Ukraine – prevention

I feel that if there were more money and effort spent on building international relations and conflict prevention, this (the invasion not just of disputed territories but the whole of the Ukraine by Russia) need not have happened.

The criticism of NATO’s continued existence as an offensive military organisation (as opposed to a mutual defence treaty) once the Warsaw Pact had collapsed is not a new one. I can understand Russia’s concern about it. And I have seen many suggestions being made for diplomatic solutions which could have addressed or at least challenged Russia’s demands for not having NATO on their borders. For example, a buffer alliance of East European states not in NATO or Ukraine joining an alliance of neutral states.

Our own national posturing and feeble threats did nothing to prevent what has happened. Nor have our sanctions spread to a whole list of things that any geezer down the boozer could come up with: impounding their ships and aircraft; expelling the 900 Russians who bought an express UK citizenship; banning all trade with Russia; confiscating any containers or goods bound for Russia; instructing every investment house to freeze the assets of every Russian investor or risk being struck off. I’m sure there are many more people with more knowledge can think of, especially for dealing with the Russian supply chain.

Photos of UK politicians wandering around Kiev wearing a furry hat (on a day when it was warmer than Manchester) might get votes but has absolutely zero impact on reality.

It’s another case of a country with some demands (going back 30 years) being ignored and challenged as if to say “We dare you”. But Russia has a cultural tradition of strong and brave leadership: they would respond with a strong and brave response. Which they have. Big surprise. Not.

There’s also the cultural issues in the region which go back a thousand years. The history is really complex and we learned during the Paris Peace Conference a century ago that self determination is really important. If people in a region feel they do not want to be governed by a different peoples, then that needs to be listened to or it will eventually escalate. Since then, and especially in the past 30 or so years, we have learned an awful lot about conflict de-escalation and how to create societies with imbalanced powers that actually work. Instead of waiting for this to go horribly pear-shaped, like we did when Yugoslavia fell to bits, we (European states, mostly, but also the UN) could have done more to help resolve the Ukraine / Crimea / Russia situation by thinking of the people, power structures, how to reorganise society and the history instead of nation state politics.

I don’t think international politics or relations is easy. Well, it is if you ignore it and wait for it to go belly up and wait for it to be a military problem, I suppose, rather than dealing with it. I don’t suppose it is any easier for a national politician in the UK to go and say “Can we help?” than it is to get involved when the neighbours are shouting at one another in the street. It’s easier to draw the curtains and hope it goes away.

But I thought the point of the United Nations was to stop this sort of thing, to create a safe environment to settle issues. Maybe that is where to look for the failure here. In what way does the UN need to change?

And where the heck were the UN peacekeepers? Instead of NATO posturing and behaving like a belligerent nation itself with its leader making threats and demands on the world stage (did you vote for him? I didn’t.), NATO could have offered to provide the peacekeeping force to the UN. To protect the border, from invasion, not as a NATO attack force but a UN peacekeeping force. They have the resources and money for a war, surely they have the resources and money for not a war?

Yes, it’s sad. Unimaginative and weak leadership, more concerned in posturing and local votes than making the world a better place. But then, isn’t that politicians the world over? Me, me, me, me, me.

It does not take a strong person to start a fight. It takes a strong one to stop one. And that strength could come from investment into further research into conflict management, raising awareness of the methods, publicising success when it works and promoting its application when the neighbours are having a falling out. Hmm. I wonder where the money could come from to pay for that?

How about starting with the management of NATO. Scrap NATO as an organisation – but leave the sensible mutual defence pact Treaty in place – and use the money saved for managing international relations in a peaceful way?

UK aid from 0.7% to 0.5%

There has been a UK government announcement about reducing aid from 0.7% to 0.5%.

The argument is that since the economy is struggling1, we ought to spend less on aid (“charity begins at home” and all that). But the idea of paying a percentage is that is goes down when the economy is suffering anyway. So reducing the percentage reduces the amount twice over. Also, since the economy has shrunk, reducing the %age spent on aid claws back less money than it first appears, it claws back 0.2% of less that it would have.

Of what is it 0.7% or 0.5%?
It is a %age of the Gross National Income (GNI). What is GNI? That is the new term for Gross National Product (GNP) which is in turn a slightly tweaked version of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GNI is as near as damnit the same as GDP. The GDP is all the goods and services we make in the UK, so the aid budget is a proportion of that. GDP is about £500 billion, so the aid budget is about

In 2016, the UK spent £13.4 billion on overseas aid.
In 2019 the aid budget was about £15.2 billion.

Why 0.7%?
0.7% is the UN’s target for all developed countries and has been since 1970.
That was a commitment from nine members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s development assistance committee.
The UK government signed up to the target in 1974 but it only achieved it for the first time in 2013.
In 2015 it was put into UK law.

How much is it going down?
It is expected to go down by £2.9bn due to the decrease in the economy, to £12.3 billion and the reduction to 0.5% will bring it down to about £8.8 billion. An overall reduction of about 42%.

What has the government said?
The government announcement said that aid will be combined into diplomacy. That suggests it will not be spent on the items it was spent on. Instead it will go to:

  1. fund climate change related activity in developing countries;
  2. spending on Covid-19 measures in developing countries;
  3. education of girls;
  4. an umbrella of measures in health (is also item 2), education (is also item 3), resilience (is also item 5), low carbon tech (is also item 1), agriculture [probably what everyone thinks of as sustainable aid], economic development (is also item 7), conflict (is also item 6) and poverty [the other view of aid as unsustainable];
  5. democracy and governance;
  6. international collaboration;
  7. trade and investment opportunities.

That sounds like some aid will be diverted to climate change, some to the Covid-19 expenditure, some to supporting other governments, some to supporting large international charities and some to compensating for leaving the EU.

They also said there will be performance assessment. This has been called for in the past but it is not yet clear how performance will be measured.

In his speech he talks mostly about the money going on climate change, military peacekeeping, cybersecurity,Covid-19 and education.  So there won’t be anything like so much spent on what people consider as ‘aid’, and what there is will be mostly diverted toward national security measures.

There was no reference to the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, nor to the Stabilisation Unit.

Useful info:
– Full Fact UK spending on foreign aid 15 February 2018 fullfact.org/economy/uk-spending-foreign-aid

1  “The UK is facing the worst economic contraction in almost 300 years, and a budget deficit of close to £400 billion – double that of the last financial crisis” https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/official-development-assistance-foreign-secretarys-statement-november-2020