What I Would Like to Hear from the UK Development Secretary: Making the “Fusion Doctrine” Work for the Poor

April 09, 2018

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

three arcs labeled Economic, Influence, and Security make up a circle with arrows pointing in to three middle circles labeled Protect our people, Protect or influence, and Protect our Prosperity


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. 

If we apply the Fusion Doctrine to development we might expect to hear about how government trade policies will open our markets to producers in developing countries and promote high standards in supply chains to improve the well-being of workers there; how we will meet our international commitments to accelerate the transfer of technology and knowledge to developing countries, for example through changes to intellectual property laws; how our tax authorities will cooperate internationally to increase taxes paid by individuals and companies to the governments of developing countries; how we will help to prevent the outflow of capital from developing countries by tackling illicit financial flows; our commitment to a rules-based international system with appointments to key institutions based on merit; working to prevent the spread of antimicrobial resistance, including by changing our own use of antibiotics for humans and livestock; isolating corrupt and unaccountable governments from access to our economic and legal institutions; how when we have control of migration policy we will use it to accelerate development by increasing the circulation of skills and knowledge, strengthening remittances, and creating legal pathways for migrants escaping poverty; how our military capability will be used for UN-approved peacekeeping operations and to interdict breaches of international law on human trafficking and sanctions busting; how our new sanctions legislation will be used to promote democratic accountability; how we will improve our regulations intended to prevent money laundering so that they do not lead to hollowing out of financial systems in the poorest countries; and so on.

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.

The Labour Party has set out a promising vision of joined-up government in its recent policy paper, A World For The Many Not The Few, launched on 26 March:

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.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.