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Spring 2009, Issue 10

Does Aid Win Hearts and Minds?

Andrew WilderAndrew Wilder, PhD, joined the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in January 2007. He is research director for politics and policy at the Feinstein International Center. Wilder’s research explores state building, governance, and aid effectiveness, with a specialization on Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is currently working on a project to assess whether international aid is an effective tool for promoting stability and improving security, especially in counterinsurgency contexts.

Wilder earned his BS in foreign service from Georgetown University and his MA and PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He has managed several humanitarian and development programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan for organizations such as Mercy Corps, International Rescue Committee, and Save the Children (USA). He was founding director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), Afghanistan’s leading independent policy research organization.

Wilder’s current research study is titled Winning Hearts and Minds? Examining the Relationship Between Aid and Security in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Horn of Africa. This 18-month study, funded by AREU and the governments of Australia, Norway, and Sweden, focuses on the central question of the effectiveness of humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in promoting security in insecure areas. In particular, the study is researching the widespread assumption, especially visible these days in counterinsurgency doctrine and operations, that aid projects can help promote stability and security by helping to win hearts and minds. According to Wilder, “given how influential this assumption is in influencing where aid money is spent, how much is spent, and who spends it, there is currently remarkably little empirical evidence that either proves or disproves the assumption.” Specific study questions include: Does reconstruction assistance win hearts and minds, and if so whose and how? Does winning hearts and minds promote security, and if so how? and Is security-driven development effective in achieving poverty alleviation and development objectives?

Most of the field research will be in Afghanistan, but case studies will also be conducted in Pakistan and the Horn of Africa. The study will gather data from focus groups and interviews with two key groups: (1) officials from international donors, military forces, the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations, and the Afghan government, and (2) community members from the areas receiving aid and suffering from insecurity. The study will also use available quantitative data on aid distribution, security incidents, and poverty.

The use of aid to promote security objectives—often referred to as the “securitization” of aid—is not a recent development. During the Cold War in general, and the Vietnam War in particular, foreign aid budgets were consistently used to promote perceived security objectives. Wilder notes that the assumption that aid projects have a security benefit has had the positive effect of increasing the total amount of aid available, as it is much easier to gain congressional approval for foreign aid that promotes national security interests than foreign aid intended primarily to alleviate poverty. The obvious negative consequence, however, is that a very high proportion of US Official Development Assistance goes to countries of greatest strategic interest to the US rather than to the poorest countries in greatest need. “For example, close to half of US overseas Official Development Assistance is now going to Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel, and Pakistan, where we have major strategic interests, and much smaller per capita contributions are going to some of the areas of greatest poverty such as Africa,” says Wilder. He notes that in countries like Afghanistan most US aid is programmed into insurgency-affected areas, which ends up having the perverse effect of rewarding the areas where the Taliban are present and penalizing the often poorer areas where there are no Taliban.

Another interesting impact of the growing securitization of aid after 9/11 is the growing role of the military as a funder and implementer of aid programs. According to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, located in Paris, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) share of US Official Development Assistance decreased from 50% in 2002 to 39% in 2005. During that same period, the Department of Defense share increased from 6% to 22%. Many humanitarian organizations have expressed concern about what they see as a blurring of lines between humanitarian and military actors as a result of the significant increase in the direct role of military forces in implementing aid projects. “If you have the US and other military actors delivering humanitarian aid next to the Red Cross, there's a concern that belligerents may no longer distinguish between humanitarian actors and military actors, and therefore start targeting aid workers,” explains Wilder.

Wilder says the US foreign aid budget is explicitly intended to achieve humanitarian and development objectives, political objectives, and security objectives, but that current efforts to assess and promote aid effectiveness fail to evaluate efficacy in achieving all of these objectives. “There's all sorts of money spent on accountability, assessments, evaluations, and reporting requirements to determine if you are achieving your stated humanitarian or development objectives,” he says. “But there's virtually none of that in terms of how we measure the impact of achieving political and security objectives. So I think that's what I would like to be contributing to with this study—let’s at least see if there’s an impact before we continue to increase the amounts of development money being spent to achieve security objectives.”

Wilder hopes his study will provide some empirical evidence on the effectiveness of the billions of dollars being spent on reconstruction assistance in order to win hearts and minds and improve security, and that this evidence will help inform and influence development actors and policies. “I think security is a very important thing, and certainly for Afghans it is their number one concern,” says Wilder. “So if indeed the aid programs have a security benefit, then I think there's a significant argument to be said for using our aid programs to achieve those benefits. However, if there's little or no impact, then maybe we should use our aid to alleviate poverty, and that should be our number one objective.”

For more information, please contact Andrew Wilder at andrew.wilder@tufts.edu.


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