Militarizing aid is dangerous for education

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By Marisol Sanjinés, senior communications adviser, Education for All Global Monitoring Report, and Yolanda Polo, GMR consultant

The line between development and international security has been blurred considerably in recent years. Some donor countries, led by the United States, have made development aid an integral part of their response to global threats, including the “war on terror.” This approach regards poverty, combined with state fragility, as a seedbed for terrorism, international crime and weapons proliferation, and sees reducing poverty not as a goal in itself but as a means of achieving security.

This “3D” approach extols the virtues of combining defence, development and diplomacy. Although the integration of these issues can carry benefits, it is more harmful than helpful when development is ultimately subordinated to security.

The security-development nexus, strengthened by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is not exclusive to the United States. Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have integrated development into the 3D. As the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report noted, however, “few donors are as explicit as the United States in presenting aid as part of a ‘hearts and minds’ counterinsurgency strategy” designed to win over local populations.

In Afghanistan, nearly two thirds of overall expenditure by the United States on education aid was channelled through the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) in 2008. In the case of Iraq, CERP delivered the entire $111 million budget allocated by the United States to the education sector, accounting for 86% of the total amount earmarked for education by all donor countries.

The inherent risks of this kind of action give cause for great concern. First, efforts to reduce poverty may be pushed into the background. Second, funds tend to be skewed towards frontline states in the “war on terror.” Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, the three frontline states in the fight against terrorism, are receiving substantial amounts of aid. In Afghanistan, funding for education has increased more than five-fold in the last five years, while aid has increased very slowly in countries such as Chad, and in Côte d’Ivoire it has even declined.

Other risks arise from military involvement in the construction of schools, which can make them a target of insurgents – the number of attacks on schools rose from 242 in 2007 to 670 in 2008 – and from using private contractors to implement security measures. In such cases, as the 2011 GMR stressed, “having unarmed development project managers, some of whom may be involved in school construction, and heavily armed security operatives under the same company brand could reinforce a perception that aid is part of a wider military strategy.”

Such risks can be avoided, however, by taking steps that also promote development. Education resources should pooled in a common fund, exclusively for education, supported by specific strategies. Development must be regarded as a primary consideration rather than as a secondary one, conditional on defence. Aid must be geared to reducing poverty and promoting opportunities for people.

Putting education first also makes sense because it can promote dialogue and peace-building in conflict situations. Despite education’s potential for contributing to peace, however, barely 2% of humanitarian aid is allocated to education.

A version of this article was first  published in the Spanish edition of Foreign Policy magazine.



  1. Education and military construction could benefit students and not make the “target of insurgents”. Education should always be the first concern.

  2. In a 3d approach, If push comes to shove, development will always be at the service of security. This is just basic understanding of how power relations work. This means that the risks cannot be avoided. It is not a flaw of 3d it is the nature of the beast.

    in real live, we have multiple identities and multiple objectives. Those objectives can, and should compete. Every ideology preaching an holistic approach is trying to make one obejctive subservant to another one: 3d makes everything serve the military. Sustainable development is all about the environment, etc.

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