Foreign aid and the Integrated Review

In his foreword to the Integrated Review, the Prime Minister said the United Kingdom (UK) will remain a world leader in international development, and that Britain will return to its commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on development when the fiscal situation allows. It was right for this promise to feature prominently in a document with security and resilience at its heart. For only by better integrating defence, diplomacy, and development, can the UK best defend its people, democracy, and the open international order.

Investing in international development makes the world safer, because it stops epidemics like Ebola and Zika from spreading. When Ebola struck West Africa, it was British aid workers who put their lives on the line to help, in turn preventing those diseases from reaching Britain’s shores. It also helps clear landmines, resolve conflicts, and build free and fair democracies. As the Home Secretary prepares new measures to prevent refugee crises and reduce immigration, helping poor countries to develop by tackling the preventable causes of migration at their source, will always be most effective. 

Aid also makes the world healthier, because it prevents children from being killed by malaria and polio and provides clean water and proper food to families. Every year, thanks to British aid, millions of people get the vaccinations and sanitation they need to lead longer lives. 

And investing in overseas development makes us all better off, because it helps people in poorer countries get the skills and resources they need to stand on their own two feet – spreading economic opportunity, generating goodwill, producing our trading partners of the future, and creating the conditions where future aid spending is no longer needed. 

But this is about British values too. By promoting freedom, justice, and tolerance the UK helps create a world where it is hard work and talent – not where people were born – that determines their chance of success. By funding overseas aid, Britain helps to shape the world around it, working in partnership with its allies to counter the authoritarian nations seeking the same advantage.

As the Integrated Review rightly argues, over the past decade both friend and foe have increasingly adopted more integrated diplomatic strategies. China is implementing a 36-year £770 billion ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ which experts believe is designed to re-engineer the economic geography of Eurasia, while engaging in a massive naval modernisation programme, and steadily increasing its international diplomatic portfolio. In this new era of geopolitical competition, it is essential that international development becomes better integrated within the UK’s foreign and defence strategies.

Similarly, the events of the past twelve months have shown that the biggest threat to the British people in the 2020s will come not just from rogue states, authoritarian powers, and terrorism both domestic and international, but from a global pandemic. At the 2017 Munich Security Conference, Bill Gates predicted that an airborne pathogen could kill thirty million people worldwide in one year alone, while the Integrated Review asserted that another novel pandemic remains a realistic possibility. 

Just as the armed forces rightly train and prepare to protect the UK against attack, the UK’s aid budget and its investment in the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), will be just as important if we are to successfully prevent and contain a future pandemic. As Covid-19 has demonstrated, in contrast to rogue states with weapons of mass destruction, a virus cannot be deterred, reasoned, or negotiated with, but may turn out to be just as deadly unless countered.

The Integrated Review is clear: Britain is at its best when it acts as a global leader in development as well as in defence, and diplomacy. It is right that in the years ahead our national security and international policy must do a better job of putting the interests and values of the British people at the heart of everything we do. UK leadership in development is not just about doing what is right, it is also about British values, and making the world a better place for everyone. 

Investing in international development sends a clear message about British values and makes an enduring and tangible contribution towards both the safeguarding of the most vulnerable people in the world, and to the protection of the UK. An effective development budget, alongside an active diplomatic and defence strategy, keeps Britain at the forefront of saving lives, alleviating poverty, and bringing freedom, security, and prosperity to all.

Ryan Henson is Chief Executive Officer at the Coalition for Global Prosperity.

Image credit: Corporal Neil Bryden.

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