Are there examples of countries where foreign aid seems to cause conflict?
March 21, 2011 1:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in examples of countries where foreign aid has contributed to conflict. Aside from Somalia, are there other good examples of civil wars that were caused or exacerbated by the presence of foreign aid?

As far as the mechanisms in Somalia (which might also be present in other countries that I'm not familiar with), there seem to be two different pathways. First, food aid can apparently play the role of a classic lootable resource which rebel groups can sieze and resell as a source of funding. Second, foreign aid appeared to sustain rebel groups and opposition leaders in Somalia and prevent the adoption of durable stable institutions.

I'm wondering if people are aware of other countries where this dynamic might be present that I can do some research on. Also, if anyone is familiar with research on other mechanisms linking foreign aid and conflict that are present in other countries that I should explore further. (I'm currently researching whether Pakistan is cracking down on tribal groups in response to increased military aid from the US, but there is an endogeneity problem with that case.)

I'm mostly interested in civil wars, but if there is research (for example) that suggests that countries that receive large amounts of military aid are more prone to interstate violence, that would also be relevant. I'm interested in any type of foreign aid whether military, humanitarian, development, multilateral, bilateral, etc.
posted by andoatnp to Law & Government (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Some believe that the conflict in northern Uganda, which has spread to Sudan, the DRC, and the CAR, has been perpetuated by US aid (mainly military, but also humanitarian) to the Ugandan government. I briefly worked there, and this theory was commonly voiced by Ugandans in the north.

Conversely, Uganda's president claims that strings attached to donor aid are responsible for the country's failure to defeat the LRA. Ping me if you'd like more sources.
posted by rebekah at 2:05 PM on March 21, 2011

Anti-U.S. sentiment in the Middle East can be partially attributed to foreign aid sent to Israel, which until recently was the No. 1 recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

"Some in the United States question the levels of aid and general commitment to Israel, and argue that a US bias toward Israel operates at the expense of improved US relations with various Arab and Muslim governments. Others maintain that Israel is a strategic ally, and that US relations with Israel strengthen the US presence in the Middle East."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:08 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

From a 1990 article on foreign aid by a polisci professor:
There is little doubt about the disincentive effect of foreign “aid.” The “Food for Peace” program, or PL-40, began in 1940. The program distributes surplus U.S. food overseas. In country after country, including Bangladesh, India, Haiti, and Guatemala, the result, Bovard (p. 18) notes, is that the program “has fed the same people for more than a decade, thereby permanently decreasing the demand for locally produced food and creating an entrenched welfare class.”

Perhaps even more tragic is that since “consumers naturally will not pay for what they can get free” (Bandow, p. xiv), the program has driven local producers out of business. Thus, not only has “food aid” pauperized large segments of the Third World, it has also penalized local producers, thereby resulting in a “de-skilling” of the local population as well as retarding the development of those attitudes—thrift, industry, and self-reliance—that are essential for economic development.

But what of emergency relief such as that extended to famine-stricken countries like Ethiopia? Again, the record speaks for itself. During the 1973-74 famine, Ethiopia received large amounts of food from Europe and America. Although the provinces of Eritrea and Tigre were most affected, food was diverted from them to starve the rebels there into submission. The government of Haile Selassie sold much of the donated food on the world market; the money went to line the pockets of regime members. The government even offered to sell the U.S. 4,000 tons of grain, which the U.S. would then donate back to Ethiopia, thereby helping the U.S. to fulfill its pledge of 22,500 tons of donated food. The offer was declined (Shepard; Legum; Osterfeld, 1985, pp. 264- 66).

The actions of the Mengistu government during the 1984-85 famine were remarkably similar. Though thousands starved, the government not only spent over $200 million to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Marxist revolution, it also earned $15 million in revenues by charging ships loaded with donated food a port- entry fee of $50.50 a ton. Ships unable to pay the fee were turned away, cargo unloaded (Fenwick). Again, the Eritrea-Tigre area was sealed off, and those smuggling food into the area were attacked by the army. Food shipments were seized and some of it used to feed the army. Some has been sold on the world market, and the money earned used to buy munitions for the war against the rebels.

“Most of the food destined for Eritrea—as much as 100,000 tons each month—has arrived at the Ethiopian- controlled port cities of Aseb and Mitsiwa.” But, says Anthony Suau (pp. 391,400), since “Ethiopia tries to prevent outside aid from reaching the people in Eritrea . . . food aid and medicine must enter the way I did: from Sudan; crossing the border without official permission and moving only at night to avoid Ethiopian planes.” The steady trickle of Eritrean refugees into Sudan, about 400,000 between 1967 and 1984, has turned into a flood, with many of them either starving or wounded from strafing and the bombing of civilian centers by the Ethiopian military (Kaplan).
posted by John Cohen at 2:19 PM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I just read a paper which does see a relationship between aid the the number of refugees, (conditional on the existence of refugees, the more aid, the more refugees). One of the authors, however, has found elsewhere that the aid reduces the possibility of civil war.

Jean-Paul Azam is the first author, I can email you the paper if you are interested, the reference is "Violence Against Civilians in Civil Wars : Looting or Terror?", Journal of Peace Research, vol. 39, n. 4, July 2002, p. 461-485. (with Anke Hoeffler), but I didnt think it was that strong, frankly. I have not read the other paper, but it is: Collier, Paul & Anke Hoeffler, 2002. Aid, Policy and Peace', Defence and Peace Economics. Hoeffler has done several things you might be interested in.
posted by shothotbot at 2:24 PM on March 21, 2011

Aid programs to North Korea are now under review by even the most generous donors because the regime has allocated supplies to the elites and military, with the intended recipients not receiving anything. Christopher Hill, former ambassador to South Korea, makes this argument.
posted by holterbarbour at 4:09 PM on March 21, 2011

This New Yorker article covers a few conflicts and mentions some books for further reading.
posted by martianna at 6:01 PM on March 21, 2011

I'm not sure if it fits what you're looking for, but the Contras in the civil war in Nicaragua were pretty well funded by "foreign aid."
posted by anadem at 8:20 PM on March 21, 2011

I work for an international NGO that in any given year very well may distribute more of World Food Programme's food than WFP themselves may (we typically have more field infrastructure / personnel than they do). Security convoys remain an important aspect of getting food resources safely to field distribution, particularly in parts of Sudan (where they have been much more important in the last decade than currently, however). A lot of food distribution in Somalia was recently shut down particularly with the ousting of WFP and our own headquarters late last year.

Food commodities in DRC aren't so much an issue right now (less prone to food shortages on the whole), but the UN's presence remains largely useless in stopping the continuing conflict particularly in the eastern parts of the country.

Zimbabwe is another big problem for this, although more from a corruption standpoint than a military one: we maintain massive warehouses for food commodities (here's a couple photos to give you an idea), but if at any time a government minister decides to show up and confiscate as much of these resources as he can find transport for, there's not really much we can do. We don't get a lot of visibility to the product after such sanctioned thefts take place, but I'd wager that since their own people continue to starve in many areas, they're likely exporting it for sale in other countries (or maybe feeding government troops with it).
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:10 AM on March 22, 2011

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