Thursday, July 16, 2009

A dodge too far

A long time ago, a smart alecky blogger was sneering at the Wall Street Journal editorial page for suggesting that US military spending should be counted as part of the US foreign aid program since it goes to defend freedom and stuff.

Apparently that wasn't the end of the idea. In the just released report of the Ireland Special Group on Public Expenditure ("An Bord Snip Nua"), the section dealing with the Dept of Defence (Vol II) says --

Overseas peacekeeping expenditure to be counted as part of Ireland’s expenditure on foreign aid

Given the significant contribution that this Programme is making to overseas development by guaranteeing the security of people and property, it is recommended that this expenditure count as part of Ireland’s expenditure on foreign aid. While the Group is aware that such a recommendation is inconsistent with the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee rules and that military expenditure (even for humanitarian purposes) does not come within the standard international accounting treatment of ODA, the Group considers that Irish commitments in this regard should be reflected within Government accounts by reference to the totality of humanitarian related expenditure, thereby fully recording Ireland’s distinctive tradition of whole hearted engagement in peacekeeping operations.

Now if they want this as a wheeze for a government talking point, fine. But as an argument that would win any kind of international acceptance, it's bogus. While no one doubts the value of UN peacekeeping operations, many of them do not protect poor people, the assumed targets of a foreign aid program. Now those people might be poor if the peacekeepers weren't there but if you were allocating funds to the most destitute people in the world, people on borders in Israel-Lebanon or Cyprus wouldn't count. People in Chad would, but then other countries (like France) are spending far more on peacekeeping for poor people than Ireland.

But second, many of the biggest contributors to peacekeeping operations are themselves extremely poor countries. Pakistan, Bangladesh, and of course the African Union operations, for example. Thus by the new Irish definition of foreign aid, poor countries might become the biggest donors!

So please lads, keep this talking point for domestic consumption only. Otherwise get ready to be laughed off the stage.

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