The Roles of Aid in Politics Putting China in Perspective

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Pratt, Cranford (1989), “Chapter 6: Middle Power Internationalism and North-South Issues: Comparisons and Prognosis,” in Pratt, Cranford (ed.), Internationalism Under Strain: The North-South Policies of Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, pp. 193-220, Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press.

Sources of Humane Internationalism in Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden

It is not at all self-evident why Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden should have chosen to play particularly active roles in regard to North-South issues. Their societies were, of course, influenced by that greater sensitivity to the dimensions of global poverty and to the pain and misery it causes which the media and, in particular, television have brought to the attention of most the people of the industrialized world. Nevertheless, on the face of it, a number of factors might well have operated to minimize the interest of these countries in the development problems of the Third World.

With the important exception of the Netherlands, none of these countries has been a colonial power. They therefore lack the links of sentiment and interest which are the particular legacy of the Western powers that had previously ruled most of the Third World. Moreover, their trade relations with the less developed countries (LDCs) have been significantly less important for their economies than has been true of many other industrialized countries. Finally, contemporary perceptions of their security requirements and the unavoidable consequences of their respective geographic locations have meant that their relations with the major Western countries are unavoidably seen as vastly more important than their relations with the Third World. With the exception of Sweden, these countries are linked in a security alliance – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – with the United States and the major European powers, while in each case their proximity either to the European powers or, in the case of Canada, to the United States has made the management of that relationship a central foreign policy concern.

Nevertheless there emerged in each of these countries a more than average sensitivity to the aspirations and development needs of the LDCs. The four country studies provide a variety of convincing and mutually reinforcing explanations of why this happened despite the various factors that might have made it otherwise. These fall under the three general headings: the first relates to the internationalist orientation of their policies, the second to their responsiveness to cosmopolitan values, and the third to political considerations that helped to increase the importance these countries attached to their relations with the South.

A Strong Commitment to a Constructive International Role

After 1945, the political leadership, the senior civil service, and most citizens active and informed about public affairs in each of the four countries concluded that their nations must seek a positive role in the building of a new and peaceful international order. The 1930s and the war years had made it clear in each country that the shaping of international politics must not be left entirely to the major powers. The four countries did not all take the same decisions. Sweden, for example, joined neither NATO nor the European Economic Community while the Netherlands joined both, and Norway and Canada joined only NATO. Nevertheless, each was determined to play a role in international affairs. Three of them had been involved in the Second World War, Canada as a primary combatant and the Netherlands and Norway as occupied countries overwhelmed by the military power of Nazi Germany. From that experience cam a powerful commitment to the creation and strengthening of the United Nations system as a source of collective security, an international instrument with which to promote shared objectives, and a mechanism for the peaceful settlement of inter-state disputes. Despite its long history of neutrality and a continuing determination to stay outside any defence alliance, Sweden had nevertheless clearly drawn the same message from history and has been as a vigorous supporter of the United Nations as the others.

Economic factors reinforced this determination to play an active international role rather than to stay quietly in the background, preoccupied with purely domestic concerns, and leave the shaping of international affairs to those more powerful than themselves. The point has been made before, and is repeated in the country studies, that it is very much in the interests of middle powers, particularly those dependent upon trade, to contribute to the development of international trade, financial, and monetary regimes which would negotiate and enforce common rules and standards.

A number of country-specific factors reinforced the commitment of the governments concerned to assert themselves in international affairs. In Canada, a self-confident and greatly expanded Department of External Affairs was determined to maintain the important role which it had played in the negotiations of the mid to late 19040s leading to the creation of the United Nations, the new financial institutions, and NATO. In Sweden, as Södersten suggest, there was an upsurge of pride and self-confidence in the moral and economic superiority of its democratic socialist ‘middle way.’ Pratt and Hveem suggest that the internationalism of Canada and Norway, respectively, in the late 1950s was also a response to prodding from the United States and the United Kingdom that other Western states share the burden of development assistance as part of a general Western effort to ‘contain communism.’

All these factors combined to create a remarkably wide consensus in each country that it should seek to play a conciliatory role in international affairs and to support actively the major international institutions and regimes. This consensus did not necessarily encompass a particular concern for issues relating to poorer countries, but without this disposition towards responsible internationalism, humane internationalist policies towards the South could hardly have developed at all.

