Vladimir Lenin wrote a pamphlet in 1916 called Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism: “Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which…the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.”
Imagine Lenin’s puzzlement if he were alive to see the territories of the globe divided up not among capitalists but among foreign aid bureaucrats. I am exaggerating a little; but a surprising new trend among development economists, foreign aid organizations, and Western policymakers is the willingness to combine foreign military intervention with traditional aid work. This takes even further a tendency that began in the 1980s toward increasing intrusiveness of foreign aid programs in poor societies’ economic policies and political institutions. In short, foreign aid has been getting ever more imperial over the past quarter-century. While foreign aid may be squeezed by the current financial crisis, the aid-military complex seems likely to thrive in view of the many threats to security in different parts of the world. Indeed, on October 13, 2008, right after the worst week in US stock market history, World Bank President Robert Zoellick found time in a major speech to talk about how the World Bank was “bringing security and development together.”
The US government has just established a regional military command in Africa, AFRICOM, which it justifies not as a military initiative but as part of a growing effort to promote African development. The head of the AFRICOM Transition Team, Rear Admiral Robert Moeller, said that “strategic success” for AFRICOM would be defined as “an African continent that knows liberty, peace, stability, and increasing prosperity,” not to mention “democratic governance.” The share of US foreign aid distributed by the Pentagon increased from 6 percent in 2002 to 22 percent in 2005.1
According to a new US Army manual released to the press on February 8, 2008, “shaping the civil situation” is as important to the Army’s mission in foreign lands as “winning battles.”2 Under the rubric of “counterterrorism,” the Department of Defense is constructing schools in coastal Kenya, and digging wells and manning health clinics throughout the Horn of Africa—at the same time as the American military has been backing Ethiopia’s invasion of its bitter enemy Somalia.
Following the Bush administration’s failures in using civilian experts in the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, the US State Department, the traditional home of foreign aid policy, has been advocating bringing even more civilian experts into future military operations abroad. In a speech at Georgetown on February 12, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the creation of a Civilian Reserve Corps, including economists, public administrators, public health officials, agronomists, and city planners who could
deploy with the 82nd Airborne within 48 hours of a country falling into conflict. These first responders would be able to summon the skills of hundreds of civilian experts across our federal government, as well as thousands of private volunteers.3
In 2005, a new State Department office called the Coordinator…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.