Hundreds of millions of pounds from Britain’s £10bn aid budget is expected to be diverted to defence operations and equipment in order to prevent defence cuts, according to Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Prime Minister told the National Security Council to draw up plans for the Department for International Development to pay for troop training in Mali, demobilisation in Afghanistan and to help support Syrian rebels.
The move comes amid deep unease among Conservative MPs at the size of the Department for International Development’s growing aid budget, which has increased while defence spending has been cut. Mr Cameron has said that he was “very open” to the idea of pooling more resources and using the Department’s £10bn budget in defence operations.
Former Chief of the General Staff Lord Darnett said of the plans: “This is part of a national effort, when we can integrate our defence efforts, our diplomatic efforts and our development efforts, and also there’s an role for the private sector her: investment in countries to try and boost power generation, for example, so countries can help themselves. This is something that should be thought of broadly and not just narrowly over whether this money comes from this budget or that budget or the other.”
However, Scotland’s External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf was critical of the plans, saying that it could be a “cynical move” and commenting on how the money could be better spent.
The Minister said: “Aid budgets should be spent on international development – on schools not soldiers, on food not firearms. These funds must be targeted at the world’s poorest people.
“I am also particularly concerned that this wrong-headed agenda closes down humanitarian space and blurs the line between the military and aid workers – which will make a tough job even tougher and potentially put aid workers in danger.
“Established international guidelines clearly state that overseas development aid should not be used to fund the military, military training and military equipment. It is essential that the UK Government adheres to these guidelines and does not manipulate these definitions in support of the securitisation of aid.”
It is expected that, in order to bypass international rules in this matter, the money would only be used to fund certain military functions. While it would not be possible to buy lethal equipment or pay for the salaries of troops from aid money, it could be used to pay for conflict prevention initiatives, the building of infrastructure such as roads and schools in Afghanistan and post-conflict reconciliation.
Rerouting the aid funding could increase the MOD’s budget beyond the planned £32bn announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his Autumn Statement.