Authors Highlight the Securitization of Aid and Restrictions on Nonprofits

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Date: 
March 15, 2010

On March 1, 2010, the Charity and Security Network held a reception and discussion based on a new book Civil Society Under Strain; Counter-Terrorism Policy, Civil Society and Aid Post 9/11 (Kumarian Press). The books editors, Jeremy Lind and Jude Howell of the London School of Economics Civil Society Centre provided insight from their research about the changing landscape of humanitarian work in a political environment dominated by security concerns.

Lind characterized the post 9/11 environment for aid work as complex and evolving. “Since 9/11 there has been an increasing convergence of development and security – we see this not only in the inclusion of development into national security strategies, but also…the link of development and security agencies and agendas, and development of projects on counter-terrorism and counter-radicalization.”
 
Lind said the “securitization of aid” has altered the way aid agencies determine where and what type of aid will delivered.   “Security concerns have become entrenched in USAID strategy,” Lind said. “Countries like Somalia and Afghanistan have received far greater aid since the declaration of the [War on Terror].” However, Lind said his research found security plans have not had “a significant shift in the allocation of aid funds overall, which continue to be on education and health” and not toward the reduction of poverty or addressing political grievances which often contribute to violent extremism.

The results of the merger between development strategy and security concerns are troubling to Lind. The involvement of militaries delivering development aid “has generated significant controversy surrounding the blurring of boundaries” between military and civilian efforts, jeopardizing the safety of aid workers. According to Lind, “it was safer for aid agencies to operate in Afghanistan when the Taliban were ruling than it is currently. Indeed, 2008 was the most dangerous year ever for aid workers, with more aid workers killed than UN peacekeepers.”

Howell described the recent relationship between nonprofits and government as diminished.   In the 1990s, nonprofits were praised by several governments for their “vital role in overthrowing authoritarian regimes and establishing new democracies in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia.” But after 9/11, many governments’ “growing concerns” about the work and jurisdiction of nonprofits, combined with expansive counterterrorism powers, contributed to their reduction in scope and effectiveness. 

Even under the Obama administration, which has pledged to undo some of the damaging policies of the past administration, Howell said that many counterterrorism measures (CTMs) are unlikely to be removed or replaced. “Despite some progress in removing certain elements of [The War on Terror] and greater resistance by some sections of civil society, the counter-terrorist legislation, policies and practices introduced since 9/11 remain deeply entrenched,” Howell said.  These policies have had negative “consequences for international development and for civil society actors.”

Kay Guinane, Program Manager of the Charity and Security Network, who contributed the chapter on the U.S., began the discussion by mentioning positive developments, including President Obama’s speech in Cairo, the ruling in the KindHearts case and the recent hearing of oral arguments by the Supreme Court in the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. She also described the U.S. national security laws that have increasingly diminished the space in which U.S. nonprofits are able to conduct humanitarian programs. Since 9/11, nine U.S. nonprofits have been shut down and there is now up to $24.8 million in charitable funds frozen, “with no timetable on how long they will remain frozen,” Guinane said.