A Widely Shared Sensitivity to Cosmopolitan Values

[…] To summarize the argument being offered here. In each of these four countries the values of the dominant political culture support extensive domestic social welfare systems which assist those unable to find employment and those involuntarily distressed. These same cultures, by extension, have supported humane internationalist measures to assist the very poor of the Third World. The breadth of this support is demonstrated by the fact that parties of the right and the centre, as well as of the left, have endorsed the high levels of aid that have been a feature of government policy in these countries. Within these same political cultures, Christian and social democratic influences have sought to generate support for international interventions to promote greater equity and to conciliate the demands of the LDCs. Within these same cultures more radical sentiments have also been promoted. Where the Christian and social democratic components have been strong, as in the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, these reform internationalist ideas have had an impact on government policies, as have more radical ideas to a lesser extent. Where they are weaker, as in Canada, the ideas of reform internationalism have remained outside the consensus supporting the government. They have been prevalent in the NGO community, in the churches, and in the universities in Canada, but have had little, if any, influence upon policy. Radical internationalism has been even more of a minority view.

The Political Advantages of Humane Internationalism

Several contributors, and other commentators as well, have stated that our middle powers also secured significant domestic and international political advantages by taking an altruistic stand on a range of international issues. For example, Canada’s substantial aid programme has helped it to win the good will of Third World countries and thereby to be more influential within la Francophonie and the Commonwealth. The prominent support given by the Netherlands and Scandinavian governments to the United Nations Development Programme has secured a sympathetic hearing for them on other issues from Third World countries. The point can surely be generalized. Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden have been anxious to play a significant role in the major international political and economic institutions. Their ability to win favourable response to the positions they take has been aided by the reputation which they have acquired as sensitive to Third World issues and responsive to Third World needs.

Domestic political gains have also been a consequence of their internationalist policies. Hveem comments that the Norwegian government found a substantial aid programme was domestically the most acceptable way to demonstrate its active involvement with the efforts of its allies to contain communism. This point, too, can be generalized. Except for Sweden, these countries are formally tied to major Western powers in various ways. Yet their citizens would not easily accept the adoption of a purely peripheral or satellite role as junior partner in either NATO or the European Community. Strong and independent initiatives relating to Third World development that expresses the humane values of their political cultures have been an important way for the governments of these countries to reassure their electorates that they have lost neither the capacity nor the will to take independent initiatives in international affairs.

It is perhaps these factors which open these governments to the accusation that they are tempted sometimes to become ‘free riders,’ indulging in more responsive posturing on Third World issues when they know there is no chance that the majority of the OECD countries will support what they advocate. Cooper and Verloren van Themaat suggest that the Netherlands government may thus be glad to have the European Community take the new protectionist decisions which it favours but which conflict with the more responsive internationalist image of which it is proud. Hveem, more mischievous still, refers to a possible Peer Gynt syndrome in Norway, whereby Norway joins the rest of the OECD members in measures that discriminate against LDC imports while affirming its preference for quite different and more generous policies. That these accusations are offered primarily by nationals of these countries suggests that there is a near inevitable gap between public positions which would fully express the humane internationalist components of the political culture of these countries and the more self-interested measures that those in power are happy to accept. It may well be that as long as these political cultures have a solid humanitarian component, there will be domestic political advantages as well as international advantages for the governments of these countries to cast their policies in an altruistic light. No doubt there are rhetorical exaggerations and distressing gaps between affirmed principles and concrete policies. But the strength of humane internationalism within the dominant political culture has had its impact on more than merely the tone and style of their policies. It has helped to ensure the selection of policies which the government can honestly present as humanitarian. The aid programme of the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden illustrate this in quite a dramatic fashion. There is evidence also that it has contributed to some extent to their selection of more responsible North-South policies. It can also reasonably be assumed that the strength of humane internationalist sentiments within the Canadian political culture contributed to the decision of the Canadian cabinet in 1980 to reject the advice it received from its Department of Finance that Canada settle for a ceiling on its aid expenditures of 0.35 per cent of GNP.

