The Roles of Aid in Politics Putting China in Perspective



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Poe, Steven C. (1990), “Human Rights and US Foreign Aid: A Review of Quantitative Studies and Suggestions for Future Research,” in Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. 499-512.

In this review serious problems were pointed out in quantitative studies which focus on the linkage between human rights and foreign aid, leading their findings to be suspect. Solutions to these problems were suggested in the hope that future research will not exhibit the same weaknesses, thus allowing better estimates of the importance of human rights variables. In the future researchers should strive for a more sophisticated model of foreign aid decisionmaking processes which takes into account the effects of organizations and bureaucrats thus making possible a much more complete understanding of the linkage between human rights and foreign aid.



Powell, Andrew and Bobba, Matteo (2006), “Multilateral Intermediation of Foreign Aid: What is the Trade-Off for Donor Countries?”, Inter-American Development Bank Research Department Working Paper No. 594, Washington, DC: Inter-American Development Bank.

Our general view is that donor countries may face a trade-off regarding whether to channel aid bilaterally or use the intermediary of a multilateral. On the one hand a multilateral may bring benefits in terms of leverage and enhanced coordination, but on the other hand a multilateral may dilute the individual objectives of bilateral donors.

In keeping with the previous literature, we find that for direct bilateral assistance, politics matters. We find that with fixed effects added we cannot reject the hypothesis that politics influences different bilateral donors in the same way, and the relevant pooled coefficient is positive and significant. We also find strong evidence for an aid fragmentation effect. Where aid is more concentrated, then controlling for other factors, recipients receive more aid. Finally, if anything, we find evidence that aid packages from different donors are strategic complements consistent with an aid-for-favor type game.

Multilaterals intermediate in two ways, first financing aid from their own resources built upon the capital initially invested by bilaterals and second more directly through the medium of trust funds and other vehicles that bilaterals may finance but that are managed by the multilaterals. For aid financed by multilaterals we find some evidence for dilution of the effect of politics, especially with reference to World Bank aid. We find little evidence for the dilution of politics in aid intermediated through trust funds and the like, perhaps due to the conditions that are applied to the use of these resources. We find strong evidence that multilaterals solve problems of coordination and of strategic interactions between donors. In short, intermediating through multilaterals may enhance donor coordination, but at some cost in terms of individual bilateral (political) objectives, which is consistent with the idea of a trade-off.

There is much more to be done in this area of research. We have suggested a set of tradeoffs, but as yet there is no good theoretical model that captures all of the ideas mentioned. This is an obvious area for future research. As suggested in the introduction, we also believe that there is a link between the determinants of the pattern of aid and its effectiveness. In particular, bilateral aid allocated according to colonial ties or politics may also imply ineffective aid, whereas aid extended due to other donor characteristics may suggest more altruistic motives and perhaps more effectiveness. Finally, aid fragmentation may also lead to less effective aid. These all appear to be interesting avenues for future analysis.

Pratt, Cranford (1989), “Chapter 1: Humane Internationalism: Its Significance and Its Variants,” in Pratt, Cranford (ed.), Internationalism Under Strain: The North-South Policies of Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, pp. 3-23, Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press.

We have used the phrase humane internationalism to identify the ethical component which has to a varying but significant degree distinguished the attitude towards Third World development in the postwar political cultures of Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden and which has influenced their policies on North-South issues. The major component of humane internationalism can be easily identified. At its core is an acceptance by the citizens of the industrialized states that they have ethical obligations towards those beyond their border and that these in turn impose obligations upon their governments. The emergence of this responsiveness to cosmopolitan values8 as a politically significant phenomenon does not relate solely to the Third World and the needs of its poor. Indeed, one of the earliest international obligations to be widely acknowledged, the obligation to eschew international obligations the use of force in the pursuit of national goals, was initially seen as relevant to the major powers in particular, west or east. Another cosmopolitan value that is now being championed with increasing vigour is respect for human rights. It, too, is as relevant to the developed countries as to the LDCs.

