New Player - Same Game? The influence of emerging donors on the policies of three traditional donors: The cases of the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom
In June 2016, news services across the world reported that China was about to build the new headquarters of the Zimbabwean parliament for free. This incident is illustrative of an ongoing debate about the increasing influence of emerging countries – especially China – on the African continent. It...
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|In June 2016, news services across the world reported that China was about to build the new headquarters of the Zimbabwean parliament for free.
This incident is illustrative of an ongoing debate about the increasing influence of emerging countries – especially China – on the African continent. It also reflects ongoing changes in the field of foreign aid, which has for a long time been dominated by an economic relationship between rich industrialized states that gave a small part of their gross domestic product to poorer, and less industrialized states. Today, new trends are emerging.
The reaction of traditional donors to these new trends is perhaps the most neglected question of all. How do they adapt their development policies in response to this new, perceived source of competition?
This thesis is looking for answers to precisely this question. It looks at two thematic fields that are affected by emerging donors: first, the field of conditionality – it is often argued that emerging donors do not attach political or economic conditions to their aid activities while traditional donors do; and, second, that of trilateral cooperation – the cooperation between a Northern donor, a Southern aid provider and a recipient country. This study looks therefore at the reaction of selected traditional donors to their perceived loss of the monopoly on the development paradigm in these two thematic areas.
While it would be interesting to study the reactions of all traditional donors, this endeavour is unrealistic. Therefore, this study focusses on three relevant cases: the United States of America (USA), Norway and the United Kingdom. These three cases follow a most-different-case-design: even though all three countries play a leading role in the international agenda setting, they differ highly when it comes to the institutional set-up of their development cooperation. The United Kingdom has its own department for international cooperation, the United States on the other hand have a strongly fragmented aid system. They also differ when one looks at their main motives behind development cooperation: Norway for instance pursues more altruistic goals than the other two. There is also a high variety in their aid budgets (the biggest budget for aid is in the USA), the share of aid in relation to the GDP (this one is highest in Norway and lowest in the USA), and in their sectoral and regional focus. The selected cases illustrate three very different donor countries which will strengthen the relevance of the study.
The aims of the study are threefold. By illustrating the reaction of three traditional donors to the emergence of a new group of donors it allows for wider speculation about the potential reaction of traditional forces to the emergence of new power centres – development policy being only one of many fields within international relations that are affected by this shift. This might also lead to interesting hypotheses for the future broader relations between the North and the South, an area which is currently central to debates within international relations (IR).
Moreover, another aim of the study is a theoretical one: in the process of investigating the reaction within traditional donor policy, the theoretical prism of discursive institutional change is used, investigated and further developed. This theoretical approach combines institutionalism with constructivist concepts after Vivien Schmidt (2008, 2010, 2011). This work further develops her concepts and enlarges its focus with other institutional concepts, which allow for a very graphic analysis of institutional change by dividing each countries development policies in narratives, rules and practices (Lowndes and Roberts 2013).
Finally what is currently missing from the numerous publications on the broader topic is an empirical study of the actual reactions that goes beyond pure speculation. This study fills that gap and provides revealing empirical evidence from the three traditional donors.
Empirically this work has found satisfying answers to a relevant question and shows that the three selected donors react differently to the emergence of new donors. The United Kingdom and the USA seem to push for a more selective policy in their development cooperation (so an increase in their conditionality) in the layers of narratives and rules, but are not yet able to implement these into their aid practices. Norway, on the other hand, has a difficult relationship towards conditionality which is illustrated by its hesitant increase in its selectivity but no increase within the rules or practices. All three donors vouch to increase their cooperation with new donors. The United States however insists on cooperating only with like-minded countries whereas Norway relies on the works of other (multilateral) institutions and the United Kingdom seems to be open to cooperate with all four emerging donors in trilateral projects. Future studies might profit from the outline of this work and build possibly on a broader sample: as such, it could be imaginable to include further donor countries to the theoretical framework established here or to add another thematic field (for instance the work of infra-structure development).
The main theoretical questions were twofold: first, can ideas serve as an explanatory variable for institutional change? With respect to the material presented here, this question asks whether the ideas that traditional donors had about emerging donors can explain the changes within their aid policies. The answer to that question is slightly unsatisfying: yes, they can, but only partly. First of all, a distinction is necessary between the two policy fields. Within the older policy field (conditionality) ideas were particularly helpful to explaining a change within the narratives and rules of the donor institutions, but were much less influential to explaining the change (or rather non-change) for practices. Different – and more interest-based explanations – could be helpful in explaining the inertia in the practices of conditionality. Within the newer policy field, however, ideas could explain most of the change (or lack thereof in the case of Norway) and proved to be a useful explanatory variable. Therefore, future studies should continue to take the explanatory power seriously.
Some of the other theoretical hypotheses can be confirmed: The theoretical hypotheses claimed that change is more likely to occur in less well-established thematic fields (such as trilateral cooperation) whereas it is less likely to occur in well-established, traditional fields (such as conditionality) as veto players are more active in a field with a long tradition than in one with less history to look back upon. Moreover, the claim was that change begins within the layer of narratives, continues within the layer of rules, but is least likely to occur in the layer of practices. Have these theoretical assumptions been confirmed by this study? These hypotheses were verified through the empirical study and give credit to theories focusing on path-dependent tendencies of long established fields. Moreover, the division of the institution of development cooperation into the layers of narratives, rules and practices has proven to be incredibly useful to understanding the underlying change processes that are otherwise difficult to decipher.
The third and last aim of this study was to contribute to the academic debate about the (future) relationship between two distinct groups: established and rising powers. The two policy fields studied here – conditionality and trilateral cooperation – show the complexity of the issues at stake. While trilateral cooperation could be indicative of a closer cooperation (or at least closer contact) between the two groups, the investigation of conditionality has highlighted remaining differences and strong rivalries. Hence, the thesis has shown that the story of the relationship between these two groups of countries will never be easy to tell. Any relationship cannot be summarised under headings such as “good” or “bad”. Most of the time, relations between two countries can probably be characterised as “OK”.