France pushes for security spending to be recognised as development aid

A Royal Air Force serviceman directs the loading of a French armoured vehicle onto a C-17 at Evreux, France, as the UK assists France to move military equipment to Mali. [UK Ministry of Defence /Flickr]

France spent millions resolving conflicts in Mali and the Central African Republic in 2014. Now Paris is lobbying the OECD to include spending on security and peacekeeping operations in calculations of official development assistance. EURACTIV France reports.

Paris wants to place its expenditure on military operations in Mali and the Central African Republic in the development aid column of its budget, as the OECD places the definition of official development assistance (ODA) under review.

The OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), a group of 29 of the world’s largest aid donors, has begun the process of reviewing the rules over official development assistance. This review is seen as an opportunity by many of the DAC members, who are struggling to achieve their aim of spending 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) on aid to developing countries.

Redefining ODA

The OECD has strict rules about what is accepted as official development assistance. It defines ODA as “flows to countries and territories on the DAC List of ODA Recipients and to multilateral institutions” from “official agencies […] with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective”.

>> Read: Erik Solheim: ‘If the UK can commit 0.7% of GDP to development, so can France’

But certain kinds of contribution are excluded from the OECD’s list of acceptable ODA contributions, including military aid and counter terrorism activities.

Christian Reboul of Oxfam France said “up till now countries have been able to count up to 7% of their expenditure on UN peacekeeping missions as official development assistance”.

Mali and Central African Republic

This rule means France cannot count its significant expenditure in Mali and Central African Republic in 2014 as aid; a situation that is frustrating Paris. “Who would be talking about development in these countries [Mali, Central African Republic] if France had not intervened?” said Annick Girardin, the Secretary of State for Development and Francophonie.

This is not the first time France has tried to push security and military aid to its partners into the ODA column. Besides the ongoing negotiations within the OECD, some have also been calling for foreign operations to be discounted from calculations of the French deficit.

>> Read: France wants to share the bill for its military interventions (in French)

For Paris, the inclusion of security and peacekeeping expenditures would be a timely helping hand towards the objective of dedicating 0.7% of GNI to development. But for many countries, the inclusion of purely military spending is a red line they are not prepared to cross.

Definition up for debate

Erik Solheim, the president of the DAC, told EURACTIV he believes it would often be “difficult to justify qualifying military spending as part of a country’s efforts in international solidarity”.

Secretary of State Annick Girardin stated, “We have discussed the issue of security at the OECD and more and more countries are showing sympathy with our arguments. I think we can succeed.” She claims her position is supported by a dozen DAC members.

The NGO Concord confirms the mobilisation of a certain number of states on the issue. “Some member states want to include additional military, peace and security expenses in the new definition of ODA,” Concord stated in its Aidwatch report, citing France, Belgium and Portugal among the main advocates.

>> Read: OECD to redefine Official Development Assistance

The members of the DAC addressed the question of peace-building and state-building efforts at their last meeting on 16 December.

“We agree to further explore how support in this area could be better reflected in our statistical system through a possible broader recognition in TOSD, and through updating ODA reporting instructions,” the final report stated.

To some within the OECD, the French seem excessively keen to have military spending counted as aid. “We are surprised, because these questions have been raised, but the discussions have been restrained,” said Julia Benn of the DAC. “The members of the DAC are proceeding with caution, and I do not see how there could be a major broadening of ODA to include bilateral military operations”.

The fight against terrorism

While the French objective appears ambitious, certain peacekeeping expenses could be recognised in a new, broader development aid framework, known under the working title of the “measure of Total Official support for Sustainable Development”.

Benn explained that spending linked to the fight against terrorism “were also being discussed with a view to clarifying the rules”. She added that certain DAC members were eager to “take the subject further”.

The next OECD meeting will be held in June, with the aim of finalising the official development assistance reform before the international development conference in Addis Abeba in July.

The rules concerning the recording of public development aid are set by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD. This international forum of the 29 largest providers of aid decides which countries are eligible for development aid and what kind of spending constitutes international aid.

The OECD has begun the process of redefining Official Development Assistance (ODA), to go with the new post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

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