view of her role in international trade and the need to resuscitate for this purpose the markets and currency in countries tied to the Dollar9. On this foundation emerged the Organization for Economic Cooperation in Europe, the European Coal and Steel Community and later the European Common Market with its attendant institutions. Similar phenomena in the Eastern Bloc included the Council for Mutual Economic Aid in 1949 and the Warsaw Pact in 1955 and all other steps taken for unification, expansion and military preparedness10.

This new stress on non-military aid began to be felt during 1953, the year Stalin died, and with the first signs of the easing in inter-bloc tensions at the end of the Korean War and later in Indo-China. They were tied to the deepening realization that political-military doctrines based first of all on preparations for a new world order were already dated. This change of emphasis accompanied the weakening of the bi-polar system in international relations, the appearance of cracks in established blocs, and an increase in the number of new states and their pressure in the international arena.

All this emphasized the role of aid to the “Third World” as a whole and Africa in particular as an essential part and most important arm of the foreign policy of the Great Powers as well as other countries.

Of course, the aid problem received different treatment by the U.N. in spite of the fact that the U.N. crystallized its policies under the influence of the Great Powers because the organization took into consideration its basic principles and the demands of the majority in the Family of Nations – those receiving aid.

The influence of the Bandung Conference on these changes was not directly felt because the main issues of the conference were mainly tied to the efforts at limiting and abolishing all forms of colonial domination including Chinese and Soviet, crystallizing the internal relations of the “Third World”11. Since it became clear that this aim could not be easily achieved without economic growth and social change and without proper outside aid, discussions were initiated in the U.N. Family and for the betterment of the existing relations bi-lateral ties were re-consolidated. As a result, the need arose to define the term backwardness and to establish the value of planning and appropriate aid channels12.

Natsios, Andrew (2006), “Five Debates on International Development: The US Perspective,” in Development Policy Review, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 131-139.

Andrew S. Natsios was Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development until January 2006. The US has the largest aid programme in the world but labours under certain constraints, notably a proliferation of Congressionally-imposed budget earmarks. Mr Natsios has been an articulate advocate as well as an outspoken reformer of the US approach to aid.

Nelson, Joan M. (1968), Aid, Influence, and Foreign Policy, New York: MacMillan.

Chapter 1: Aid Purposes (pp. 11-30)

[…] Aid as a Multipurpose Instrument

Most U.S. economic aid is intended either to promote economic and social progress, or to help restore security and stability in countries where terrorism, insurgency, or external attack are current or imminent. Much smaller sums are used for more immediate political purposes or for humanitarian programs. But each of these general objectives encompasses many more specific goals. Moreover, the U.S. economic assistance program in any one country often is designed to pursue more than one type of these objectives.

Nor is there any simple correlation between the form of aid and the primary purpose of specific aid actions. Most technical assistance serves development purposes. But political considerations not infrequently enter the selection and design of particular projects, and occasionally technical assistance is used for primarily political or security goals. Similarly, both capital projects and commodity imports may serve virtually pure development purposes, almost exclusively political or security goals, or a combination of objectives. However, when A.I.D. finances technical, capital, or commodity assistance for political or security purposes, it normally draws on a special fund called Supporting Assistance, which has been appropriated by Congress specifically for such purposes.

The fact that aid is used to serve so many goals causes confusion and draws criticism at home and abroad. There is broad support among the U.S. public for developmental and humanitarian aid, although many are impatient that the task of development seems to take so long. But aid for political purposes has a nasty ring. Yet specific political uses of aid – for example, withholding aid from military juntas to demonstrate U.S. disapproval – win widespread approval.

Congress is deeply divided regarding the proper goals of foreign aid. Some Congressmen steadfastly support developmental aid to Latin America and, for example, India, but question the value and wisdom of economic aid for security goals. Others heartily approve of aid that seems to serve clear security or stability interests, but challenge pouring millions – indeed, billions – into developmental aid. The disparities within Congress regarding aid priorities are illustrated by Senator Fulbright’s and Representative Thomas Morgan’s respective views on the wisdom of separating the military assistance and economic assistance bills. From 1962 to 1965, Senator Fulbright, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged that economic assistance legislation be divorced from military assistance bills, while Chairman Morgan (Democratic, Pennsylvania) of the House of Foreign Affairs Committee insisted that separating the two programs would cause the economic aid bill to be cut to ribbons. As for using aid to promote immediate political objectives, Congress virtually unanimously condemns the idea in principle, yet is quick to propose using aid for protecting U.S. fishing interests or discouraging trade with Cuba.

In the developing countries themselves, the fact that U.S. economic aid is sometimes used to protect U.S. economic interests or to try to influence internal politics or foreign policy positions of recipients is readily interpreted as proof that the entire program is part of a neo-imperialist scheme.

The further question arises whether aid’s multiple goals are consistent with each other. There is no simple answer. To a large degree, different uses of aid are complementary. The outcome of an immediate political crisis within an aid-receiving country may be crucial for its long-term development prospects. Reasonable security and stability are prerequisites for economic and social progress, and in some circumstances evidence of such progress may be an essential ingredient in re-establishing security and stability.

