Whither Development?

Or, should that be withered development…?

It was not that long ago that terms such as  “international development”,  “development cooperation”, “development assistance” and even “aid” were in heavy rotation in the discourse on international relations. This was true not only in places like the United Nations, but also in many capitals, great and small.

Today development, like diplomacy, has becom somewhat of an exotic.

And yet, and yet… It wasn’t always that way. Remember the would-be New International Economic Order? The North-South Summit in Cancun? How about calls for a New International Information Order? The Rio Summit on Environment and Development, surely?  That meeting produced, among other things, a sweeping manifesto intended to guide development into the next century: Agenda 21.

Its contents make interesting reading even now, almost two decades later.

Even without reference to the much more recent, but already forlorn Millennium Development Goals,  I think it fair to say the the internatnational community, as it is so euphemistically known, has come up a bit short on its commitments. Indeed, the discussion of international development per se has has pretty much disappeared from the mainstream, especially in the wake of 9/11 and the launch of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

The GWOT continues. Whether restyled as the Long War, or Stabilization, or Overseas Contingency Operations, the epicentre of international policy remains heavily militarized. This has imposed all kinds of costs, ranging from the emaciation of diplomatic alternatives, to the hijacking of the post- Cold War peace dividend, to the reallocation of scarce public resources at the expense of vital social programmes.

Among the less noticed impacts, however, has been the effective marginalization of development  – and diplomacy – in the name of security.  It is not so much that development itself has become “securitized”, as occured during the Cold War with the competition for hearts, minds, and client states. Instead, it has simply been shunted aside, a victim of “compassion fatigue” and competing priorities in metropolitan centres where the development constituency is typically thin to non-existant.

Not so for defence, where the launching of the open-ended GWOT and its successors has put the military industrial complex back into business.

In previous posts I have set out the case that security is not entirely, or even mainly a martial art. You can’t garrison against climate change, or call in an air strike on resource shortages,  or pay Blackwater to protect you from pandemic disease. Among the many redeeming qualities of the human security doctrine is its insistance on the link betweeen development and security.  Expressed in a few words, you won’t achieve freedom from fear in the absence of respect for basic rights, the rule of law, good governance and, not least, freedom from want.  Met needs are the well-spring of dignity, and basic needs must be fulfilled before much else becomes possible.

In important respects, as I argue at some length in Guerrilla Diplomacy, development has become the new security.

Development, though, is not just a matter of engineering the achievement of various qualitative measures, such as economic growth or increasing trade and investment flows. While each of these may well figure in the overall development mix, for instance, none will guarantee a decrease in poverty if the issue of distributive justice remains unaddressed.

Nor, popular opinion notwithstanding, is development much related to disaster relief or emergency humanitarian assistance. These may certainly be required, as was the case, for example,  following the 2004 tsunami, or in the wake of  various earthquakes or famines. But the beneficial effects of such interventions are often fleeting, and tend to give rise to lingering distortions, such as changes in diet or a debilitating reliance on charity.

At the end of the day, development is in my view all about improving the quality of life for the majority of the population, about finding ways to encourage the emergence of circumstances which will afford each citizen  opportunities, such as access to education an health care, through which they might achieve their full potenial.

Genuine development, then, must be long term, equitable and sustainable. It must be grass-roots and participatory, whereby those affected are the subjects, not objects of their fate. And that  implies the necessary existance of significant political and social components in any grand development strategy.

Most of all, and as implied by these sorts of measures, development, like security, must be human-centred. And, like globalization, it is best thought of as a process rather than a condition or an end state. It is that dynamic relationship – between development and underdevelopment, security and insecurity –  which I have tried to capture in the ACTE world order model.

In the midst of the most sever economic crisis since the Great Depression, official development assistance budgets are shrinking, overseas remittances are falling and corporate philanthropy is drying up. In a world in which so many have so little, and so few have so much, one might expect rather more by way of discussion and debate on all of this.

Clearly, we will have to delve more deeply.

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