A disorganized, inefficient foreign aid structure
can wreak havoc on what the current administration refers to as “transformational diplomacy
”—the attempt to build and nurture democratically elected governments. In our post-September 11th
world, failed states (also labeled “precarious states” or “weak states”) have garnered increasing attention as targets for transformational diplomacy. For the U.S., ensuring sustainable and well-governed states depends partially on doling out foreign aid as collateral for reliable partnerships. But nations with limited internal capacity and extreme poverty levels teeter on the edge of uncertainty, and inefficient allocation of aid can further destabilize states that are already vulnerable to becoming havens for nefarious activity.
In cooperation with The Fund for Peace, Foreign Policy magazine recently published its Failed State Index 2007, which ranks countries according to their likelihood of political, social and economic failure. Four out of the five poorest-performing countries—Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and Chad—are located in Africa. This year’s authors included a valuable section highlighting state stability and its connections to environmental sustainability.
Another excellent Failed State Index-related resource is an analysis by Population Action International (PAI), which drew on the Index to demonstrate that the lowest ranked failing states often had young age structures: “51% of countries with a very young age structure are ranked as critical or in danger by the Failed States Index.”
Many critics view integrating and harmonizing the delivery of aid as crucial to bolstering the stability of these vulnerable states. An excellent brief by the Center for Global Development’s Stewart Patrick critiques the U.S. government’s fragmented approach to engaging failed or failing states. Patrick recommends an “integrated approach that goes well beyond impressive military assets to include major investments in critical civilian capabilities.” Without these critical civilian capabilities, democratic institutions and local capacity cannot take root.
Stephen Browne of the International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva also addresses aid coordination in “Aid to Fragile States: Do Donors Help or Hinder?,” which examines Burma, Rwanda, and Zambia as case studies. Ratifying the Paris Declaration—a 2005 international agreement promoting the harmonization and alignment of global aid strategies—was an important step, but developed and developing nations still have much to do, according to Browne:
There are agreements by a growing number of bilateral agencies to untie their assistance and mingle it more flexibly with that of others. But to be effective, aid needs to move a radical step beyond the adaptation of individual practices by donors to each other. In each instance, there should be complete alignment with the frameworks and management capacities of recipients. However, the principle of country alignment needs to be reaffirmed, especially in the context of recovery and rehabilitation.U.S. foreign aid is frequently criticized for not being sensitive enough to recipient countries’ specific needs and on-the-ground conditions. Fortunately, the tools and resources to better understand these conditions are available. Judging from our current foreign aid structure, however, we have underutilized these tools and failed to integrate our knowledge and objectives with the realities of these countries. States fail due to numerous cumulative factors, but responsibly allocating foreign aid may help tip the scales toward improving the odds of success for states on the brink of failure.
Photo: Foreign Policy 2007.