Development aid and the fight against terrorism

The military intervention of France in Mali once again raises the question of the link between underdevelopment and terrorism. Mali ranks 175th in the Human Development Index (HDI) rankings published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Mali does not have the means to cope alone with the progression of jihadist groups. In this context, we suggest you read the article by Julien Serre entitled « Development aid and the fight against terrorism » published in the latest issue of Politique étrangère (Winter 2012-2013).

Click here to download a full PDF version of the text in English.

Abstract: After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the idea that development aid could contribute to the fight against terrorism has spread. Though the link between development aid and the fight against terrorism may not yet have been proven, it has not prevented some states from acting on this theory. With this in mind, the Americans have directed a large part of their aid towards Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, the issue of the relationship between security and development is becoming pertinent in the Sahel and the Arabian Peninsula.

Since 2001, thought on a possible link between development and the fight against terrorism has been central to the continuous evolution of the international community’s position. Based on the milestones set mainly by the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and the American government in Iraq and Afghanistan, it appears that aid policies aiming to fight terrorism in fragile states cannot simply reinforce security but must, simultaneously and in a coordinated and reactive manner, also address matters of governance, Human rights, and the reduction of poverty – and all this, while remaining modest in terms of expected results.

2001-2003: reacting to and structuring the security-development issue

Barely seventeen days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, United Nations Security Council’s resolution 1373 created a Counter-Terrorism Committee comprising the fifteen members of the Security Council.[1] The resolution called for every state to criminalize the financing of terrorism, freeze the bank accounts of people suspected of terrorism, and even facilitate police enquiries and border controls. The goal was to fight terrorism directly. Issues that could have been indirectly linked to terrorism, such as the role of development assistance, were not mentioned.

The international community, the media and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) then wondered: if poverty or bad governance were a crucible for the development of ideologies or individuals praising terrorism, then aid could play a preventive or even a remedial role. For a while, the American Administration seemed to give some credit to this reasoning. Contrary to all expectations, President George W. Bush, along with some European leaders, attended the International Conference on Financing for Development which took place in Monterrey in March 2002. There, matters such as the amount of aid, innovative sources of financing, as well as the reduction of debt were dealt with in a consensus text[2] that was unique due to its ambition and the support it received from the concerned parties. At the closing of the conference, Kofi Annan made up his mind to suggest the existence of a link between exclusion and terrorist risk, declaring that “no one in this world can feel comfortable or safe, while so many are suffering and deprived.”[3]

Shortly thereafter and for the first time ever, the National Security strategy added the goal of international development to the pillars of the American security strategy alongside with defense and diplomacy. As a result, many people thought that the United States was not only going to favor security issues but also to reinforce the governance of fragile states by creating the Millennium Challenge Account[4] (MCA), which rapidly benefited some countries, such as Pakistan and Jordan. One year later, the European Security Strategy[5] also proposed more timidly to regard security as a “necessary condition of development.” Its conclusion expressed the need for a wide range of missions for the EU (within the framework of a broader institutional development), including aid to non-member countries in the fight against terrorism and for the implementation of reforms on security issues.

However, Operation Enduring Freedom led by the United States, first in Afghanistan less than a month after 9-11 and then in Iraq in 2003, steered nearly all the additional American aid between 2002 and 2005 to these two countries only and for activities concentrating on national security objectives. The legitimacy of aid for development was thus seriously undermined and this, in an environment where the military intervention and counter-terrorism were the keystones of the strategy for fighting against terrorism. This legitimacy deficit is still lasting today: numerous NGOs criticized the American “War on Terror” strategy, later renamed “Overseas Contingency Operations”, for giving in to national security objectives.

In 2003, in a climate of distrust between donors, linked to the war in Iraq, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) attempted to validate the notion of cooperation for development within a perspective of terrorism prevention. It noted that “While the causes of international terrorism are complex, there are connections with development arenas, actors and issues[6]. The report considered that Official Development Assistance (ODA) had an important role to play in helping take away all grassroots support for terrorists, and that donors could reduce the support of terrorists through a strategy of conflict prevention and by attacking the conditions that incite society’s rejects to take an interest in terrorism. The report added: “This may have implications for priorities including budget allocations and levels and definitions of ODA eligibility criteria.”

The controversy provoked by this conclusion was intense. While the American majority of the time supported it, viewing “failed” states as the ideal environment for the emergence of transnational terrorist networks,[7] other countries, notably Canada, and some NGO coalitions reacted strongly against the OECD report. Among the latter, some went so far as to state that there was “practically no synergy between the donors’ strategies to promote peace, prevent conflicts and encourage social and political cohesion, and strategies to prevent and combat terrorism.” The OECD then clarified its definition of aid that could be qualified as official development assistance, specifying that it did not include counter-terrorism actions. To break the deadlock in this dialogue between donors and beneficiaries, institutional changes in the international system were needed.

Lire la suite de l’article en PDF ici

Julien Serre


[1] Resolution 1373 (2001) adopted on September 28, 2001.
[2] Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development, United Nations, 2003, available at: http://www.un.org/esa/ffd/monterrey/MonterreyConsensus.pdf.
[3] Declaration of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, March 19, 2002.
[4] Remarks by Mr. George W. Bush, President, at the International Conference on Financing for Development, Monterrey, Mexico, March 22, 2002, available here.
[5] European Security Strategy, December 12, 2003.
[6] “A Development Co-operation Lens on Terrorism Prevention”, OECD reference documents, 2003.
[7] C. Hagel, “A Republican Foreign Policy”, Foreign Affairs, vol. 83, no. 4, 2004, available here.

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