New ODA policy raises risks

The Abe administration will soon endorse a new basic policy on official development assistance under which Japan may extend aid to the armed forces of developing countries on condition the aid is used for nonmilitary purposes such as assistance in times of disaster.

Even so, there remains the possibility that such aid will be converted to military use or result in enhancing the defense capabilities of recipient countries, which could result in Japan being a party to a conflict overseas.

The administration needs to devise a system in which full transparency on the decisions to provide the aid will be ensured and the actual use of Japan’s assistance by the recipients will be strictly monitored.

In response to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s call for strategically using the ODA as the nation’s security policy tool, the aid policy has been reviewed since last year by a Foreign Ministry panel of experts behind closed doors.

It is clear that the change in the policy follows an idea included in the national security strategy adopted by the Abe administration in December 2013 — which called for enabling Japan to extend aid to military organizations so that seamless assistance can be provided in the security-related fields.

The main thrust of the current basic policy for ODA, adopted by the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2003, has been to help developing countries in such areas as the elimination of poverty, improvements in infrastructure, humanitarian assistance and environmental protection.

The new policy will allow Japan not only to provide assistance to the nonmilitary activities of the recipients’ armed forces but also to finance activities linked to the United Nations peacekeeping operations such as emergency humanitarian aid delivered during conflict situations, disposal of unexploded ordnance and retrieval of small arms.

One of the worries concerning the new policy is the possibility that Japanese assistance to the armed forces will be expanded for so-called gray zone activities that may not be determined as strictly nonmilitary.

In countries where democratic institutions are weak, there is the risk that Japan’s ODA, even for nonmilitary purposes, could facilitate suppression of society’s weakest members. And the armed forces might simply use the funds saved from Japan’s assistance to beef up their military capabilities.

Even if Japan extends aid for decidedly humanitarian purposes to nonmilitary organizations, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the aid will be interpreted by other parties as a hostile action, as has been demonstrated in the reasoning process of the extremist group Islamic State, which recently took two Japanese men as hostages.

The Japanese government cannot be too careful in analyzing each situation before extending aid to the armed forces of other countries.

The new policy says that the government will examine each aid program in concrete terms before extending it to the recipients. In checking each case, full information disclosure must be made so that outside experts, including civic groups, can examine it and express opinions.

The Diet should be involved in the examination of how the aid program has been used in individual cases.

Japan also should seriously consider how to increase the total amount of its development aid, which now accounts for 0.17 percent of the nation’s gross national income — far short of an international goal of 0.7 percent. The allocation for ODA expenses in the fiscal 2015 budget was reduced 1.5 percent from the current year to ¥542.2 billion. The allocation has declined for 16 consecutive years.

As the United Nations General Assembly is scheduled to adopt Sustainable Development Goals in September, Japan should not forget the main purpose of development aid — elimination of poverty — and establish a system to provide aid that is sufficient in terms of both quantity and quality.