USAID in Mindanao: The Other Side of the US COIN

Posted on 22 June 2017

This was previously published as an article in the June 2017 issue of Reality Check, the official newsletter of the Reality of Aid (RoA) Network. This issue, which also contains articles on Palestine and South Korea, can be downloaded through the Reality of Aid website .

What is ODA for?

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a forum of the world’s major donor countries, official development assistance (ODA) is defined as the aid for the “economic and social development of the recipient [country]” (OECD, 2008). Its purpose should promote development and welfare of developing countries (OECD, 2008; IBON International, 2009).

As of 2008, OECD definitions for ODA exclude activities that do not serve development purposes such as anti-terrorism and “direct military aid” (e.g. funding the purchase of weapons). There have been developments in 2016 indicating that the OECD shall include security-related activities under ODA (Mason, 2016), allowing possibly the use of development and economic assistance for donor security interests. [1]

However, in one of the earlier foreign aid programs such as the United States’ USD 13 billion Marshall Plan to help rebuild post-World War II European economies, American foreign aid also had the purpose of gaining allies against security threats – communist influence in the mid-20th century (Spear, 2016: 19).

Later on, in the 21st century, after the September 11 attacks, groups which have been classified as terrorist groups were considered to be important threats to US foreign and security policy. Counterterror operations in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan included aid-funded development programs as a non-combat side to the war strategy. These aimed to slow down recruitment of terrorist groups by attempting to address the socio-economic roots that drive people to insurgency (Petrík, 2016: 172). As part of the global “war on terror,” US Special Operations Forces were also deployed to the southern region of the Philippines, in Mindanao (Robinson, Johnston and Oak, 2016).

As a “distillation” of lessons in such counterinsurgency and counter-terror operations, a US Counterinsurgency (COIN) Guide was released in 2009. Development continued to be seen as playing a role in complementing combat operations. This document can be seen as evidence of the continued overlapping mandates of military and development work for donor states such as the United States.

While rising powers such as China also had important places in US foreign policy after 2009, in particular during the US “rebalance” or “pivot to Asia” after 2012, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency remained a priority in American foreign and security policy (Department of Defense, 2012).

ODA to the Philippines

Throughout the 21st century, the changing security situation – from “war on terror” in the southern Philippines to US “pivot to Asia” – translated to shifts in ODA allocations, with the United States an important actor and donor state.

From 2001 to 2002, calculations from US Agency for International Development (USAID) data indicate that economic aid (which includes development assistance, disaster relief, health programs funds, among others) decreased by 35%, while military aid increased by 2700%, from USD 2 million in 2001 to USD 56 million in

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