Politics of International Aid after the end of Bipolarism (Post-War and Post-Soviet Transitions)

Such a politically based approach to the idea of aid interventions requires a critical review of several other related aspects, such as:

  • • the types of aid actors that interact in any intervention scenarios, both from the side of the donors and the recipients. This includes a great variety of implementing agents—and NGOs might often be considered one of them—that frequently mediate any type of donor- recipient relationship.
  • • the most recurrent practical political dynamics and mutual behaviours among aid actors;
  • • the types of intervention and types of assistance modalities, classified on the basis of the transaction object;
  • • the dynamics of organization, procurement and implementation of these aid/assistance modalities;
  • • types of intervention scenarios in which the various aid initiatives converge, based on the nature and evolution of needs, as well as on the stability of the institutional framework for the corresponding action;
  • • the historical periodization of aid policies phases.

On top of the above aspects, yet another initial working thesis should be underlined, namely that aid polices have undergone radical changes, particularly in the two decades following year 1989. This period began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and largely emerged through two specific international crises that were both unique and quite unexpected—the breakup of the Soviet Union and the wars in the former Yugoslavia.9

Both of these crises laid bare new features that did not emerge during previous intervention scenarios and which have played a central role in the evolution of international aid system operations and interventions, especially when compared with how this system developed over the preceding decades.10

There are three main features of aid that must be kept in consideration if we are to redefine it as a tool of international relations.

  • (A) On the one hand, the two crises led to a substantial increase—now irreversible—in the total number of directly active aid actors and in particular of state donors. This is primarily due to the end of the bipolar international system of relations, consolidated after World War II and has resulted in a multiplying of actors willing to play a bigger international role with greater visibility and independence compared to the past, when they were strongly limited in their international initiatives. Secondly, this increasing number of aid actors has been facilitated by the geographical proximity of new crises—primarily in Russia and the western Balkans—making them easily accessible to many donors, in particular those from Europe.
  • (B) Both scenarios marked the breakout of deep crises in countries that before the transition could boast generally high levels of socio-economic development. In the case of Russia—which inherited the international role of the USSR—there was the unprecedented case of a country which had been a great donor itself during the whole Cold War period suddenly needing assistance, while still being a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Their geopolitical weight, prestige, and importance to so many of the new aid actors, made projects in these countries a top political target for the large number of new donors.11
  • (C) A related point, is the circumstances under which these new aid and crises scenarios were emerging. The aid and types of assistance required by these states were more sophisticated mainly because their internal structure of needs was subject to rapid change, almost on a daily basis. This made aid planning an extremely challenging task, and had the effect of showcasing the weakness of simply transferring models and forms of assistance that had been used up to then in developing third world countries to the nascent states from the former USSR and former Yugoslavia.12
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