Labour’s Abbott slams “militarisation” of aid budget

3 Mar 16

UK prime minister David Cameron is “conning” the British public by spending the country’s aid budget on military and defence activities, the country's shadow secretary of state for international development has said.


Diane Abbott, the UK shadow international development secretary

Diane Abbott, the UK shadow international development secretary


Labour’s Diane Abbott spoke out against the “militarisation” of overseas aid budgets following a recent decision by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee to include some military and defence spending as overseas aid, or Official Development Assistance (ODA).

The UK government, one of only a few in the developed world to live up to a 45-year old pledge to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid, lobbied heavily for the change. Critics have argued it will reduce the focus of ODA and the amount spent on reducing poverty.

Speaking to Public Finance, Abbott said: “David Cameron has made a lot of the fact that he has committed to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid. But if you spend some of that money on things like military spending, you’re conning the public as to how much is going towards poverty reduction.”

She pointed out that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence were already spending money on the activities they will now be able to class as ODA. She dubbed this a “sleight of hand”.

The two departments, as well as others such as the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, will be taking over a larger part of the delivery of the UK’s overseas aid budget from the Department for International Development following changes announced by the government in its new aid strategy last October.

“All they’re doing is trying to pass on some of their costs in order to get them paid for by the aid budget, and it is wrong,” she told PF. She highlighted recent statements made by United Nations Development Programme chief Helen Clark, who said poor countries will suffer as aid is diverted away from where it is most needed.

Abbott said she was also concerned about transparency. Unlike DFID, which reports regularly on its projects and is held in high regard for its transparency, she said “you can’t get anything out of the Foreign Office or MoD”.

There is “huge inflation” of money going towards military or defence purposes, she argued. At the same time this is shifted to being delivered by the Foreign Office or the MoD, neither of which reports systematically on their activities, and operate in conflict zones where money is highly vulnerable to corruption.

The ability to track military- and defence-related ODA spend is important, because the OECD has given strict guidelines and criteria for what kinds of military and defence activities are allowed to be classified as ODA.

For example, while a government can record training an army in international humanitarian law, human rights, or anti-corruption as ODA, they cannot do the same for any training activities that increase the military capacity of the force, or support combat operations.

Abbott said that while she can see the merit in training an army in IHL, “military spend should come out of military budgets” not aid.

In a statement following the OECD-DAC decision to expand the ODA definition, DFID said that the core principles of the ODA system remain unchanged and that the international community is now better placed to fight the underlying causes of poverty and stability around the world.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening stressed it is “firmly in Britain’s national interest" to fight disease and conflict, and promote global stability.

Abbott said the Labour Party would not siphon aid money off for military and foreign office spending and focus resources on local projects rather than global consultancies.

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