The power of geopolitics in development aid
“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed” – Ghandi. This is exactly what explains the geopolitical drives in shaping the world of development aid.
Geopolitics is the “study of the effects of geography (human and physical) on international politics and international relations” as defined by Devetak et al “An introduction to international relations,” 2012. Making it in simple terms, it is an approach to understand, analyze and forecast international political behavior through geographical variables. Making it reflecting reality across human history, it is the science that explains why and how countries try exploiting other countries for their wealth, people, resources and land. Briefly, it predicts the global development of the world.
Geopolitics of the 19th century addressed the colonization of countries. In the 20th century, it centered on the world’s wars. Today, the 21st century geopolitics is mainly led by trade. It is the weapon that powerful actors and nations hold to control and exert their power over other less capable states.
Questions on whether the U.S. go to war with Iran or not, tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the different contradicting stands of powerful states in Syria’s war among other ones, are all international issues that are explained by geopolitical drives and the relation between politics and territory, leading to the shape and reshape of the world. And again it is all about controlling resources of the planet, be it people, land or other resources.
Afghanistan is one practical example that could further explain the geopolitical drives behind international actors. Afghanistan is a fertile land that used to be exploited first in the war against communism and now against terrorism. It has long been a target for powerful countries, mainly the United States, to take over its rich resources among other strategic and political drives. These geopolitical reasons are behind the United States’ international relations and its behavior in launching its offensive against Afghanistan under the slogan of “war against terrorism.”
The geopolitical tension and conflicts in East and Southeast Asia on one hand and the Middle East on the other are also illustrations of geopolitical analysis predicting the unclear future for regionalism and further integration. East and Southeast Asia witnessed a huge economic growth in recent times, notably China, and that has imposed a real threat to historical powerful actors, be it America or Europe. At the same time, the disparities in economic development within the region have created tensions among countries of the region. As for the Middle East, it has historically been the bull’s eye of world leaders for its geographical, historical, strategical, economic, political and cultural richness. As such it long became a fertile land for international, national, regional and local conflicts and turmoil, leading up to the recent uprisings of Arab Spring and beyond.
While no actual “military confrontation” has occurred since 1954 in East and Southeast Asia, it has definitely expressed its armed face in the Middle East creating further regional instability and chaos. Furthermore, while the emerging geopolitical scheme expands the economic growth and development of East and Southeast Asian countries resulting in more growing interdependence and regional stabilization despite political challenges, it’s on the contrary further threatening the economies as well as security and stability of the Middle East in general.
How is all that reflecting on the international development aid of nations? International development aid has often been defined as a humanitarian neutral support to nations independently of the political relations between actors and beneficiaries. Within this context, the real underlying geopolitical agendas are often hidden and unclear despite their power to direct and channel the aid provision and distribution. During the Cold War, the West was negligent to issues of human rights and democracy because it didn’t want to put its strategic interests at risk.
This explains how development aid is directed by geopolitical considerations and not based on clear humanitarian need and planning strategy.
Today, after the end of the Cold War, the decolonization, the independence and democratization of most world nations, along with the rise of capitalism and globalization and its impact on the development of nations, international aid took a transformational trend from a philanthropic aspect to a more of a developmental one, based on the changing needs of the so-called developing countries.
Nevertheless, the recent anxieties over global security and “war on terrorism” have again re-defined new geopolitical challenges leading international donors and aid agencies to also redirect their funding to countries of strategical political interest, while shifting their aid priorities from humanitarianism and sustainable development to international security and “peace.”
All these geopolitical challenges that are behind the shift of priorities justify how development aid is “politically” driven and used at the end of the day as a tool to support donors’ countries welfare and interests and not that of the recipient countries in need, which contradicts the humanitarian purpose of aid itself.
Fates of nations are closely bound together. We cannot live independently and ignore each other. As history has shown, the “game of thrones” is always on. As long as greed is the driver for aid and not the need, developing countries are urged to themselves devise the aid strategies they need to move from the development phase to growth and prosperity.
Dima El-Hassan is director of programs at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org