Nevertheless in the last several decades a responsiveness to the development needs of the Third World has become an important extension of humane internationalism endorsed by many in the developed countries. As popular awareness of the acuteness of the suffering of many in the Third World grew, and as the North’s economic and political links with these countries increased, there emerged in our four countries and elsewhere in the North and increased sensitivity to the common humanity which unites the global community. That sensitivity gave rise, in turn, to an acceptance of new and wider obligations relating to global poverty. This is the first and primary feature of humane internationalism as it has been extended to North-South relations. This claim being made here is carefully circumscribed. It is not suggested that cosmopolitan values have become the dominant determinant of the responsiveness of the citizens and governments of these four countries to international issues. For almost everyone in these countries, obligations regarding the welfare of fellow citizens remain far more strongly acknowledged. Moreover, it is recognized that governments have many other legitimate concerns pressing upon them. These concerns frequently minimize the impact which cosmopolitan values have on policy. Nevertheless, however fragile and often overwhelmed by more worldly considerations, a sensitivity to the development needs of the Third World has been widespread in these countries, providing an important ethical underpinning for government policies that are seen as helping to meet those needs.

A second feature of humane internationalism is that it has tended very much to meld what it accepts as an ethical obligation and what it regards as the real long-term interests of the rich countries. This melding of the ethical and the self-interested is most obvious in regard to the obligation to refrain from the use of force to secure advantages from neighboring states. An acceptance of this obligation encompasses both a respect for the sovereignty of other states and a recognition that if this obligation is universally accepted it will be directly advantageous to one’s own country. A similar reconciliation of ethical and self-interested motivations typically occurs in regard to the obligations toward s the world’s poor which humane internationalism propounds. The poor countries, it is typically assumed, would be more stable, less likely to be threatening, more likely to be democratic, and altogether more attractive as trading partners and outlets for investment if they could experience high rates of growth over a long period. Should the rich countries actively pursue humane internationalist policies, the result would therefore be a world which would be to the advantage of the rich countries, economically and politically.

This coincidence of what is felt to be morally correct and what is viewed as self-interest truly perceived is, of course, a common feature, of much traditional ethical philosophy and, indeed, expresses a deep wisdom. Individuals and states are likely to be more at peace, more satisfied with their roles, and less inclined to pursue destructive, unfulfilling, and unachievable objectives if they take account of the needs of others. This fact does not diminish or cheapen the primarily moral thrust of the response to the challenge posed by global poverty. It does not suggest that responding to the development needs of the LDCs is but a self-righteous pose concealing motivations that are basically self-interested. Nevertheless this melding of the moral and that which is in one’s long-term self-interest has meant that amongst the advocates of policies that are responsive to Third World needs, there have been (and still are) some who primarily emphasize the compelling ethical obligation to help the less developed countries and others whose arguments are primarily based on the long-term overall interests of the rich countries.

A third characteristic of humane internationalism in the political cultures of these four countries can be more swiftly identified. This internationalism is a natural and uncomplicated extension to the wider world of the broad network of national and social welfare programmes in these societies. Obligations towards those in other countries who suffer severely as less strongly felt than obligations to fellow citizens, and the duties they are understood to entail less extensive. But once links have been established with other peoples, even if these links are primarily economic, and once their suffering is known, it would be hard for any who accept the legitimacy of the obligations typical within modern welfare states to hold that neither they nor their governments need to be concerned about the well-being of these poles. The basic values of these societies, the values on which their social welfare systems are based, are not thought of as national or racial or ethnic, but as having a universal validity. The normal assumption has been that while they generate duties primarily towards fellow citizens, they also imply obligations beyond state borders. A far more complex argument would be required to give a semblance of reasonableness to the notion that these values have relevance only to those within national border. For a great many, it would surely be unconvincing. For them, a commitment to effective and comprehensive welfare services and full employment and a commitment to a foreign policy that is responsive to the development needs of Third World societies are natural, appropriate, and mutually consistent components of a single social ethic.

These then are the three central components of the humane internationalism that has been a prominent feature of the political cultures of these four countries as it relates to the Third World: an acceptance of an obligation to alleviate global poverty and to promote development in LDCs; a conviction that a more equitable world would be in their real long-term interests; and an assumption that the meeting of these international responsibilities is compatible with the maintenance of socially responsible national economic and social welfare policies.

