At Large

Britain’s Aid Disease

A country that can no longer defend itself is happy to provide millions in foreign aid to the world's worst tyrants.

By 10.26.11

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Britain's apparent determination not only to commit national suicide but to drag as much as possible of the developing world down with it, gathers pace with the latest largesse to be showered on various Third World regimes.

These recipients of Britain's generosity are not simply corrupt -- Indonesia has been notoriously corrupt, but though the local generals have pocketed a percentage of the aid money which they have received, projects have been built, and living standards have risen. The recipients of British aid, however, include not just corrupt dictatorships, but blood-soaked tyrannies whose rulers not only make no serious effort at development, but probably have no concept of it.

That it will buy Britain any good will is a pipe dream, and that it will result on any positive improvement in the recipient countries' living conditions or democratic institutions is probably even less likely.

The planned jump in aid has been damned by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, charged with overseeing Government spending, which added that the Department of International Development had a "poor understanding" of the scale and likelihood of aid being lost to fraud. The chairman of the PAC, Labour MP and former minister Margaret Hodge, has said:

"The department is going to be spending more in fragile and conflict-affected countries and the danger to the taxpayer is that there could be an increase in fraud and corruption.

"However, the department could not even give us information as to the expected levels of fraud and corruption and the action they were taking to mitigate it."

Prime Minister David Cameron -- apparently motivated by a confused desperation to have the Conservative Party shed a "nasty" image -- has pledged that foreign aid will rise by about 34 percent from 8.4 billion pounds this year to 12.6 billion pounds in 2015, equal to 479 pounds -- or about $1,000 -- for every household in Britain. For a country is a deep economic crisis this is looks like not only madness, but a direct betrayal of its own people.

The countries concerned include the following, as listed in the Daily Mail:

• Burma, with one of the worst human rights records in the world, comparable to communist countries in the days of Stalinism, including genocide, will receive an increase of 82 percent to 185 million pounds. Its government is a peculiarly toxic cocktail of militarism and socialism, there is no political liberty and development remains mired in hopeless stagnation. There is a story from a few years ago that one Burmese signatory was allowed to travel to Singapore for medical treatment and broke down weeping when he saw what capitalism had achieved.

• Somalia, a hopeless failed state and pirate headquarters, will receive an increase of 205 percent, to 250 million pounds by 2015. It is reckoned to be not just corrupt, but to be the most corrupt nation on Earth.

Yemen will have its aid approximately doubled from 46.7 million pounds to 90 million pounds a year, despite being a breeding ground for Al Qaeda terrorists.

• Zimbabwe, under the demented tyrant Robert Mugabe, does best of all, with an increase in aid of 70 million pounds to 350 million pounds. A genocidal war was carried out by Mugabe against the Northern Ndebele (Matabele) tribe, using North Korean-trained troops. Torture in police cells is taken for granted. Once among the most prosperous food-growing countries in Africa, it has been reduced to destitution by Mugabe's policy of confiscating mostly white-owned farms to redistribute among his cronies.

James Delingpole has written in the highly respected Daily Telegraph:

The biggest recipient of our foreign aid largesse is currently Pakistan, to which over the next four years, we will be sending a total of £1.4 billion. This is roughly the same amount that Pakistan has earmarked to spend on a new fleet of Chinese-made submarines; these will go nicely with the two squadrons of Chinese J-10 fighters which Pakistan has also bought at a cost of $1.4 billion. So, in effect, our foreign aid donations are helping to underwrite the military expansion of the country which until recently was shielding the world's number one Islamist terrorist, organised the massacre in Bombay and is doing so much to fund the Taliban insurgency killing and maiming our forces in Afghanistan.

Still, at least [Britain] is winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan, with spectacular projects like the amusement park and ferris wheel in Lashkar Gar (pop: 100,000) which you, dear taxpayer, cheerfully funded with a mere £420,000 of your hard earned dosh. One day a week, it's Women Only day. That'll certainly put paid to any funny ideas the Taliban may have of taking over the country as soon as we've made our ignominious departure: "You have the watches; we have the time; but, aieeee, nooo, we cannot compete with your secret propaganda weapon: impressive views of the green zone from a precariously swinging chair while struggling to eat candy floss through a burka." 

I said Britain seemed determined to drag the developing world down with it, and while I admit this is somewhat hyperbolic, it is not entirely so. This aid tends to be not merely useless, it is actively destructive. At best, the aid removes incentives for the local rulers to develop their own economies and tax-bases, at worse it will help finance, or make other monies available to finance, armies, secret police and torture chambers. All this is also, of course, in addition to the aid contributed by non-Governmental organizations, whose quality is extremely variable.

Also, this is despite desperate economic problems at home. Although the exact numbers are hard to know, there are repeated reports of old-age pensioners freezing to death because of the cost of fuel bills, which are set to soar again.

The care of inmates of aged-care homes has been the cause of one scandal after another and I would guess that a push for euthanasia to save public money in the near future is all but inevitable. I will try not to again so soon mount my hobby horse of Britain's gutted defense forces, except to mention that a few years ago it had more men in Germany, in the Army of the Rhine, than it has in all three services combined today. I have also been informed that the four aircraft defending the Falkland Islands are for ground-support, not air-defense -- in other words the Falklands defenses are even weaker than I realized.

Many other thing adds up to an appalling loss of national self-respect, symbolized by the loss of even the Royal Yacht, Britannia, hulked in Scotland as a relic, and perched as it were, on top of the rubble of cultural ruin. Refitting it to modern standards would have cost, according to one estimate, about 11 million pounds, a small fraction of the amount which has been squandered on the useless Millennium Dome or will be squandered on the Olympic Games (the best British Olympics, the "austerity games" held directly after the war, were run on a shoe string).

I am prepared for a chorus of voices claiming this is not the time -- if there is ever a time -- to be spending money on as Royal Yacht (unlike Pakistani submarines), but nations live in part by symbols that reinforce national pride and self-respect, and Britannia, before it became a symbol of defeat, despair and decline, did this beautifully (the left hated it). As a bit of swank it was usually commanded by an Admiral rather than a mere Captain.

It has also had a record of practical use as a floating trade exhibition, and conference venue -- the Royal Family actually used it only for a small part of the time -- and refurbishing it would have given a little valuable work to Britain's moribund shipyards, with their miles of empty and derelict docks and slipways.

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About the Author

Hal G.P. Colebatch, a lawyer and author, has lectured in International Law and International Relations at Notre Dame University and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia and worked on the staff of two Australian Federal Ministers.