But not infrequently, foreign policy purposes for which aid is an instrument conflict. Desire to maintain cordial diplomatic relations, or concern for a regime’s stability, or interest in maintaining access to a military installation may inhibit U.S. efforts to promote reform. Conversely, insistence on development criteria may interfere with effective use of aid for short-run political goals. The manner in which aid is used in one country may also affect U.S. interests in other countries. Military aid that stimulates an arms race is an obvious example. Less obvious is the disincentive effect that U.S. crisis support for an inept regime may have in neighboring countries. If the United States is willing to come to the aid of a government that has failed to take needed measures to avoid a budget or foreign exchange crisis, others may well conclude that they need not undertake painful reforms to qualify for aid.

In Ethiopia, for example, the United States has sought simultaneously to maintain the right to operate an important military communications center, to encourage modernizing forces in a country where feudal authority is still strong, and to dampen down the long smoldering border dispute with Somalia. Military aid is a quid pro quo for the communications center. But strengthened Ethiopian military forces may threaten the precarious truce with Somalia, and may divert a growing portion of the budget from development uses. Moreover, U.S. arms aid to Ethiopia is a major cause for Somalia’s heavy reliance on Communist arms aid. On the economic side, substantial reforms are prerequisites for real progress. Yet too vigorous support for modernizing groups may antagonize others whose good will is essential for maintaining access to the communications center. On the other hand, modernizing groups may be expected to grow more powerful and apparent U.S. support for conservative forces may jeopardize future good relations.

Some conflict among objectives is inevitable. However, there is a strong tendency in the Executive Branch not only to gloss over conflicts among goals in defending proposed or actual actions before Congress and the public, but also to minimize such conflicts in its own deliberations. Sometimes conflicts are transitory, and muddling through may be preferable to borrowing trouble, that is, to anticipating problems which may not materialize. Often, however, obscuring a potential conflict increases the chances that it will occur. Franker appraisal of relations among objectives and more effort to anticipate the side-effects of programs would be feasible and almost surely useful.

Chapter 2: Allocation Criteria and Types of Country Programs (pp. 31- 47)

U.S. economic aid programs are a veritable menagerie of sizes and shapes, reflecting both the wide range of U.S. interests they serve and the tremendous variation in the aided countries’ own circumstances.

Criteria for Allocating Aid

Three basic criteria largely determine the volume and content of U.S. economic assistance in any particular country. These are the political importance to the United States of the country’s stability and growth; the ability of the country to absorb external resources for growth; and the availability to the country of resources on appropriate terms from other sources. […]

Types of Country Assistance Programs

The purposes, and therefore the design, content, and administration of the U.S. economic assistance programs in different countries vary widely. Any classification of types of country programs is arbitrary, and some individual programs do not fit comfortably into the system. Nonetheless, some grouping is essential if one is to grasp the pattern of the total U.S. economic aid effort. Most of A.I.D.’s country programs can be reasonably described as fitting one of three categories: major development-oriented programs; major programs directed to restoring security and stability; or limited programs directed to narrower goals. This classification is not a system for making decisions, but a description of the results of the decision-making process. In other words, A.I.D. does not classify countries and thereby determine what size and kind of aid program they shall receive. Rather, the basic allocation criteria, country circumstances, and U.S. interests produce the pattern. […]

Chapter 3: Program Planning (pp. 48-67)

The precise amount and composition of aid to particular countries is largely determined through an elaborate annual program planning process. The process has inherent limitations, which should be stated immediately.

Program analysis takes U.S. foreign policy objectives in each country as given. Therefore, if some U.S. interests conflict with others – for example, desire to press for reforms versus concern for the immediate stability or the good will of the host government – the conflict will be reflected in inconsistent or vacillating aid programs.

The current program also constrains planners. Few technical or capital assistance projects are completed in one year. At any one time, the bulk of most country assistance programs consists of projects started several years earlier and not yet completed. The country situation, or U.S. judgment of priorities, or the nature of the U.S. interest in the country may have changed in the interim. But the projects cannot be abruptly broken off or modified without badly damaging mission morale, violating contractual obligations, and, in all likelihood, straining relations with the aided country.

The annual program analysis is intended as a serious reappraisal of the current program and a framework for future programs. But those who planned the current program are understandably committed to it. If they have been replaced by newcomers, the latters’ fresh look is properly constrained by the knowledge that the total program cannot be abruptly or radically altered. Therefore, the major contribution of good program analysis and planning is to guide new activities and additional measures to promote self-help – a fraction of total activity. This is not necessarily unfortunate. Most development measures require sustained effort. Moreover, U.S. economic assistance is afflicted with periodic fads: community development is key to growth one year; human resource development is the watchword a few years later. It may be better to stick with and accomplish a “second best” program than to disrupt U.S. host country efforts with repeated changes.