Humane internationalism stands in stark contrast to international realism which is the main alternative world-view that shapes perceptions of North-South relationships. International realism suggests that all states do in fact pursue their own national interests in international relations and that to do otherwise would be ineffective and probably costly. The logic of this position rests on the undeniable fact that there is no international authority superior to the power of states which can ensure that each state complies with international laws and undertakes its fair share of the burden of humanitarian international actions. As a consequence, national leaders, whose obligations are to the civil societies they govern, are thereby severely constrained from accepting ethical obligations towards those beyond their borders. This absence of any supra-state authority also leads international realists to doubt that inter-state negotiations are likely to be able to produce stable and lasting arrangements that will be beneficial to all parties, in contrast to humane internationalists who do believe that international institutions and co-operative international actions offer the world a real prospect of peaceful and equitable international relations. International realism thus rejects the first and the third characteristics of the humane internationalism that became a part of the dominant political culture of our selected countries in the 1960s.

While humane internationalism in an adequate description of an important ethical component of the postwar political cultures of our countries, it has always been much more a cluster of related but not always totally compatible attitudes and ideas rather than a single and homogenous viewpoint. There were in consequence always a number of separate strands to this humane internationalism as it related to the Third World, even in the years before 1975 when it seemed most homogenous. All strands shared the core component – the acceptance of an ethical obligation to alleviate global poverty and to assist the development of the less developed countries – but each varied in the extent to which and the manner in which it shared in other two components which characterized humane internationalism in the period from 1955 to 1975 and which remain powerful to this day. By 1975 these different strands had become three distinct expressions of humane internationalism which we will call liberal internationalism, reform internationalism, and radical internationalism. They constitute the three most important dominant tendencies relating to global poverty and Third World development within the ranks of those who acknowledge the claims of cosmopolitan values.

Liberal internationalism combines the core component of humane internationalism, an acceptance of an ethical obligation towards the poor of the Third World, with a strong commitment to an open multilateral trading system. It is able to support substantial development assistance and emergency relief programmes because it recognizes that the benefits and advantages of international trade are greater when all the economies participating in it are economically healthy and growing. Liberal internationalism is in effect a limited international Keynesian perspective. Domestically, a Keynesian perspective permits and indeed calls for extensive social welfare and countrycyclical measures, seeing them as contributing to the stability and prosperity of a capitalist economy. Liberal internationalism similarly views the development assistance programmes of the rich countries as positive contributions to the stability and prosperity of the internationalist capitalist economic order. It is, however, a limited Keynesian perspective because it rejects any international equivalent of the market interventions represented by countrycyclical public spending.

Within a liberal internationalist perspective, support for an open international economic system is not incompatible with the ethical obligations that are integral to humane internationalism. Those who view the world in this way are confident that such an international economic system is in the economic interest of all who participate in it. As an extension of that position and as a deduction from actual international experience, they also believe that direct international interventions in the operation of the international economic order will in fact not be likely to produce economic benefits for the poorest countries or the poorest people within the Third World more generally.

Liberal internationalists believe, as do international realists, that all states are motivated by (usually immediate) economic and national security interests. However they go on to argue that there is a sufficient mutuality of these interest between rich and poor states to permit these states to co-operate successfully in their pursuit. Because of, first, an international co-operation built upon these mutual interests, second, generous development assistance programmes supported by the rich countries, and, third, the beneficent operation of a liberal international economic order, liberal internationalists in the 1960s and early 1970s were able to be optimistic that the challenges of world poverty could be met in a morally tolerable period of time and with a manageable expenditure of effort and resources by the rich countries.

These views received their classic expression in Partners for Development, the report of the Commission on International Development chaired by Lester Pearson in 1968-9.9 They were endorsed in the 1960s as much by the social democratic governments of Sweden and Norway as by the liberal Canadian government. The conviction that assistance to the less developed countries is also in the interests of the rich countries and the assumption that the newly acknowledged ethical obligations in regard to global poverty and development can be met without threat to the economies and the national welfare policies of the rich countries became enduring components of humane internationalism largely because of the dominance of liberal internationalist views. Along with a commitment to a liberal international economic order, each is a prominent feature of the liberal internationalism which continues to be a major strand in the political cultures of Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.

