Aid as a (New) Tool of (Traditional) International Power Politics

Our starting point for any discussion on the recent history of aid is the end of World War II, and therefore aid in its current form has existed for a period long enough to represent a consolidated historical trend. International relations have been defined by the increase in International Aid Public Policies as a measure by which the quality of bilateral and multilateral relations among sovereign states can be defined.


But International Aid Public Policies have become progressively more important and they have also become more sophisticated with the simultaneous end of the Bipolar system following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the increased presence of potential state donors in the international arena, each of which have developed their own autonomous ambitions. These ambitions often translate to a desire to have a presence in various emerging scenarios where there is crisis and transition.

It would be incorrect to posit the idea that there were no aid relations among states before World War II (one need only look at the rich rhetoric that surrounded colonialism in ‘Old Europe’), but it is our conviction that aid relations have recently come to take on a new central role and have acquired a systematic nature which makes them an instrument of legitimate international governance—equal to if not stronger than other traditional instruments of exchange or conflict.2

The primary reference points here are states that attempt to influence each other through aid—rather than through war or trade.

Public expenditure aimed at activating and managing aid and its respective administrative structures have been growing uninterruptedly since Truman’s program of assistance to developing countries announced in year 1949, without any periods of real slowdown.

The actors involved have become institutionalized, their policies enhanced, and the types of interventions more refined. The main recurrent relationship dynamics among donors and beneficiaries follow patterns that can be organized into descriptive and recurrent models.

In recent decades, the desire to be at the forefront of aid delivery in areas of geopolitical interest or significance has become the primary political motivation for international donors seeking to enhance their prestige, in particular if they belong to the public policy sphere. Only relatively recently have governments sought to morally and rhetorically justify and link their policies to universal unassailable values.3 In what seems to be an urgent need to popularize their foreign policy stances in the face of growing public opinion as a result of the extension of the political participation rights in the twentieth century (an example was the rush by governments to rename their War Ministries as Defence Ministries after World War II)—aid has quickly become a useful new category for those (mainly governments) looking to justify international actions actually attributable to classical ambitions of political dominance of nation states.

Institutional public communications remained anchored in universal norms (often religious or moral) that still dominate much of the common narrative on the issue of aid.

Through the guise of aid, donors have the opportunity to reproduce geopolitical strategies linked to the traditional political-theoretical framework of rasion d’etat and national interest in the modern era, where to the larger participative public such an approach is seen as being outdated and difficult to justify.

This occurs not only in bilateral relations but also—in a more sophisticated and less visible manner—multilateral relations as well. Assistance policies have consistently failed to ensure that they can operate on an assumption of non-interference by donor states within the recipient states. In practice, aid has been among the most important means that powerful states have used to overcome the basic principle of equal sovereignty and non-hierarchal status enshrined in the international legal system. And it allows them to do so in a less overt and coercive form.4 The category of aid has often successfully helped to justify the ex ante or ex post right of donor states to exercise political authority and intervene in the foreign and domestic politics of recipient states.5

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