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Penny Mordaunt has been confirmed as the UK’s new Secretary of State for International Development. Coming fresh to an agenda can be a major asset, but it can be hard to pick out the things that really matter. As civil servants dust off their detailed briefs, we try to stand back and identify five points that we think are important to understand about the UK’s role in global development on Day 1 in the job.
Development is much more than aid. You’ll be told that to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) will mean a leap in financing from “billions to trillions”—but the pathway to achieving the SDGs is not just aid, nor even just financial. It’s about a whole set of policies, national and international, from increasing trade with the poorest countries to tackling climate change, and from supporting our world-class research and development institutions to tightening up the international tax system.
Migration is, and will continue to be, a major driver of development. As labour moves to areas with higher capital, it increases its ability to produce and earn. Not only do workers contribute to the economy of their new “home,” they usually send money back to their families. These remittances now outweigh aid flows. Targeted aid can help reduce forced migration from conflict, persecution, or disasters, but some pressures from migration are probably irresistible. Even as the Government is committed to reducing net migration, it can promote policies to make existing migration work for development.
Lasting development depends on private finance and taxation. DFID has already positioned itself to help countries catalyse private investment and raise more tax. And there are genuine win-wins, so that investment will benefit the UK and development together. But beware: there are pitfalls. Remember Pergau Dam, where development money was misspent? Mordaunt can commit DFID to a broader vision of global development being in the national interest, and avoid a narrower conception of our commercial or strategic interests.
Overseas aid has a very strong mandate. The commitment to 0.7 percent of GDP on aid was supported by all the main political parties at the 2016 election, and amounts to under £220 per person in the UK per year. It is critical that aid is spent well, and DFID is a world leader in making aid effective. But beware: demanding immediate short-term results can undermine long-term success. And smart people need the flexibility to make adjustments and experiment with new solutions without getting approval from HQ at every turn. Mordaunt must be prepared to take risks and withstand attacks from ideological opponents of international development. Some failure is unavoidable in the world’s poorest contexts.
Many friends of DFID say that the UK has stepped back from its leadership role on global development and humanitarian assistance. Though the UK has world-class NGOs, some of the best university research, and strong political support for aid from the main political parties, it is up to the Government to lead on bold new initiatives. Despite its commitments to a global Britain, the UK is perceived by the US, European partners, and others to have given up its leadership role. China and other emerging market economies are poised to become dominant players through their support of “South-South” development. There are excellent UK initiatives like the Smart Rules on better aid programmes, and a push improvements to the multilateral system including on humanitarian response. These have wider relevance to all development actors but will need Mordaunt’s support. The UK can and should step forward, not back, in shaping and bringing new ideas to the development discussion.
The new Secretary of State, who will be supported by a new Permanent Secretary, has a strong platform on which to build. Mordaunt can make the most of DFID and the UK’s strong reputation abroad, making the case to the British public and international partners that effective development is important to the UK’s future in its own right.
DFID is not merely an aid department: it should also be a development ministry, working effectively with and across government, and with international partners, to support policies and programmes that accelerate the realisation of a more peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world.
The Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt, is giving a big speech this Thursday, setting out her strategic directions on development. She has already impressed many people in development by the way she has embraced the mission of the department while challenging some of its ways of working. She has also won plaudits for her deft handling of the important issue of safeguarding in development.
What I’d like to hear this week is how the government’s new “Fusion Doctrine”, launched last week in the National Security Capability Review, applies to the government’s development objectives.
The “Fusion Doctrine” described in the capability review is that all the levers at the government’s disposal, including aid, should be available to secure the government’s economic, security, and influence goals. It is represented in the review in the diagram below.
In a second blog post coming soon, I will be considering the trend to allow other government departments to manage an increasing share of British aid, and the questions this has raised about the quality of aid. In this post, I want to deal with a different, even more important, point: a whole-of-government development strategy should mean more than letting the whole of government spend foreign aid.
Figure 1: The Fusion Doctrine
The Fusion Doctrine should apply to development too
I’m all for joining up all the government’s instruments and levers to achieve the government’s economic, security and influence goals. These are legitimate and important goals for any nation, and if the manner and scope of our development policy can help us achieve them, then this will be good for our country, and will build support and legitimacy for development cooperation. There is nothing wrong with identifying and pursuing “win-win” policies which benefit us directly at the same time as pursing our development goals, though of course we must be vigilant to ensure that the reasonable pursuit of our national interest does not lead us into significantly less effective development policy.
It is not surprising that the National Security Capability Review should focus mainly on how the instruments of government can achieve the government’s security objectives. I don’t have a problem with that. I hope that Penny Mordaunt’s speech on Thursday will build on that, by explaining how the coherent and sensible concept of the Fusion Doctrine applies also to the government’s development objectives.
None of this is yet in the Fusion Doctrine, at least as articulated so far in the national security capability review. That review focuses on the impact of government policies on UK interests, ignoring their wider impact. To give one small example, the sentence on arms control reads:
We will continue our work to choke off the supply and availability of illegal firearms to prevent their use by criminal or terrorist groups in the UK.
There is no mention here of limiting conflict in other countries, including in developing countries, by better controlling the sales of arms from Britain and other countries. As far as the National Security Capability Review is concerned, the Fusion Doctrine will help prevent criminality and conflict in the UK, not the rest of the world. That’s understandable in a statement about national security, and I realise that the government is determined to justify its aid spending robustly by describing clearly how it protects Britain’s national interests. But from reading the capability review, you could be forgiven for thinking that international development is merely an instrument for British national security, and not also one of the government’s objectives in its own right. Of course it is—or should be—both. And what’s more, given that development does contribute to Britain’s national security, then a true fusion would surely ensure that as many levers as possible are being pulled to accelerate it. That is why I eagerly await the Secretary of State’s opportunity next week to fill in the parts of the picture which were missing from a security-oriented review.
We will ensure that an annual whole-of-government plan is in place across government departments, setting out development objectives for the year with measurable indicators, and signed off by the Secretary of State for International Development. Each government department will be accountable for delivering on their objectives.
That sounds a lot like what you would get if you applied the fusion doctrine to development. (To continue with the example of arms sales, the Labour Party policy statement pledges “we will ensure DFID plays a proactive role on the Export Controls Joint Unit, the government body currently responsible for sanctioning UK arms sales.”) Of course, as Mario Cuomo observed, you campaign in poetry but govern in prose. When in government, development goals are often given low priority compared to other, more politically pressing concerns. The last Labour Government also established the principle that DFID should be consulted about arms export licences, but over the thirteen years when Labour was in power, DFID never once successfully contested the issuing of an arms export licence.
So I hope we will soon hear something similar from government ministers, including the Development Secretary. The government should make clear that international development is indeed a goal in its own right and not merely an instrument for our security, economic, and influence objectives, and that the Fusion Doctrine will be applied in the same way to this important goal, just as it means that development policy will be applied to other government goals. Distributing aid budgets around Whitehall is not a good substitute for a joined up and coherent government using all of its instruments strategically in pursuit of all its goals.
In my next blog post, I look at how the Secretary of State might address growing concerns about how the government can ensure that aid spent by other government departments is effective and coherent.