The Department for the Perpetuation of War, Tyranny and Terror
Published in: Daily Mail
When the Conservatives announced that they intended to ring-fence the international aid budget, many eyebrows were raised.
Currently, this country spends about £3 billion every year on such aid. The Coalition has pledged to increase this total to meet the UN target of 0.7per cent of national output by 2013.
Since only the health service is also to be ring-fenced against the draconian spending cuts threatened for the rest of the public sector and expected to be outlined in next Tuesday's Budget, many have asked how the Government can justify spending even more on humanitarian assistance abroad while causing increasing hardship at home.
Surely a government's first duty when the country has a £155 billion deficit is to its own people? And why is a Conservative Prime Minister adopting an attitude that is more commonly identified with the Left?
The reason is not the presence in the coalition of the Lib Dems. It is principally because of David Cameron's driving imperative to transform the image of the Conservative Party from nasty to nice. And a precondition of niceness is that hearts must bleed for the wretched of the earth.
After all, who but the heartless could possibly be against the idea of feeding the hungry or providing the basics of survival such as clean water, sanitation, shelter and health care?
Burned onto all of our retinas are the harrowing pictures of dying babies, swollen stomachs and pitiful lines of homeless refugees in faraway places about which we know very little.
Cameron says he stands for 'progressive conservatism'. And international humanitarian aid is a totem of progressive thinking, even more than support for the welfare state at home. It runs through the progressive psyche like the stripe in a stick of rock.
Ring-fencing the aid budget is therefore brandished as proof that the Tories are now the party of conscience, driven by the desire to ameliorate need rather than accentuate greed. It transforms them from out-of-touch Little Englanders into the trendy soul-mates of the likes of Bob Geldof and Bono.
And, according to Cameron, reducing third world poverty is also the key to tackling major global threats such as terrorism and climate change.
Truly, international aid would seem to be the Tories' philosopher's stone.
But there is a problem. For sure, there is a moral duty on relatively rich countries such as Britain to help relieve humanitarian catastrophes. But the common complaint is that much of this aid doesn't go to the poor at all, but ends up instead in the pockets of tyrants and kleptocrats.
In addition, it is said that it does nothing to tackle the root causes of third world poverty, because it fosters dependency and corruption without requiring the political or economic change necessary to enable such countries to thrive.
The Government is clearly highly sensitive to such concerns. Accordingly, the International-Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, has trumpeted a review of the way this aid is distributed, pledging that, in future, it will be a transparent system guaranteed to go to the poorest of the poor.
But this is a worthless promise. For the problem is far deeper than just transparency.
The horrifying truth is that, far from such assistance going to alleviate starvation, disease and the suffering that follows conflict, much of it actually serves to perpetuate war and tyranny, persecution and mass murder.
How can this have happened? The key error is that famine, drought or disease are regarded as suffering to be alleviated regardless of its context.
But such need is often manipulated or even created by tyrants or warlords -- in order to obtain the aid that then enables them to kill and enslave even more people and prop up their own corrupt and brutal regimes.
This means that the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which administer this aid become the unwitting tools of repression and mass murder -- as do the governments and well-meaning, but naive people who have stumped up the aid in the first place.
On top of this fundamental error, there is another fiction -- that aid and the agencies which deliver it are neutral players in world events.
Humanitarianism is conceived as the duty to alleviate human suffering unconditionally -- which means a blind eye must be turned whenever it is abused. However gross this abuse, the aid must continue to be provided on the grounds that, wherever there is suffering, there must be humanitarian relief.
And so the aid itself becomes the key means by which war and terrorism, tyranny and genocide are actually perpetrated.
The results of this profoundly misguided approach are set out in stark and horrifying detail in War Games, a brilliant new book by the Dutch journalist Linda Polman.
What she conclusively demonstrates is that David Cameron's belief that relieving global poverty will diminish the threat of terrorism or war is the precise opposite of the truth. To warring parties in many conflicts, money and supplies provided by the aid agencies represent a business opportunity and an essential element in their military strategy.
For example, in Rwanda, where the Hutu tribe massacred millions of Tutsis in the Nineties, a record $1.5 billion for immediate relief alone poured in from Western governments and NGOs to deal with what was presented as an epidemic of cholera among the refugees.
What the aid organisations failed to report was that some of the refugees who poured across the border into Goma in neighbouring Zaire were not dying of disease, but were being murdered by Hutu militias.
The Hutus stole the aid -- by some accounts, as much as 60 per cent -- and levied tax on food rations to pay their militias and thus continue murdering Tutsis back in Rwanda. Without international aid, the Hutus' war of extermination would have ground to a halt.
