Daily Archives: 29 August 2006

On "Bestowing the Gift of Development"

In opposition to the development policies pursued by non-Western states, international NGOs focused on alternative grass-roots models of development. This approach is explained by David Korten, a former worker for the United States Agency for International Development:

The widespread belief that development is primarily a task of government has legitimised authoritarianism and created major barriers to true development progress in the [global] South and over the past four decades the people have been expected to put their faith and resources in the hands of government. In return governments have promised to bestow on the people the gift of development. This promise has proved a chimera born of a false assessment of the capacity of government and the nature of development itself.

As [global] Southern states were crippled by the debt crisis and later by the World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes, state provision of welfare collapsed in many societies. International relief NGOs, with Western government funding, attempted to fill in the gaps. As two Oxfam workers explained:

Gallantly stepping into the breach come the NGOs very much in the neo-colonial role. Whole districts, or once functioning sections of government ministries, are handed over to foreigners to run especially in health or social services. This process is enhanced as Structural Adjustment Programmes bite even deeper … 40 percent of Kenya’s health requirements are now provided by NGOs … The more the NGOs are prepared to move in the easier it is for government to reduce support.

SOURCE: From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention, new ed., by David Chandler (Pluto Press, 2006), p. 33 [reference citations removed]

Today’s NGO employees are the direct inheritors of the colonial project not so much in the manner of the imperial civil services as in the manner of the religious missionaries, who were often at odds with the imperial powers in their respective mission fields, and who often provided a good measure of whatever health, education, and welfare services governments failed to provide. The religious missionaries of my parents’ (“greatest”) generation were succeeded by the secular missionaries of my (“boomer”) Peace Corps generation and the current horde of NGOptimists all over the globe—all of whom have gone to do good, and many of whom have done rather well indeed, just like the older missionary elites (or nouveaux évolués), whose offspring often ended up as area specialists in government or academia (or both). On this score, I know very well whereof I speak.

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On "the Military Wing of Oxfam"

The strongest critique of needs-based humanitarian action is from the human rights movement itself, which argues that responding to crises by sending humanitarian relief is merely an excuse to avoid ‘more vigorous responses’. Humanitarian relief is increasingly seen as giving Western governments the appearance of ‘doing something’ in the face of a tragedy while providing an alibi to avoid making a riskier political or military commitment that could address the ‘roots of a crisis’. Under the cry that humanitarianism should not be used as a substitute for political or military action, they are in fact arguing for a new rights-based ‘military humanitarianism’. As journalist David Rieff notes: ‘humanitarian relief organizations … have become some of the most fervent interventionists’.

The rights-based critique of humanitarianism provided the military in Western states with the opportunity to portray their actions as increasingly ethical in the 1990s. Ironically, this occurred at the same time as armed interventions moved away from the UN Blue Helmet approach that overlapped with the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and consent. As Michael Pugh observes, ‘military humanism’ is no longer an oxymoron because military action has increasingly been justified through defending human rights goals. From the perspective of the military establishment, this new role is important and the cultures of the military and the human rights activist are increasingly being brought together through the idea of helping the ‘victim’, as can be seen from recruitment advertising in Britain and the United States. The humanitarian motives for military action have been so heavily stressed that some critics have warned that the British Army is in danger of being flaunted as ‘the military wing of Oxfam’.

SOURCE: From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention, new ed., by David Chandler (Pluto Press, 2006), pp. 48-49 [reference citations removed]

Well, sure, but the Atlantic slave trade could not have been suppressed without the intervention of the British Navy. Nor could slavery have been suppressed in the United States without the intervention of the U.S. Army (against whom my own ancestors fought). Would selective, righteous boycotts of rum, sugar, molasses, tobacco, and cotton have been as fast and effective? The Royal Navy and the U.S. Army both served as the “military wings” of abolitionists.

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