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This panel explores the role that foreign aid plays and/or could play in a world increasingly affected by climate change and rising migration, with a particular attention paid to the extent to which donors connect their national interests with the aid provided, whether in discourse or in practice.
Human society is currently undergoing a profound transformation. People, primarily in lower-income countries, are moving rapidly from rural areas to cities. Even more notably, climate change-induced conflicts as well as internal and international migration are on the rise. While remittances and foreign direct investment have become channels of greater financial exchange between the Global North and the Global South than foreign aid over the past several decades, foreign aid still constitutes a very significant source of income for many countries in the Global South. Just the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries provide about 170 billion USD annually in official development assistance.
While generally dressed up in altruistic language, decisions about the allocation of foreign aid have always been at least partially and often chiefly motivated by donors’ own interests. However, the explicit emphasis on national security and economic interests as a rationale for providing aid to ‘developing’ countries has become particularly pronounced amongst some donors in recent years, in response to the increasing challenges posed by climate change and rising volumes of international migration. For example, when merging the Department for International Development with the Foreign Office in 2020, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued that it was time to tie UK development assistance closer with the UK’s national interests given that for “for too long … UK overseas aid ha[d] been treated as some giant cashpoint in the sky that arrive[d] without any reference to UK interest." The US, under Trump’s presidency, also adopted an “America first” development aid strategy in 2018, specifying as its three main goals protecting the US security, renewing its competitive global economic advantage, and promoting its global leadership. However, other donors, such as Germany and Sweden, have continued to invoke more altruistic aims - the principles of common humanity and shared responsibility for the global environment - as the official justification for the provision of development assistance.
Our panel aims to interrogate the role that development assistance/foreign aid plays, can play, or should play in this fast-changing world. Research included could investigate how donor discourse has reacted to the challenges of climate change, conflicts, and migration, particularly from the Global South to the Global North. It could analyse whether and how the discourse has affected donors’ decisions about aid allocation and disbursements, whether the processes of aid provision have evolved accordingly, and what the impact on aid recipients on the ground has been. We would also welcome articles discussing possible paths that foreign aid could take in the future and/or reflecting on the links between donors’ national interests and aid flows.
The proposed panel will be paper-based. We will request that participants share a written paper in advance where possible (to consider submission to a special issue) or a video presentation.