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Security Is No Savior to Poor Countries

By Diana Fu

Paul Collier, "savior" of the so-called "bottom billion states," has concocted a new and extended game plan to wrest the failing states in Africa and Asia out of their misery. The answer, he argues in Wars, Guns, and Votes, which was released today, is security. He argues that the bottom billion states -- those that are at the bottom of the world economy and are home to a billion people--direly need security more than they need hurriedly-installed democratic elections. Once long-term security is in place, the bottom billion economies are expected to grow, furbishing the conditions for the birth of true democracy. He is half right. A fa├žade of democracy does no good aside from allowing donors to tick off the "mission accomplished" box. As Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has shown, warped elections can be bedfellows of autocracy and violence.

But installing long-term peacekeepers in the bottom billion countries as an "incentive" for good governance is not necessarily a viable path towards economic and political salvation. Reason number one: China, a goliath hungry for resources, offers African dictators no-strings-attached aid in exchange for oil and mineral contracts. Reason number two: Western countries' political will to rescue the bottom billion is about as scant as bank credit at the moment. These two reasons combined are enough to spoil Collier's recipe for bottom billion growth.

As brilliant economists, Collier and company have gathered data on the world's countries since the 1960s and have established many important relationships, including the relationship between regime type and political violence. Cross-country statistical analysis leads them to conclude that international peacekeeping is the most cost-effective method of providing security in the bottom billion states. Based on this finding, he proposes to install an efficient number of peacekeepers in post-conflict states, phase into over-the-horizon operations (emergency missions in which international troops are flown in overnight to stabilize the situation in post-conflict countries) within a decade, and eventually pull out altogether as the economies of these countries start to grow. Even more provocatively, Collier's chef d'oeuvre plan calls for using international security to help the incumbent government put down coups as bait for dictators to clean up their act. Placing himself in the mind of the rational dictator, Collier reasons that he might very well be persuaded to cooperate with the international community. This imaginary cost-benefit analysis assumes not only that African dictators are rational actors, but also that the international community is willing to commit to growing such a security carrot.

Even if Collier charms four of the five members of the Security Council into authorizing this kind of peacekeeping, he will have a much harder time convincing China to get on board with spreading democracy in Africa. And unfortunately for Collier, China is very good at vetoing projects that are not in its interest. Imagine the resulting political cartoon: an oversized carrot labeled "troops for good behavior" dangling in front of a fat and apathetic African dictator sitting on a cushioned chair called "Chinese aid." Translation: a self-interested China can foil international efforts to use security as bait for better governance. China's unconditional aid packages are much more enticing than Collier's idealistic scheme. A Security Council plan that takes into account the Chinese craving for African oil would require a lot of extra haggling and a whole new package of incentives for the Chinese.

But the picture is not all bleak. For one thing, China has a stake in promoting stability in African countries - it's tough to drill for oil in the midst of a civil war. But if the ultimate aim of providing security is the democratization of African countries, then China will not be persuaded to sign on. However, China is not the only agent here. African countries may simply reject Chinese aid if it does more harm than good - and that may be starting to happen. Chinese businessmen may pay for their lack of concern for their African brothers' welfare. The Financial Times recently reported that in the rush to pull out of African markets due to the recession, Chinese firms have left locals to clean up the mess they created. This has thrown future Chinese aid into jeopardy. With Africans justifiably angry over such unabashed exploitation, they may be tempted to sign up for Collier's package, if only to spite the Chinese into better behavior.

But Collier, for all his economic comprehensiveness, does not take issue with Chinese aid. In fact, his only mention of China is in the context of drawing statistical correlation between democracy and incidence of political violence, moderated by a country's income level. His model predicts that China, as an autocratic country that has passed the per capita income threshold of $2,700, is headed for political chaos unless it democratizes. In contrast, the bottom billion countries that are below the income threshold are more peaceful if they remain autocratic.

Even if, by a miracle, autocratic China signs on to the project, Collier still faces the daunting task of mobilizing Western democratic countries to act. Putting aside the moral dubiousness of shared sovereignty between the international community and bottom billion nations, there is the more pragmatic problem of mobilizing the developed nations for such a grand rescue mission. Post-colonial guilt does not in itself drive political action, and neither does cost-effectiveness. The problem is that political will is hard to measure quantitatively. Collier recognizes that Western politicians are reluctant to "send the homeboys to die in foreign countries," but his answer to this dilemma is disappointingly simplistic: mobilizing public opinion as an incentive for elected officials to put aid higher on their agenda.

With massive layoffs in the industrialized world, even the most concerned global citizens will not be running to Washington to lobby for the starving masses in Africa and Asia. And Washington is busy tearing itself apart over whether or not to suspend the sacred notion of non-interference in the free market by nationalizing failing banks. Even with Collier flying across the ocean to brief the U.S. State Department, the chances of immediate action are slim. Unfortunately, as far as the rich countries' leaders are concerned, growing the bottom billion economies is a luxury thought to be chewed over in more luxurious times. This is not such a time.

To be fair, Collier is not Nostradamus, and when he wrote the book, the global economy was still golden. So let us, in good economic sense, make the assumption that the Security Council authorizes peacekeeping troops and donors to step up their investments and help build the economies of the bottom billion. Even then, Collier's rescue plan is requires the cooperation of a third actor--the host governments of the bottom billion states. Rescuers need the consent of the rescued to act; it takes two to tango. But with Mugabe and the likes monopolizing political decision-making in the bottom billion, consent is hard to come by. Baiting Mugabe with international security is implausible. In the end, Wars, Guns, and Votes must face the ultimate test of political feasibility.

Diana Fu is a Rhodes Scholar and D.Phil candidate in Politics at Oxford University.

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Comments (2)

bostonbrahmin Author Profile Page:

"Cross-country statistical analysis leads them to conclude that international peacekeeping is the most cost-effective method of providing security in the bottom billion states. "........
International peacekeeping has the potential to becoming the new form of colonialism. The "south, that is Asia and Africa" loathes and fears the "north, that is US and Europe", which will fund, control and direct the peacekeepers, and for good reason. The memory of the last colonial times is still fresh, and a vast majority of the problems of the so called third world is the lasting stench of the colonial times, that simply refuses to wash off. Wherever the British, French and other European powers put their boots down, still reeks of their presence.

Case in point again, is Zimbabwe, where the basic problem, unmentioned by the "north", is the presence of white people in contol over land, which was appropriated by force in the colonial times. Even if the numbers "70% of land is held by 1% of people who happen to be white" is not perfect, the presence of WHITE landholders in Africa owning a large share of arable land, is simply not right.

The "south" has enough trouble washing off the bootmarks of white-colonism off Asia and Africa. They dont need more of the same. To expect the so called peacekeepers to pursue anything other than the interests of their master countries, is pure wishful thinking.

kengelhart Author Profile Page:

"But installing long-term peacekeepers in the bottom billion countries as an "incentive" for good governance is not necessarily a viable path towards economic and political salvation."
Fu's argument against the effectiveness of in-country peacekeepers is a good one, but that is not the only way to provide security. An attitude throughout the "top" states that security for these people must be a high priority, and evidence that these states are demonstrating the proper behavior is the only way to influence world opinion. I believe the US is currently displaying this posture in China. All the other relevant countries have to display the same posture.

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