A still more fundamental constraint is our inadequate knowledge about development. The benefits expected from proposed major changes should be great enough to allow for substantial margins of error. And yet, precisely because our knowledge is inadequate, program planning must be flexible enough to accommodate new ideas and approaches. The line between continuity and inertia is often hard to draw.

Finally, many aid decisions are made completely outside the annual planning cycle. This is true of many, though not all, short-run political uses of aid.

These constraints sometimes make the program planning process look like and elaborate play-act, with little connection to actual action. Yet for all its limitations, the annual program cycle remains the single most important channel for decisions regarding U.S. economic aid. It affects some kinds of aid much more directly and immediately than others. The volume of commodity assistance and the self-help conditions attached to such assistance are largely determined by annual analysis. Selection and design of new technical assistance projects is less closely tied to overall analysis, and capital projects float more loosely still, for reasons discussed later in this chapter. In terms of types of country programs, the annual program planning process is much more relevant and important for development programs than for programs that emphasize security or limited political objectives.

Programming Principles

Among the program planning principles that have emerged from twenty years’ experience with large-scale foreign aid programs, the most basic are the closely linked concepts of country programming and concentration. Country programming implies both tailoring U.S. efforts to the particular circumstances of the individual country, and coordinating all types of U.S. aid into an integrated “country program” rather than conducting semi-independent technical, capital, and commodity aid efforts. Concentration simply means focusing aid on a few high-priority goals. […]

The Content of Program Analysis

This sketch of the program planning process has identified the major steps and actors, but gives little sense of its substance. In theory, program analysis moves through a logical sequence covering the following steps:

  1. Indentifying the major U.S. objectives that aid is intended to promote in the country.

  2. Assessing the host country situation and trends, including its plans, programs, and policies, in order to identify major problems and important lines of potential progress.

  3. Anticipating the probable role of other donors during the planning period under consideration.

  4. In view of these considerations, selecting more specific goals on which to focus U.S. economic aid. The principle of concentration suggests that these goals be relatively few – say four to six – in number.

  5. For each goal, identifying all the important measures needed, including policy or administrative changes as well as capital investment and creation or improvement of skills and institutions. Many of the necessary actions can be taken only by the host government. The United States may be able to encourage self-help measures. Other donors may already be assisting with some aspects of the problem, or might be encouraged to do so. Finally, some of the needed measures will be appropriate for direct U.S. action – technical assistance, capital projects or commodity assistance. Very few significant goals can be accomplished solely or primarily through U.S aid. Therefore, it is important that aid be viewed in the broader context of all the important measures the goal implies. […]

Neumayer, Eric (2002), “Is Good Governance Rewarded? A Cross-National Analysis of Debt Forgiveness,” in World Development, Vol. 30, No. 6, pp. 913-930.

The analysis in this paper has shown that the need for debt forgiveness is clearly a powerful determinant of the allocation of debt forgiveness, thus confirming the first hypothesis. As concerns the second hypothesis, the evidence supports the statistical significance of creditors’ political interest only for the US military grants variable. As concerns the third hypothesis, there is no clear answer. There is evidence that some aspects of governance have an influence on the allocation of debt forgiveness, but other aspects and governance in general were often found to be statistically insignificant. It is maybe not surprising that of all the different governance aspects “voice and accountability,” “political rights and civil liberties” and “regulatory burden” should stand out as having some, if modest, influence on the allocation of debt forgiveness. After all, the respect for the political and participatory rights of citizens and the abstention from highly distortionary and burdensome economic policies have long been a top priority on the demand list of aid donors and debt creditors. As mentioned above, while respect for political and participatory rights of citizens is more consensually accepted as one aspect of good governance, “regulatory burden” is more contestable as it relates to a particular view on economic policy making.

Overall, it seems therefore fair to say that in the past debt forgiveness has not been used much to reward countries with good governance. From a normative point of view, future debt forgiveness should revert this. Allocating a greater share of debt forgiveness to countries with good governance would create the right incentives for highly indebted countries and would most likely lead to a more effective and productive use of the resources employed. This will be true no matter what the total amount of debt forgiven for all countries, an issue, which this article has not discussed.

By implication, a similar argument can be made for the allocation of new lending and, indeed, for aid disbursement. Critics argue that the debt crisis is partly to blame for loose lending to corrupt and unaccountable governments with poor and highly distortive economic policies, that is, countries with bad governance (Hanlon, 2000; Roodman, 2001). To prevent this from re-occurring lenders need to take better into account the quality of governance of potential borrowers while at the same time trying to help those countries improving their governance that are committed to reform.

In order to do so, creditors and lenders need to invest more into developing high-quality indicators of governance and collecting the necessary data. At the moment, besides major efforts at the World Bank, the construction of governance indicators is mainly left to private companies that sell their information to international business. Their view on what constitutes good governance need not coincide with how creditors and lenders perceive good governance, however. There is therefore still a long way to go to strengthen the role of good governance in international financial lending and aid allocation decisions.

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