The Limited Influence of Humane Internationalism of North-South Policies

A major initiating interest of this project had been to identify the constraints that have limited the responsiveness of Western powers to the ethical obligations posed by global poverty and the development needs of the Third World. It was proposed in the opening chapter that these constraints have been very significant even in countries with a reputation for humane internationalism. The evidence from the country studies suggests that this has indeed been the case in Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.

While the impact of humane internationalism on the North-South policies of these countries has been limited, it has not been negligible. In the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, and, to a much lesser extent, in Canada, humane internationalist concerns have proven strong and resilient in one policy area, that of development assistance. The Canadian chapter argues that humane internationalist considerations have always had to struggle against commercial and political considerations for prominence in the shaping of Canadian development assistance programmes. It suggests that since 1975, narrowly commercial considerations have had an increasingly important impact on Canadian aid policies. It is clear from the other country studies that the aid agencies in these countries have not been free of commercial and political influences. Readers need only to recall, for example, Hveem’s telling discussion of the use of aid funds to assist the Norwegian shipbuilding industry, Södersten’s identification of the political dynamics behind the Swedish aid programmes to Vietnam and Cuba, and the greater care being taken in all four countries to ensure that a higher proportion of formally untied aid is nonetheless spent on goods and services from the donor country.

Nevertheless, in the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden those responsible for the aid programmes have been able to contain, if not quite to minimize, the undermining impact of pressures to secure greater immediate benefits for domestic economic interests from aid programmes. From the perspective of Third World development and the alleviation of poverty, the record of the aid programmes of these countries is far superior to those of other countries.5 This is true in regard to the tying of aid, to country selection, to the allocation of funds to multilateral aid institutions, to the sectors assisted, to the use of programme support, and to responsiveness to immediate crises. This superiority is above all illustrated by the fact that these three countries have, in comparison to other OECD countries, sustained far higher levels of per-capita budget allocations to their aid programmes.

Réal Lavergne uses with effect the argument that development assistance is above all an international public good, that is, that many of the benefits which it brings to the rich countries are indiscriminately enjoyed by all of them, be they large aid donors or small donors.6 The pressures are therefore understandably great that the cost of such a public good should be equitably shared by the states that benefit from it. A major preoccupation in the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD and in the international negotiations which fix the national contributions to the various international financial and development institutions has been an equitable sharing of ‘the aid burden.’ The willingness of the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden to sustain their aid programmes at such high levels is thus all the more exceptional. This can surely be taken to reflect the breadth of the popular commitment to these high levels of development assistance, the influence within these societies of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that champion the needs of the Third World, and the solidity of the inter-party parliamentary support for substantial aid programmes. […]

Since 1981 the momentum has largely gone from the efforts of the Scandinavian and Netherlands governments to win Western support for reforms to the international system in the interests of international equity and development. Their initial effort to that end has been a response to demands from the South. Once that pressure had dissipated, the advocates of reform internationalism lost their agenda. Reform internationalism has not totally disappeared from the public positions taken by these countries. Nevertheless, they no longer advocate many of the original proposals such as the Common Fund and the Integrated Programme for Commodities. Nor do they vigorously promote new proposals for international initiatives with regard to, say, Third World debt or the disastrous state of so many of the economies of the less developed countries that would give contemporary expression to a concern for greater equity in the international economic order and a rapid amelioration of the condition of those in absolute poverty. Even the more limited ideas of liberal internationalism are less influential, as protectionism in its various guises becomes for prevalent.

Humane internationalism in its several forms is clearly disheartened and under siege. Hveem writes of Norway having adopted ‘a more self-interested and conformist Third World policy’; Södersten identifies the end of a ‘flower-power’ period in North-South policies and a return to pragmatic policies in Sweden; Cooper and Verloren van Themaat characterize Netherlands policy in recent years as ‘pragmatic internationalism and social morality … tempered by a realistic but usually unobtrusive concern for Dutch interests … without being at all reformist.’ Pratt refers to a bureaucratic consensus in Canada ‘that represents a marked shift of basic attitudes away from liberal internationalism and towards a realism that is narrowly national, preoccupied with economic objectives, and little interested in the Third World.’

