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International NGOs and International Development Assistance: What They Can and Cannot Contribute to Combating Terrorism

Aaronson, M (2009) International NGOs and International Development Assistance: What They Can and Cannot Contribute to Combating Terrorism In: Combating Transnational Terrorism. Searching for a new paradigm. PSI Reports . Praeger, ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California. ISBN 0313379645

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In this chapter I argue that much recent thinking about the links between ‘development’ and combating terrorism has been misguided and that the response to both poverty and terrorism has suffered as a result. At the conceptual level there is a potential clash between altruism and self-interest; whereas the purpose of development work is to secure human rights and justice for all people for altruistic reasons, counter-terrorism is usually framed in terms of self-defense and self-interest. There is also a moral deficit: Western governments pay more attention to the development needs of states seen as posing a global security threat than to those where human suffering is greatest, and the absence of a consistent foreign policy approach to issues of poverty and conflict undermines the authority of the West’s interventions. At the practical level, the role of ‘development’ in combating terrorism is almost certainly overplayed. Poor people do not necessarily become terrorists, although poverty and – especially – injustice provide the narrative that leaders of terrorist organizations use to justify their activity. Successful action to combat terrorism requires us to acknowledge people’s grievances and legitimate aspirations to a better life, and give some hope that these can be met, as well as to insist robustly on the rule of law. This should include a determined effort to engage armed groups in political processes rather than allow them to fall back on extremist tactics. Instead, the current policy preference is for the diversion of aid funds into military budgets, in the misguided belief that this will help win the ‘war on terror’; this option also reflects the difficulties faced by donor governments struggling to reconcile their nominally altruistic development goals with their more self-interested security concerns. For all these reasons international NGOs and other independent development actors have of necessity to keep their distance from official action by governments to combat terrorism and even official development agencies struggle to define their role as part of a ‘comprehensive approach’. I argue that governments can help to close this gap by adopting a broader concept of self-interest, based on the recognition that security is an entitlement of rich and poor people alike. Terrorist activity damages the poor as much as the rich (if not more so) but perceived injustice and the unaddressed grievances of the poor and marginalized – exacerbated by the exclusion of armed groups from political processes - allow it to flourish. The challenge facing Western governments engaged in the attempt to combat terrorism is to apply the principles of equity and social justice consistently across all aspects of our foreign and security policy so that development and counter-terrorism can be mutually reinforcing.

Item Type: Book Section
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > Department of Politics
Authors :
Aaronson, M
Editors :
Tsang, S
Date : 30 September 2009
Uncontrolled Keywords : Political Science
Related URLs :
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 25 Jul 2012 11:07
Last Modified : 31 Oct 2017 14:33

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