Myth 1: The UK can only be a major global power through a large/strong military.
Reality: If this was the 17th to early 20th Century, then I would strongly agree with the above statement. This however, is the 21st Century. The projection of power via nation-states, especially large nation states, cannot and has not been via just via military means. The US may be the world’s superpower for decades after World War II, yet it was not just by their military that they projected power. American power was seen by the presence of American investment and economic expansion within the country and globally. Culturally, American power has been seen through American brand names like MacDonald’s. On this topic of culture, aid and the policies that come along side aid is a form of power, known as “soft power”. (See this lecture by Joseph Nye for general understanding of soft power). Soft power can be as influential as military might. Assisting countries in development can help plant the UK flag globally, similar to the case of sailing a Royal Navy task force to that region or deploying a battlegroup. Recent conflicts such as those in the Balkans, Sierra Leone (in the early 2000s), Iraq (2003) and Afghanistan have shown that some degree of development assistance is needed alongside or after military intervention. Even the US has realised that military might or hard power is not the only means to win wars or to project power. Former Defence Secretary Robert Gates in fact was a proponent of using US aid to complement US military power. Simply put, power in today’s world is not projected just by the barrel of the gun.
Myth 2: The UK needs to spend 2% of GDP on defence, no ifs no buts.
Reality: Yes and No. Yes, because that is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)’s target, supposedly set by NATO member states in 2002. Yes, especially since Prime Minister David Cameron urged other NATO members to meet the target in the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales. Yes because there are threats from Russia, Daesh (the proper name for ISIS/ISIL), Boko Haram, Syria, and many unknown unknowns.
Uh no. It should not be about a fixed target about 2%. You can jolly well “steal” the Department for International Development’s (DFID) budget and create enough for 2%, but that is about meeting targets, not meeting outcomes or addressing the external security environment. You can have your 2% expenditure or even more, but if you spend it say on the music bands of the four different branches or on personnel pay, that doesn’t mean a more secure UK. (Note, I’ve nothing against the Royal Navy’s, the Royal Marine’s, the British Army’s or the Royal Air Force’s military bands.) As Christian Mölling argues in his article, it should be about efficiency and outcomes not (just) about an abstract figure. Of course, the UK, being a “fixed” major power, needs a strong defence budget. But if it spends it unwisely, then its better off channelling that money to more practical uses.
Myth 3: The UK (since 2010) as spent too much on development aid.
Reality: The 0.7% target is of course hated by pro-military groups and individuals but for extreme reasons. First, noo, in terms of volume, the UK is not really channelling alot in aid or what they term as Official Development Assistance (ODA) (I’ll call it aid for in this post). The UK may have recently reached the 0.7% target, but the United States is still the world’s largest donor in terms of volume.
With regards to the itsy-bitsy 0.7% figure, I’ll let you read this post. Yes 0.7% is an outdated aid figure. Yes, it is as symbolic as the NATO target of 2% on GDP. Yes, it could be reduced. But British MPs have a fetish over this oudated and irrelevant figure.
Myth 4: Aid is useless, aid is wasted on corrupt governments/government figures. Stop aid!
Reality: You here is mainly from the Daily Mail, Dambisa Moyo or those who simply never understand the meaning of aid at all. It would take an essay long answer to explain the limited effectiveness of aid but to answer this myth, none of the extreme anti-aid groups have presented strong evidence of aid being wasted or aid being fully ineffective. To the contrary, British aid (only talking about British aid here) is heavily monitored by DFID itself before it is used to fund development projects or assist countries. The current (and soon hopefully gone) Coalition Government has been very keen on ensure UK aid should not be wasted. They initiated a Multilateral Aid Review and Bilateral Aid Review to re-focus where UK aid should be sent. Beyond DFID, there is the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) (formerly the Independent Advisory Committee on Development Impact (IACDI), which monitors the impact of British aid. ICAI has sounded alarms to DFID (and the UK parliament) if UK aid is inefficiently used. Of course, UK aid is not the golden child of global aid and there have been faults and wastage. But by and large, the myth cannot be substantiated.