These are depressing observations. The final section considers why the humane internationalist ideas of the 1970s and early 1980s had so limited an impact on policy even in those countries where these ideas constituted a substantial component of the predominant political culture. […]

Why Was the Impact of Humane Internationalism so Limited?

[…] Our answer, in fact, embraces eight different factors. The first three are major exogenous factors, the next three relate to political and ideological influences that directly impinge upon senior policy-makers, and the final two are weaknesses within the humane internationalist community which have diminished its impact on policy.

  1. The greater preoccupation with immediate economic objectives which has been nearly universal since the advent of the global recession has lessened the responsiveness of government to humane internationalist considerations. […]

  2. Once it was clear that the principal OECD powers were rejecting any move towards the NIEO, were becoming increasingly protectionist, and were either cutting their official development assistance or at least not significantly increasing it, the governments of Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden were bound to reconsider their own more internationalist positions. […]

  3. The growing challenge of manufactured exports from the newly industrialized countries has also weakened the responsiveness of these governments to humane internationalist values. […]

  4. Loyalties, a sense of community, and an ethical responsiveness that are national in character are still vastly stronger within each of these countries than are the newer ties and obligations which a responsiveness to cosmopolitan values has generated.[…]

  5. Reform internationalist values and attitudes are less widely shared and less securely anchored within the political cultures of these countries than is the humanitarian concern which supports the substantial aid programmes. […]

  6. The senior foreign policy decision-makers of these four countries have held a world-view which does not easily accommodate an important humane international component. […]

  7. The specific international policies recommended by reform internationalism were often ill conceived and unlikely to accomplish the humanitarian and equity objectives on the basis of which they were being supported. […]

  8. Finally, the groups and sectors within these four countries that have been critical of their North-South policies have been divided and therefore less effective politically than they might otherwise have been. […]

Putnam, Robert D. (1988), “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of the Two-Level Games,” in International Organization, Vol. 42, No. 3, pp. 427-460.

The most portentous development in the fields of comparative politics and international relations in recent years is the dawning recognition among practitioners in each field of the need to take into account entanglements between the two. Empirical illustrations of reciprocal influence between domestic and international affairs abound. What we need now are concepts and theories that will help us organize and extend our empirical observations.

Analysis in terms of two-level games offers a promising response to this challenge. Unlike state-centric theories, the two-level approach recognizes the inevitability of domestic conflict about what the “national interest” requires. Unlike the “Second Image” or the “Second Image Reversed,” the two-level approach recognizes that central decision-makers strive to reconcile domestic and international imperatives simultaneously. As we have seen, statesmen in this predicament face distinctive strategic opportunities and strategic dilemmas.

This theoretical approach highlights several significant features of the links between diplomacy and domestic politics, including:

  • the important distinction between voluntary and involuntary defection from international agreements;

  • the contrast between issues on which domestic interests are homogeneous, simply pitting hawks against doves, and issues on which domestic interests are more heterogeneous, so that domestic cleavage may actually foster international cooperation;

  • the possibility of synergistic issue linkage, in which strategic moves at one game-table facilitate unexpected coalitions at the second table;

  • the paradoxical fact that institutional arrangements which strengthen decision-makers at home may weaken their international bargaining position, and vice versa;

  • the importance of targeting international threats, offers, and side-payments with an eye towards their domestic incidence at home and abroad;

  • the strategic uses of uncertainty about domestic politics, and the special utility of “kinky win-sets”;

  • the potential reverberation of international pressures within the domestic arena;

  • the divergences of interest between a national leader and those on whose behalf he is negotiating, and in particular, the international implications of his fixed investments in domestic politics.

Two-level games seem a ubiquitous feature of social life, from Western economic summitry to diplomacy in the Balkans and from coalition politics in Sri Lanka to legislative maneuvering on Capitol Hill. Far-ranging empirical research is needed now to test and deepen our understanding of how such games are played.

Rai, Kul B. (1972), “Foreign Policy and Voting in the UN General Assembly,” in International Organization, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 589-594, University of Wisconsin Press.

The findings of this research indicate that certain aspects of foreign policy and voting in the General Assembly are closely related. No causal relationship between foreign policy indicators and voting in the General Assembly is either asserted or implied in the above discussion. The discussion of causality needs more evidence than the results of the regression analysis in this study can supply.

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