Liberal internationalists have shed some of their earlier more naïve expectations. They no longer expect that global poverty can largely be eliminated within a generation, and they are much more aware of the obstacles to a global acceptance of an open multilateral trading system. Much of the self-confidence of liberal internationalists in their limited response to the needs of the Third World was gradually undermined by harsh reality. The gap between the rich countries and most of the poor countries continued to widen. There were fewer and fewer grounds for any reasonable hope that absolute poverty could be largely eliminated within a generation. Projections of the numbers of people who would be living in extreme poverty in 2000 would exceed the numbers in the year the projections were made.10 At the same time, the Third World became increasingly assertive in its demands for major reforms to the international economic order. These changes, which were intended greatly to increase the benefits received by the LDCs from international trade, were strongly interventionist and counter to liberal international economics.

As these realities pressed in upon the consciousness (and consciences) of those individuals, non-governmental organizations, public officials, and political leaders who were particularly concerned with Third World issues, greater attention began to be paid to alternative schools of thought on international economics. In particular, the structural economists, such as Gunnar Myrdal, Raúl Prebisch, Dudley Seers, and Keith Griffin, and the increasingly powerful dependency school in its several expressions became more and more influential. By 1975, reform internationalism had become a second significant perspective among those who sought to understand North-South relations and to define the obligations which states of the North ought to accept.

Reform internationalism shares with liberal internationalism an acknowledgement that rich countries have an obligation to seek to alleviate abject poverty in the less developed countries. However, reform internationalism believes that an open international economic system operates to the comparative disadvantage of weak and poor countries in persistent and significant ways. Equity between rich countries and poor countries as well as effective action to alleviate global poverty therefore requires a fairer distribution of power within international financial, monetary, trade, and development institutions and a range of state and inter-state interventions to correct the inequities and to alleviate the poverty that international capitalism otherwise perpetuates. If liberal internationalism is timid Keynesianism writ internationally, reform internationalism is social democracy applied internationally.

Reform internationalism is more pessimistic about the social consequences of unguided market forces than is liberal internationalism and more optimistic that international interventions can correct the adverse distributional and other socially undesirable consequences of uncontrolled market forces. Reform internationalism is not, however, merely international altruism. Central to the reformist position is the conviction that a more equitable and just international economic order is also in the interests of the rich countries when these interests are seen in sufficiently broad terms and within a longer time horizon. It thus embraces the international Keynesian idea that economic development in the Third World will be to the economic advantage to the rich countries. Moreover, it suggests that there are also many non-economic reasons for the rich countries to alleviate global poverty, to promote development, and to achieve a more just international order. Reform internationalism, as is clear from its classic statement in the Brandt Report, hopes that these considerations as well as more purely ethical considerations may induce the developed states to support a wide range of international reforms that will promote development in the LDCs.



Radical internationalism is the third major perspective on North-South relations which emerged by 1975 as a strand of the humane internationalism of the political cultures of Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. It is distinguished by a primary emphasis upon an obligation to show solidarity with the poor of other lands. In its purest form this solidarity with the poor replaces any narrower interest in the further advancement of the living standards of the already rich. Indeed, radical internationalism is often accompanied by a hostility to consumerism and the ethics of capitalism. Typically, while reform internationalists are concerned to support those Third World societies that they regard as sensitive to the needs of their own poor, radical internationalists favour support for states that are striving to be as autonomous of world capitalism as they can manage and that have separated themselves politically from the major Western powers. They are very suspicious of the policies of the major Western capitalist countries and of the internationalist capitalist system. They are equally skeptical of the social commitment of the civilian bourgeoisies and the military that control so many Third World governments.

By and large adherents of radical internationalism do not devote a great deal of energy to public policy issues. In their view, any structure that is integral to the economic or political system is so tainted by dominant capitalist interests that little of value can be accomplished through it. As a result, they are usually hostile towards the bilateral aid agencies and such international trade and aid structures as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Bank, believing that the activities of such organizations serve to tie the LDCs more closely to the international capitalist system. They favour sending aid only to the few regimes they accept as adequately revolutionary and to social groups and forces in other societies that are likely to become agents of radical change.

