Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces merger of Department for International Development and Foreign Office.
The new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is but a metaphorical heartbeat away from the MOD.
The best of the UK’s international development record is rightly applauded. But UK foreign – and by extension defence – policy has often impacted negatively on development. While this merger is a blatant statement of intent by the Johnson government to now use the aid budget in part as a new fund for FO interests, it does provide an opportunity for those committed to development to be more deeply engaged when UK foreign/defence policy collides with its development commitment.
Rooted in debt, trade, tax and climate campaigns, we’ve been making the case that everyone concerned with development should be addressing the role of ever inflated military spending and overseas interventions in the humanitarian disasters that ensue, alongside the unchallenged role of the military’s emissions and their significant contribution to climate change.
Through our Five Percent Proposal we’ve developed a framework for cuts to both spending and military carbon emissions because they are completely connected. The military are major, invisible, climate culprits.
We believe this DfiD/FO merger really should act as an opportunity (albeit an unwelcome one given its impact on UK aid) to take the defence/development issue head on, bringing into sharper focus the ways in which international development suffers from self-interested UK foreign and defence policy. They are not unconnected no matter how convenient it may be to view them as de-coupled.
Within a matter of years, it could well be that we see development rolled into the wider defence debate, not least as a way to re-allocate former DfiD budget to defence but perhaps extend what happens already through the CSSF.
See Global Justice Now report on the CSSF 2017
Could the line between UK aid and defence spending become blurred?
And as Dan Sabbagh, the Guardian’s Defence & Security correspondent writes
A cash-strapped MoD cannot just grab the overseas aid budget, but subtle moves are already under way… for all the financial stability, the MoD is struggling financially. It has a shortfall of £13bn in its 10-year equipment budget, which officials are trying to close amid a debate about Britain’s post-Brexit role in the world….
Indirectly linked to this, the defence and foreign policy review has restarted after being stalled because of coronavirus. Led by Deputy National Security Advisor Alex Ellis, it is already mired in controversy as Dominic Cummings makes visits to MOD sites. Post Brexit, post-Covid, with three more years of this government, we wait to see the impact that this new ‘global Britain’ defence and foreign policy review may have on development, sitting as it does now, inside the Foreign Office.
It’s not hard to foresee that the DFiD/FO merger coupled with the defence and foreign policy review will force an even deeper debate, since together, they may present an unavoidable conflict of interest for anyone who, while working for greater international social justice, is not also, at the same time, seeking to transform current UK foreign and defence policy more widely. The UK’s inflated defence spending; its role in USA/UK-led military interventions; and its hidden climate emissions burden are all implicated – and over decades – in hammering the development chances of many millions in the global south.
All those concerned with protecting (what’s left of) progressive development policy need now to go further and exert all pressure possible to advocate for a transformed and transformative Foreign, Defence and Development strategy. One that promotes sustainable human safety* in all defence policy-making and makes it a budget priority.
*See TPNS Transform Defence for Sustainable Human Safety