#12 power
Thomas Fues

Power Games in International Development Policy

The age of a Western dominated world order is drawing to a close. Rising powers from the South such as India, China and Brazil, along with middle-income countries like Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey, are becoming important global actors. Their will and capacity to shape political processes is based on newly acquired economic power and cannot be ignored by the West any longer.

The new multipolar era is also reflected in international development policy. While South-South cooperation has played a central role in the collective identity and rhetoric of developing regions since the Bandung Conference in 1955, the economic vitality that has developed there in recent years has now made it possible to truly implement this guiding principle. Today, countries like China, India and Brazil have become important partners to many African states and other developing countries. In the past, they did not coordinate their development policy efforts, choosing instead to follow their own, at times contradictory, national interests independently of one another. This, however, is changing as Southern providers have begun to search for common positions.

Competitors or partners?

The West is now faced with the question of how it wants to engage with the “new donors”. Should it regard them as competitors for markets, power and geopolitical influence or as partners in building an effective development architecture? Traditional donors would be happiest if South-South development cooperation was undertaken according to the same rules and principles that have been established over the past five decades through the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Furthermore they would like to see the “new donors” integrated into the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation initiated primarily by the DAC after the Busan conference of 2011. The Global Partnership aims at providing a universal platform for all actors in development cooperation.

So far important countries in the South have given their Western solicitors the cold shoulder.

However, so far important countries in the South, such as India, China and Brazil, have given their Western solicitors the cold shoulder. They insist that South-South cooperation must be handled completely differently than North-South assistance, and distance themselves from the Global Partnership because of the supposed dominance of the industrialised countries. At the moment it is unclear whether the power struggle between the key international development stakeholders will escalate or whether the North and the South will ultimately choose a joint path of trust and equal cooperation in designing and implementing a post-2015 agenda for global development.

Options for Southern “donors”

The countries involved in South-South cooperation absolutely reject the “new donors” label. They argue that they have been involved for decades and that their contribution cannot be seen as a form of unilateral charity. They emphasise equitable relationships on an even basis, the voluntary nature and reciprocal benefits of their actions, do not impose political conditions on recipients, and seek to focus primarily on their partners’ needs. This overall orientation is the basis for their claim to be structurally different from traditional donors. Certain governments in the South reject the guidelines, standards and procedures of the DAC on transparency, reporting and impact assessment as not suited to their purposes. This constellation gives rise to two strategic questions for Southern stakeholders on the whole: Firstly, do they want to bridge the gap between the in part divergent interests within their camp and agree on joint principles and definitions as a counterpoint to the DAC? Secondly, how can they as a collective voice take an active role in the current processes aimed at building up a new global development architecture?

In the past, the governments involved did not make any effort to set definitions and standards for South-South development cooperation. This might be due to the latent rivalries among the “new donors” in expanding their foreign relations and perhaps a lack of knowledge of and administrative capacity for development issues. The growing scope of such activities along with increasing political pressure for accountability from the West, but also from civil societies in their partner countries, have kicked off a recent process of reorientation. The April 2013 conference on “Southern providers” in Delhi, initiated and financed by the Indian Foreign Ministry, was regarded as the starting shot for Southern governments and think tanks to begin developing collective concepts (“Delhi process”). A few months later in June 2013 in Addis Ababa, numerous providers from the South agreed to create a platform without the participation of the industrialised countries to serve as a space for exchanging information and formulating shared guidelines for South-South cooperation. It remains to be seen how stable this association will ultimately be, especially with respect to its permanent funding, and where this institutional innovation will find its administrative home. While some voices have called for a DAC of the South, others caution against jeopardising the political unity of developing countries within the framework of the G77 through a new “donor front”.

It also remains to be seen how the Southern stakeholders will ultimately position themselves within the global development architecture. Two camps hold opposing views. While the pragmatic medium-sized powers such as Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa are in favour of collaboration in the Global Partnership, the new heavyweights in the global economy, China, India and Brazil, are not yet convinced that this would serve a useful purpose. They tend to be more in favour of the United Nations, which set up the Development Cooperation Forum in 2008 that meets every other year and aims to link all development policy stakeholders, though without any resounding success thus far. The South, however, is well aware of the systemic weaknesses of the world organization with respect to consensus building and effectiveness.

Conflict or cooperation?

The first Global Partnership ministerial-level meeting is scheduled to be held in Mexico in April 2014. It should shed light on how deep the gap between the industrialised countries and key Southern stakeholders truly is. Will countries such as India, China and Brazil ultimately agree to compromise with traditional donors or are they set on a course of confrontation? How much influence do the middle-income states in favour of an agreement with the DAC member states have and what do recipients expect from old and “new” donors alike? If a global development agenda after 2015 is to be successful, we can only hope that the current power struggle between North and South is replaced by a unified effort to create inclusive and efficient institutions. In view of the evolutionary history of the Global Partnership, primarily shaped by the industrialised countries, and the defensive posture this has engendered from important Southern stakeholders, it would seem that the United Nations offers a more suitable framework in which donors and recipients can agree on guidelines, norms and standards in development cooperation and consider the interests of non-governmental groups in the process. To this end the Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) would need to be empowered and given the proper political and financial support from all the country groups so that it can effectively undertake its mandate. This is currently far from the case. The OECD secretariat, which is doing comprehensive support work for the DAC and the Global Partnership, should also assist the DCF in systematic data collection and analytical studies in future.

This ambitious global consensus will only be achieved if the industrialised countries recognise the unique qualities of South-South cooperation and do not demand that the “new donors” unilaterally adopt Western principles.

But this ambitious global consensus will only be achieved if the industrialised countries recognise the unique qualities of South-South cooperation and do not demand that the “new donors” unilaterally adopt Western principles. The normative foundation and practical guidelines of a yet-to-be-determined global accord must equally reflect the specific values, traditions and experience of all country groups. For the industrialised countries this means that they must modify their own approaches and allow for critical questions regarding rationale, focus, and the reality of implementation. And they have to practice mutual learning on an even playing field, such as by applying the good examples set by Southern “donors” to their own programmes. Only such a basis, beyond any national and institutional egotism, will serve to bring all development stakeholders to the table to agree on joint efforts in successfully combating global poverty and promoting sustainable growth in developing countries.

Related Articles

Aid Effectiveness: What For?

From aid effectiveness to development effectiveness

» more

Cyberconflict and Hacktivism in a Contemporary Context

Cyberconflict, the role of networks and communication technology in future warfares.

» more

Introduction: Development Cooperation

» more

Global Governance: Rationale – Hurdles – Perspectives

» more

European Aid: Aspiring to the Gold Medal

» more

Public Development Finance: Old Commitments – New Challenges

» more

Financing Development: Feasible Paths Through the Mine Field

» more

Whose Aid Is it Anyway? A Recent Oxfam Study

» more

The Elephant Still in the Room: Aid Policy Regarding Corruption

» more

China’s Foreign Aid – Interests, Strategies and Instruments

» more

Developing New Models

About Partnership between Multinational Enterprises and International Non-Govermental Organisations

» more

Introduction: Biodiversity

Why the topic of biodiversity matters

» more