And this pattern has been repeated over and over again in pretty well every conflict zone, where aid is given in the tragically false belief that a dist inct ion can be made between conflict and humanitarian assistance.
In Somalia, warlords extracted from the aid agencies as much as 80 per cent of what the aid supplies were worth. After the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, which left 40,000 dead and displaced 2.5 million people, Dutch relief workers were forced to pay a levy of up to 25 per cent of the aid to the terrorist Tamil Tigers.
In Sudan in the Eighties and Nineties, where two million were slaughtered, the government army that committed these atrocities fed itself on food aid that it stole. The truth is that this aid kept the genocide going.
As Polman observes, warlords, rebel leaders, terrorists, militias and others wreaking death and destruction impose on aid agencies heavy import duties on supplies, fees for visas and work permits, harbour and airport taxes, and road permits for cars and trucks. Some also levy taxes for the 'use' of children for vaccination or rehabilitation.
And even more devastating than this mafia-style aid protection racket, refugee camps all over the world turn into paramilitary or terrorist strongholds. Withdrawing into these camps allows those bent on violence to regroup, rearm and train undisturbed, often using civilian refugees as human shields against any outside attack.
All this courtesy of international aid organisations, which provide food, clean drinking water, medical care, shelter, education and welfare on the spurious grounds that this is merely ' humanitarian' relief and so is nothing at all to do with the conflict in question.
Yet such aid is the key factor that enables the violence and terror to continue -- a fact carefully concealed by the NGOs in case this bitter truth dries up the funds.
As Polman writes, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) camps that sprang up in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza developed into 'fully-fledged city states from which the ''freedom struggle'' against Israel -- and against each other --continues to this day'.
Indeed, in Gaza -- to which the Cameron government has just committed a £19 million first instalment of a five- year £100 million aid package -- UNRWA admitted last year that the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hamas had stolen 3,500 blankets and more than 400 food packages, including 200 tons of rice and flour, that were supposed to be distributed to Gaza residents.
In this calamitous situation, the key is the collusive and deeply questionable role played by the NGOs and aid agencies. These form a vast, powerful and unaccountable industry. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that every major disaster attracts on average 1,000 aid organisations.
Directly after World War II, the supply of aid was tightly controlled by the U.S. and Russia. With the fall of Communism, however, the nature of global conflict changed from war between states to terrorist or rebel insurgencies.
The superpowers withdrew from the scene, and local warlords were left to decide the conditions under which aid organisations would be granted access to the suffering needy. In this combustible arena, many aid agencies have become highly politicised advocacy groups -- and they have a symbiotic relationship with the media, which is so keen to tug public heart-strings that it often censors the ugly manipulation behind the images of human suffering.
The aid organisations then move in with their begging bowls on the back of these harrowing, but highly manipulative dispatches. So much so that former UN Secretary- General , Boutros Boutros-Ghali, referred to the U.S. TV news channel CNN as 'the 16th member of the Security Council'.
Of course the UN itself has been accused of being heavily complicit in this collusion between aid and violence.
There have been allegations for more than six decades that it has run the Palestinian terror camps in the Middle East; that in the Eighties it helped nurture the Taliban in its refugee camps in Pakistan; and that in the Nineties, Liberian refugees in its camps turned into rebels after only a few months.
Interestingly, one of the first people to recognise the trap into which humanitarian aid would lead was Florence Nightingale. Having seen at first hand the appalling conditions in British military hospitals during the 19th century Crimean War, she concluded that the only people who could remedy such a situation were those whose incompetence and heartlessness had caused it in the first place -- in that case, the British government.
When the International Committee of the Red Cross was founded in 1863, on the principle that voluntary organisations should deliver humanitarian assistance regardless of why it had become needed and what was actually done with it, Nightingale observed: 'I need hardly say I think its views most absurd, just such as would originate in a little state like Geneva which can never see war.'
Today, this Geneva-based organisation has developed a self-aggrandising moral blindness that pervades the West's whole approach to aid.
Ultimately, international aid is not about rescuing the starving of the world. Instead, it is all about burnishing the self-image of the person, organisation or government doing the giving. That's why blind eyes are so resolutely turned to the way aid is used as the life-support system for tyrants and mass murderers.
There is surely a case for saying that, rather than being ring-fenced as Cameron's government vows to do, the entire international aid programme should be axed -- along with the department that administers it.
Failing that, it should be renamed the Department for the Perpetuation of War, Tyranny and Terror. Now that would be transparency.
As for the generous-minded members of the public who want to dip into their pockets to relieve distress, they would be well advised to give the international aid racket a miss and donate to charities caring for the poor, old or disabled in this country instead.