The conclusion of a thoughtful reflection on what 9/11 has meant for international aid, security and development, from Andy Norton, ODI’s Director of Research.
“Recognising the importance of ‘security’ in development (in a broad sense and with a focus on freedom from violence for poor people) has been a progressive and important change in the way that we work. Analytical work has convincingly shown that poverty reduction is hugely impeded by conflict and violence. And many agencies have implemented this focus seriously – with the UK, for example, establishing a programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (where it has no obvious great strategic interest) as well as scaling up in Pakistan (where it does).
But the forward agenda also needs to take account of the other big theme of this week’s various 9/11 retrospectives. This is that the emphasis on reacting to the terrorist threat distracted western countries (particularly the US) from responding strategically to a far more significant long-term change – the shifting balance of global economic power towards large middle-income countries, particularly China and India. As of now the focus in the mainstream literature is on the economic strength of these countries. But the security and development footprint of the emerging powers of Asia, Africa and Latin America will grow. This will surely change how we see the interaction between the spheres of development and security over time and it will influence norms and agendas in both areas. And in relation to the Islamic world – the obsession with an optic based on counter-terrorism distracted many in the west from understanding the real changes taking place on the ground, which have recently found expression in the dramatic social and political changes taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
For the years to come, therefore, we can expect to see an end to large ‘boots-on-the-ground’ western interventions. Hopefully crude, over-ambitious and poorly informed ‘post-invasion’ stabilisation initiatives are unlikely to be repeated. We should also expect to see the practice of development in a state of rapid transformation as it comes to terms with new realities – emerging world powers which contain much of the world’s poorest people, changing patterns of influence globally, and a declining emphasis on public resource flows from rich to poor countries as the central driver of development progress. Conceptually, our concern with uncertainty and risk is increasingly finding expression through the notion of building ‘resilience’ as a goal of development action. The literature on resilience emerges from different traditions (encompassing concerns with disaster risk reduction, conflict, humanitarian action, climate change, social protection, market volatility etc.) and gives us the opportunity to make useful links between these different issues.
In the midst of all of this change we should retain a key lesson from the last decade – that freedom from violence matters enormously for poor people, and that realising basic human security for all should remain a key goal for development action.”