The Department of Political Science organized an extension lecture by Dr. Justin Podur on the topic “International Aid Politics and the New World Order” on Monday, February 25, 2013. [Audio]
Dr. Podur is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto, Canada. He has reported on political conflicts and social movements from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Israel/Palestine, Colombia, Venezuela, Pakistan and other locations. He is the author of “Haiti’s New Dictatorship,” and contributor to “Empire’s Ally: Canada and the War in Afghanistan.” Presently, he is a visiting professor at the Department of Political Science and also at the Faculty of Architecture and Ekistics at JMI.
Multi-polarism: The New World Order
Podur began his lecture by stating that the world is moving from uni-polarism to multi-polarism or to a situation with several regional powers. But he wondered the kind of world structure that would emerge from these powers. Here he raised a question, which he answered to an extent in the end, on how countries like India would behave internationally as they become more powerful.
To explain the present changing situation of the world, he went back to the 20th century to understand what kind of world had resulted from the end of the Second World War. “Nominally, the post-World War II order was a liberal one,” he said. Podur said that the United Nations Charter was the central idea behind this world situation in which sovereignty, democracy and human rights were valued. But he also expressed a realist viewpoint on the subject and said that “the world order isn’t shaped by pretty statements and documents; it is shaped by power and interests.”
Podur later argued that every political conflict or struggle is about legitimacy. “No matter what kind of conflict you are talking about, you cannot neglect legitimacy,” he said. This question of legitimacy, he said, is behind the concept of hegemony in which “people adopt your assumptions; people think thoughts according to your framework.” According to him, aid politics is basically about legitimacy.
He stated that in the cold war, aid was heavily political, and that India had options of choosing the aid “market” on either side: the US and the USSR. But after the end of the cold war, the options for countries like India were slimmed. “If you don’t like what the West is offering now, you can take it or leave it; but you don’t really have anywhere else to go,” he said. This was a determining factor for the future of the poor countries. Podur explained this through three major examples of Haiti, Palestine and Afghanistan.
He said that even though overthrow of governments in Latin American countries during the cold war with the help of the US is not unheard of, yet the overthrow of the elected government in 2004 was different because what followed the overthrow was different. “What followed was an incredibly multi-lateral kind of arrangement in which there were troops from all over the world,” he said. So now, several South Asian countries including India have “footprints” in Haiti as they have sent their troops as part of the United Nations Mission. He also said that the Haiti economy is now controlled by the donor countries. “Aid policy is a cheap way to control a very poor country,” he said.
Podur said that in the 1990s the United States brokered a “peace process” between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. “Aid money was used to set up what was called the Palestinian Authority (PA)… the PA was going to administer the West Bank and the Gaza Strip under the ultimate control of Israel,” he said. He further informed that “aid money was also used to ensure political cooperation of Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan in making sure that all of this happened according to what Israel wants.”
Podur said that even before NATO invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the country was devastated due to the invasion by USSR and the civil war that followed. He said that the foreign coalition, in its fight against Taliban, needs to achieve legitimacy. Podur said:
“In order to achieve legitimacy, they had to add on increasingly a set of developmental goals. So, ‘we’re going to fight the Taliban, but we’re also going to liberate women; we’re going to lift this depressed economy out of the situation that it is in.’ But all of these legitimacy-seeking developmental goals were ultimately subordinated to the counter-insurgency… When you try to do counter-insurgency and development, you can’t get any development. There’s no development that can come out of that because ultimately it’s instrumentalized for warfare. What it ends up doing is delegitimizing any development efforts, so they actually put aid workers in harm’s way by doing this. People associate international aid with occupying forces.”
Podur said that all these cases start with a violation of sovereignty. “But sovereignty doesn’t just mean that a country can do whatever they (sic) want within their borders. Legitimacy requires a degree of respect for human rights and for democracy. Sovereignty is not a license for a state to prey on its own population. It’s potentially the means by which a population can exercise their rights,” he said.
How Will The New Powers Behave?
Podur said that the rising powers including India either have not been able or interested to support Haiti or Palestine. He questioned whether the reason why India was part of the non-alignment movement earlier was because it was not economically or militarily powerful. He also questioned if India would change its ‘behaviour’ in the international arena now that it has the muscle, or will it adhere to the values of sovereignty, democracy and international law.
Podur believes that the law of the jungle is not something that is inevitable in international politics, and that countries can “behave internationally on the basis of solidarity.” To prove the practicality of this, he said that “in Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela have done international aid, but they have done so in a way that was trying to build local capacity and local decision making.”
Listen to Dr. Justin Podur’s lecture on “International Aid Politics and the New World Order” delivered at the Department of Political Science, on Monday, February 25, 2013.