Aid in fact is a tool for the UK’s national security. If you consider (or not consider) the issue of soft power, aid is a tool to secure conflict or near conflict zones. The Coalition government in fact has listed aid as a means to achieve its Building Stability Oversea Strategy.
Myth 5: Charity begins at home, development sucks defence rocks.
Reality: This again requires an essay long answer but it goes back to points raised above. As stated, conflicts or possible conflicts in the recent past, today and in the future cannot be simply solved by military force alone. Afghanistan is perhaps the clearest example. The US and NATO had a clear military advantage over the Taliban/Al Qaeda (even if you discount the nuclear arsenals of the US, UK and France). Yet, NATO or the West could not or has not beaten this/these adversary/(ies). It may be the case that Afghanistan can’t be easily developed, but external, non-military help has been noted to be another strong factor to stabilise the country.
Pro-military people or citizens might argue that in this era of economic uncertainty or downturn, one should withdraw from aiding others and focus at home (on defence). Nation-States like the UK (or major world powers) simply cannot at like a sick individual or a poor family. In the global arena, states still have to provide engagement and assistance when needed, despite their own troubles.
Myth 6: The UK military (or armed forces in general), knows better on how to deal with post-conflict or development in general. It has been called upon in development or humanitarian situations.
Reality: This is undoubtedly true as seen in the cases of Operation Patwin (UK response to Typhoon Haiyan), Operation Gritrock (response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone) or even the floods back in the UK. Praise must be given to all branches of the armed forces for aiding others in need. However, the armed forces still needed to work with those with the expertise of development or disaster relief in order for a successful mission. In response (to mostly the Afghanistan campaign), the British Army has grouped three (later four) sub-units to form the Security Assistance Group, now known as the 77th Brigade. This brigade/unit will work along side DFID and Foreign Office (FCO) personnel to stabilise or attempt to stabilise regions or countries. (See my entries on the 77th Brigade) So yes, there the British Armed Forces isn’t only “owner” of development expertise but instead should work with those with the knowledge. (Again, see the answer to Myth 4).
Myth 7: There shouldn’t be a DFID. What is DFID? No other country has a DFID.
Reality: To cut a long answer short, yes there should DFID in order to prevent wastage of UK aid. A good history of why DFID was created can be found in this article by Owen Barder. Yes, other countries have similar cabinet-level departments, Germany for example. Other’s have departments resting under their foreign ministries, such USAID. The issue of whether DFID should remain DFID is still debatable, but the usual answer in favour of having a cabinet-level development agency in the UK? The Pergau Dam affair (see the Barder Article or read up on it).
Myth 8: But ok, Defence still is the major duty of any UK government.
Reality: I agree, this can be said to be true for all independent countries. But as noted above, the security of the UK (and that of the world) cannot just depend on military might alone. Armed Forces may appear to be great (to pro-military nuts), but they ultimately cause destruction or create the opposite of development. Or put it this way: Your armed forces simply can’t stop individuals from being radicalised or leaders in other countries to kill their own citizens or neighbouring regions. Defence via military means can’t stop other non-military incidents or events such as climate change, radical militants, or even long term government failure. Defence and security today and tomorrow rests not just with missiles or troops, but with other means.
Myth 9: You can’t have both 2% of GDP on Defence and 0.7% of GDP for aid
Reality: Goes back to Myth 2 to 4. Personally, you can reach both symbolic targets if you sort out the economy properly. Oh yes, you can reduce the 0.7% target (and get cries from the NGO community) and hope that 2% helps secure your country. But again, reaching targets is just reaching targets. Making the most out of the money should always be the issue.
Myth 10: It’s DFID’s fault! Always target DFID!
Reality: I would blame those that caused the economic crises of the world and certainly DFID isn’t the major target to blame.