The identification of these three strands of human (sic) internationalism is no mere intellectual exercise. It permits a number of clarifying generalizations about the sectors and structures in our chosen societies in which these different perspectives tend to predominate. In effect, it permits a socio-political typography of these attitudes. To illustrate, within the politicized community of non-governmental organizations concerned with Third World issues, both radical internationalism and reform internationalism are strongly represented. Most of those in this community are probably still reformers but many have moved to a radical position. Church activists in particular are quite sharply divided between radicals and reformers. Within what used to be called the development community, that is, those professionally involved either in the study of development or in the organization and management of development-related activities, the important division is between reformers, who continue to insist upon the need for changes that go beyond anything that the North would accept as in its own interests, and liberal internationalists, who seek to identify significant mutually shared interests which can provide a basis for greater collaboration and a truer partnership. While the reformist view is still widely shared within the NGO and academic communities, liberal internationalist sentiments have come to predominate in most national and international official aid agencies. Finally, within the bureaucracies of these countries, an internationalist realist perspective, though always influential, was often held in check by liberal internationalist ideas, especially in regard to the United Nations and its family of institutions and to development assistance. More recently, international realism appears to be more influential. These generalizations are, I think, borne out in the country studies which follow. They are introduced at this point not to persuade readers of their validity but to demonstrate the usefulness of the strands of internationalism that have been defined.

The perspectives also permit generalizations about the positions which are typically taken by the main political parties in our selected countries. Left socialist and communist parties tend to be radical. Social democratic parties, typically, are reform internationalists but with both radical and liberal wings. Christian parties and liberal parties with strong capitalist support are likely to be liberal internationalist with a strong emphasis on humanitarian aid, and, as one moves to the right of the political spectrum, liberal economics is joined more frequently with an international realist perspective.

This conceptualization of different types of internationalism also facilitates fruitful comparisons. For example, within some but perhaps not all of the governments of the four states, the main struggle on North-South issues in recent years has been between a liberal internationalist emphasis on more open, global, multilateral trading relations and a realist concern to protect immediate economic interests by initiatives that would however undermine the commitment to multilateralism. As will become clear in the country essays, reform internationalism was an influential view within, in particular, the Norwegian, Swedish, and Netherlands governments in the period between 1975 and 1981, but in Canada it hardly penetrated policy-making circles. In all four countries, reform internationalism was influential in varying degrees in the legislature, in Christian and in social democratic political parties, in the NGO communities, in the churches, and in the universities. Radical internationalism, however, has been less influential. On a few issues such as the choice of countries to be major recipients of aid and the value to the LDCs of international trade, radical ideas had some impact upon the social democratic governments of Norway and Sweden in the mid to late 1070s. In the main, however, radical internationalism has never seriously penetrated decision-making circles in any of these countries.11

These categories, finally, permit us to give additional clarity to the questions that have motivated this project. What explains the strength of humane internationalist sentiments in these societies and the marked variation therein of the influence of reform internationalist ideas? What constraints have limited the influence of these ideas? How resilient have these traditions been in the years since the advent of the global recession and since the recognition that the principal industrial powers were not going to permit any significant reforms to the international order or to increase greatly the transfer of the concessional resources to the poorer countries of the Third World? Has liberal internationalism become the preferred stance of these states in more recent years? Are there as well important structural factors related to new technologies and the rise of the newly industrialized countries which constrain the internationalism (both reform and radical) of these middle powers? Are many of the specific ideas of middle power internationalism now dated? Is there a need for a fresh definition of the international policies required by reform internationalism and a fresh appraisal of the assumption of liberal internationalism that a predominantly open international market can serve the interests of both rich and poor countries?

The primary task is to understand the internationalism of each of these four countries. Only then can we hope to discuss the prospects of middle power internationalism. The next four chapters address this primary task with reference in turn to Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. A concluding chapter then offers some comparative and more general comments on the determinants of the internationalism of these middle powers, on its strengths and its limitations, and on whether and with what emphasis it may yet become a significant force for more humane relations between rich and poor countries.

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