How relevant is Official Development Assistance (ODA) to preventing conflict or building peace?

by Mark Downes · May 20th, 2014.

The recent crisis in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Mali has stretched both the human and financial resources of the international community, but has also re-ignited the discussion on what can be claimed as Official Development Assistance (ODA) in relation to conflict, peace and security activities.

Leaving aside the question of whether the ODA system itself is outdated, the issue of ODA eligibility for peace and security-related assistance is an area of high sensitivity. Having been involved in the clarification process in relation to peace and security activities undertaken by the OECD in 2005-6, I am well aware of the tension around this discussion. For some, the integrity of the ODA directives are paramount, and the need to ensure that funds for development assistance are not re-directed to military or security related activities is key, even going as far to as to focus on excluding those in uniform who might be delivering the assistance, regardless of whether the activity is ODA eligible or not. Their concern is that support for peace and security-related activities often occurs at the expense of humanitarian assistance (even though ODA is about ‘the promotion of economic development and welfare of development countries’ [1]). For others, the ODA directives that were initially developed in the 1960s are not fit for purpose today, and the credibility of the directives is questioned because of the amount of flexibility (and lack of oversight) given to how donors decide what is coded and how. Likewise, the goal to spend 0.7% of GDP on ODA is arbitrary and uncoupled from needs on the ground.

With international pressure to increase ODA levels, the reality is that to meet the internationally recognised target of 0.7% of GNP, most countries are more likely to commit funds to projects that are ODA-related. Donors have had difficulty convincing their development departments to allocate more funds for much needed non-ODA activities and so they have found it difficult in trying to operationalise security-related activities. This can, in turn, lead to conflict prevention and security system reform being placed low on the priorities of some donor countries or can create perverse incentives not to support some crucial (but non-ODA) activities required to maintain peace and security.

It must be said however that many activities within the realm of security sector reform, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, destruction of stockpiles or mine clearance can be claimed as ODA. The main exclusions are support to building the capacity of military forces or intelligences services. While at first glance this might seem more than appropriate given the objectives of ODA and the potential insecurity that could stem from enhancing the operational or fighting capacity of military forces, there are some anomalies that still need to be clarified. Direct contributions to the UN peacekeeping budget, for example, are not deemed fully ODA eligible (and 7% coefficient is applied) because the UN accounts are not sufficiently detailed to differentiate which activities are ODA eligible and which are not. Yet, surely all direct contributions to UN peacekeeping should be ODA eligible. Likewise, support to non-UN peacekeeping missions for example the African Union is not deemed ODA-eligible, nor is support to the costs of third-party peacekeeping or peacekeeping training for military personnel. While again it is understandable that the destruction of conventional weapons is not ODA-eligible, neither is stockpile security nor where the national military are involved in the SALW destruction.

Is the answer to widen the definition of ODA and to challenge the integrity of the current system? The question remains how to bridge the policy-operations gaps that exist, between international development policy—which recognises the benefits of conflict prevention and the role that security activities can play in helping to prevent conflict and build peace—and the limitations placed on ODA funding requirements. For many the concern is that, if the definition is widened to include non-traditional fields such as reform and training of security services on humanitarian and human rights issues and on democratic norms, or support to regional peace keeping operations drawn from developing countries, ODA funding would then be diverted away from activities which have as their main objective the promotion of economic development and welfare. The challenge for the OECD and the development community is to maintain the pressure to uphold, or in some cases increase, ODA flows, while also creating incentives to increase funds towards non-ODA activities in conflict prevention, peacebuilding and security system reform.

The proposal being put forward here is that, in order to ensure that appropriate funds are allotted to security related co-operation, one solution may be to provide internationally agreed OECD-DAC targets for non-ODA funds e.g. 0.07% of GDP (or a figure of 10% of the 0.7% ODA figure could be made up of non-ODA peace related security assistance). Such a target would provide the much needed international incentives required for governments to provide increased support to non-ODA peace-security related assistance and thus would substantially reduce the policy-operations gap in this sector. This would appear to be a logical step towards operationalising the policy commitments that have been made and agreed by DAC members in this area.

It is proposed that the ODA incentives be termed Peace and Security Related Assistance (PSRA*) and should cover many of those peace and security initiatives that do not fall under the current or amended ODA definition. Activities that would be included within the PRSA framework should be limited to those that relate to conflict prevention and peace building, including support to regional organisations involved in peacekeeping, confidence-building initiatives and regional co-operation. PSRAs would not include direct technical assistance between security services or the supply of technical equipment for non-peacekeeping activities. Regardless of the outcome, given the current challenges of tackling insecurity, conflict and  building peace, discussion on how to best fund these needs is a conversation worth having.

‘*’ The original idea and thinking on creating incentives for Peace Related Security Assistance was developed with Karim Marcos.

Links worth looking at

ODA Casebook on Conflict, Peace and Security

Glossary of terms:

ODA – Official Development Assistance - for a more detailed definition see ‘Is it ODA?’

OA – Official Aid – Flows which meet conditions of eligibility for inclusion in Official Development Assistance (ODA), but whose recipient does not belong to the DAC List of Aid Recipients.

