Daniel Korski

The Department for Fragile States?

The Department for Fragile States?
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The Department for International Development (DFID) should forsake peaceful but poor countries and instead turn into “a world leader in tackling the problems of fragile states.” That’s what a new Chatham House report by Alex Evans, who used to be an adviser to Hilary Benn, and his colleague, David Steven, argue:

'If the UK wants to deepen its commitment to backing the challenges posed by fragile states, it needs to remodel DFID extensively, with the department concentrating on developing a coherent preventive agenda for fragile states. The Secretary of State for International Development should make it clear that where a poor country’s main need is financial, the UK will not necessarily maintain a country office – but will instead reduce transaction costs by partnering with other effective donors, or simply channeling funds through multilateral institutions such as the World Bank.'

I argued something similar a couple of years ago when I provocatively floated the idea of changing DFID to the Department for International Development and Stabilisation.

In truth, DFID has already improved its engagement with fragile states. DFID doubled the number of its Senior Civil Service (SCS) led overseas offices (11 to 23) and staff overseas (597 to 1173) from 1999 to 2009.  

More money is being devoted to fragile states. Of the £8.9 billion spent by the UK in Iraq over the period 2002/03 to 2008/09, just over £1 billion was spent on development programmes, quick impact projects and other expenditure by DFID and the FCO. Half of this came from DFID as humanitarian aid, reconstruction of power and water supplies in Basra, and projects to build the capability of government in Baghdad. Generally, DFID has shifted resources markedly to fragile states, in response to the 2006 White Paper; but the limited data available suggests no significant change on the share of conflict or humanitarian programmes.  

It may be a step too far to create a conflict-focused department, not least because of scepticism about the effectiveness of the World Bank. But at the very least, the new National Security Strategy should determine how important UK efforts in these countries are; and find the best mechanism to achieve UK aims. As part of this, DFID should review its commitment to allocate at least half of its new bilateral aid to fragile and conflict-affected states, its tripling of security and justice assistance, and consider setting a specific target for the proportion of security and justice assistance in these countries.