Dead Men Left

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Wolfowitz and neoconservative "development"

Although his nomination from the US has caused obvious alarm amongst much of the rest of the world, including at the World Bank’s own staff association and even – to continue a theme - the Economist (“Wolf at the door”, 19 March), it is still most likely that Paul Wolfowitz will become the next Bank president. The procedure has a vague nod at democracy, with contributing nations being awarded votes based roughly on their contributions to the Bank’s funds, but this is unlikely to matter. Those unhappiest amongst the other major voting nations will almost certainly not want to break their current rapprochement with the Republican administration, and – even if they were so inclined – are unlikely to be able to stitch together the voting coalition needed to defeat the US nomination.

Wolfowitz’s appointment isn’t simply bluster on Bush’s part, however, or a display of “chutzpah” (as the Economist has it). Whilst attention was focused in early 2002 on the formation of the so-called “Bush doctrine”, as sweepingly formulated in the new National Security Strategy, alongside the overtly militaristic posturing was a more subtle attempt to reshape foreign policy. Aid and development had been acknowledged as pressing world concerns in the signing of the Millennium Development Goals by 189 nations at the General Assembly of the UN in September 2000. These listed such laudable aims as halving world poverty by 2015 and achieving universal primary education by the same year. In March 2002, the Bush administration unveiled what they called a “new global development compact”, in the form of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA).

Crucially, the MCA broke with the previous liberal development consensus by explicitly tying the Development Goals to the National Security Strategy. Where previous development strategy had emphasised what was usually called “human security” and fundamental freedoms, the “compact” pushed by the MCA redefined development as an issue of national security.

The most obvious consequences for this were the use of what Susanne Soederberg calls “pre-emptive development”. (“American imperialism and new forms of disciplining the ‘non-integrating gap’”, Research in Political Economy 21). Rather than supplying aid, often in the form of loans, so that developing countries could achieve development goals, the Bush approach is to expect certain preconditions are met. These are a set of 16 indicators, assessed by not only (as expected) the World Bank and other international bodies, but also conservative think-tanks like Freedom House and the Heritage Foundation, expected to make judgements on “trade policy”. On meeting these eligibility criteria, grants can be made available. Bush, speaking at the UN-sponsored Monterry conference in 2002, claimed he wanted significant increases in the US’s aid budget, aiming for a 50% increase between that year and 2006. The legislation for all this eventually dribbled out of the Washington machine in February 2004, with Congress making hefty cuts in the original proposals. Nontheless, the US aid budget increased by around $1.5bn.

This has been enough to lure certain grizzled poverty campaigners into making outlandish claims for Bush’s good intentions. Away from Bono, Geldof and Africa’s other self-appointed saviours, the rest of us should be – as you might have guessed – more wary. The “pre-emptive” conditions exclude aid from those in “failed states” that desperately need it (PDF file), like Sudan and Somalia. The exclusive and unilateral nature of the aid proposed is intended, quite explicitly, to trammel countries into following a wildly discredited, one-size-fits-all model of neoliberal (non-)development. The added bonus, for the neoconservatives, is the potential to align development goals with the Bush administration’s wider foreign policy aims. By withholding aid from where it is needed, the Bush gang are presumably happy to allow millions to starve, remain at risk of preventable diseases, or go without rudimentary education.

Wolfowitz’s nomination, seen in this light, looks less esoteric. At one stroke, Bush has neatly tied together the anti-war movement’s implicit critique of neoliberalism (“Beds not bombs,” as the placards have it) with the anti-capitalist movement’s explicit denunciations. Just as we opposed Wolfowitz’s plans in Iraq, we should oppose the Bush administration’s designs on the global economy. A realistic strategy for development would allow maximum autonomy for the developing world, not effectively sacrifice yet more lives for a grand imperial vision.