OOF – Other Official Flows – Transactions by official sectors with countries on the List of Aid Recipients that do not meet the conditions for eligibility as Official Development Assistance or Official Aid.

DAC – OECD’s Development Assistance Committee

Possible inclusions within the PSRA Framework

Proposed reform and training of security forces [on humanitarian and human rights issues and democratic norms]: Proposed PSRA item considered: Reform and training of military forces designed to improve their accountability to the civilian authorities or their respect for human rights, gender issues and democratic norms. Reform and training designed to improve the technical skills or fighting capacity of the forces is excluded.

Peacekeeping: Proposed PSRA item considered: Support to regional peace operations will be reportable to the legislative and to financial authorities as well as to the executive, as will the additional costs of regional peacekeeping forces drawn from developing countries.

Implementation of security system reforms: Proposed technical co-operation provided to government towards implementation of security system reforms, including where necessary, working with, but not financing, the military forces.

Small arms and light weapons: Proposed PSRA item: Assistance as part of local, national, regional, and international conflict prevention measures and peace building operations to control the proliferation (i.e. import, export and production) of small arms and light weapons and reduce, collect, and destroy illicit and surplus small arms and light weapons. Funding of action by the military to seize arms is excluded. Assistance that contributes to the strengthening of the military or fighting capacity of the armed forces is excluded.

Exclusion from the PSRA Framework

Support to intelligence-gathering: Technical assistance to build capacity to gather intelligence on threats from terrorism, as well as funding of military intelligence gathering as part of national defence efforts is excluded.

Technical assistance/equipment: Direct technical assistance between security services or the supply of technical equipment for non-peacekeeping activities is excluded.

[1] OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms.


Thammy Evans
٢٤ يونيو ٢٠١٤ م ٤:٢١:٢٣ م

Dear Azra,

Japan's stance on ODA as you highlight above is an interesting development in Japan's defensive posture. Some might be cynical and say that marking the provision of patrol boats to combat piracy as ODA eligible is a way for Japan to strengthen its regional safety net in the light of a rising China. And this would be very much in keeping with Prime Minister Abe's continued stance to want to lift the constitutional ban on Japan's military to participate in collective self-defence.

Abe's innovative application of ODA eligibility seems to me a sign that ODA criteria should indeed change to include PSRA. Provision of patrol boats is, after all, a 'train & equip' approach, for which there is increasing evidence on how this is both ineffective and can backfire when the training and the equipment is later used for other 'offensive' rather than defensive purposes.

It's interesting to see how governments and individuals have tried to get around the difficulties that ODA faces in trying to achieve its goal of 0.7% of GDP. The little known 1% Fund—which has been in existence since the 1970's, and now exists in 20 capitals around the world—was set up specifically to counter the inability of governments to reach the 0.7% donation of GDP. Members of the fund, predominantly from the UN, contribute 1% of their salary (which is in fact a contribution from a country's tax revenue) to small-scale developments projects around the world—just the sort of micro-financing that can have significant long-term multiplier effect, and which big government projects often fail to capitalise on. It would be interesting to compare how effective ODA spending is compared to that of the 1% Fund...perhaps a PhD topic for someone.

Azra Avdagic
٢٤ يونيو ٢٠١٤ م ٣:٣٢:٥٨ م

Dear Mark and Thammy,

It is clear to me that in the last 20 years or so major aid donors and international organizations have become more involved in efforts to reform security and justice institutions in various countries, especially so in the developing world. The World Bank (in the 2011 World Development Report) had suggested that strengthening the legitimate institutions that provide security, justice, and jobs is crucial to breaking the "cycles of violence". Despite such goals being agreed upon in the international community, as you note there is quite a debate in terms of contribution to justice and security sector reform.

Japan has reportedly been considering changing its policy on ODA so that it may be used strategically, and linking overseas aid with the Self-Defense Forces' peacekeeping operations and overseas missions. I wonder if this would really be considered a complete departure from the traditional policy based on a nonmilitary principle, and if other nations will set their eyes on peace and security initiatives in foreign aid.

Thammy Evans
٣ يونيو ٢٠١٤ م ٩:٢٢:٢٢ ص

Dear Mark,

I've found ODA to be at the same time an odd but fascinating mechanism to encouraging development aid. On the one hand it is merely a 'gentleman's' agreement to provide aid of this nature, with a certain level of kudos going to those who make it to the 0.7% mark. It is also an excellent example of the power of a non-binding group-pact.

It's particularly enlightening to see your contribution to this debate from the PSRA perspective. Few seem to have really taken up this side of the debate, even Erik Solheim, current chair of the OECD-DAC, whose views on the future of ODA were aired in the Guardian earlier this year. Many are critical of the relevance of the ODA, especially its perverse incentives (eg slide 12 of UK Permanent Secretary for DFID, Mark Lowcock's presentation on the Future of ODA), and the debate continues (see references in slide 13 of the Lowcock presentation), but what are next steps, and especially after UNSCR 2151 on national ownership of SSR, what can we do to ensure that this quirky mechanism for aid is revised to include PSRA?