1st Edition

The Political Economy of Bilateral Aid Implications for Global Development

By Peter Blunt Copyright 2023

    The social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and of extreme climate events have brought into sharp relief the serious deficiencies of our political economies. The dominant global ideology of neoliberalism and its architects and beneficiaries are responsible for this. Bilateral development assistance is an integral part of the neoliberal grand design. However, while the deficiencies of neoliberalism have been starkly exposed by the pandemic, its collapse is unlikely in the short-term. Much bilateral assistance will therefore continue to be self-serving.

    Within these confines, and on the basis of a sharply critical analysis of the functioning of technical assistance at the point of the design and delivery of programmes and projects, this book identifies crucial supply-side nodes of power and influence where feasible and relatively straight-forward ‘functional’ reforms - strategy, structure, selection, training - would make genuinely developmental results for recipients more likely and enhance donor interests at the same time. It argues that more authentic, empathetic, and altruistic technical assistance will be essential to bringing this about.

    The arguments are supported by primary, published evidence gathered by the author during 18 years of full-time employment as a team leader or programme manager of technical assistance programmes. The book will be of interest to students of development management, development economics, political economy and international relations, as well as policy makers, development practitioners and supply- and demand-side government officials.

    About the Author and Collaborators


    List of Acronyms

    1. Introduction

    2. Theoretical Framework

    3. Historical Structural Violence, Donor Strategy, and the 'Ownership' Problem

    4. Critical Interfaces of Bureaucratic Structural Violence: Masters, Messengers and Minions

    5. Development Implications and Aid Reformulations

    6. Conclusion: US Power and Global Development



    Peter Blunt is Adjunct Professor at the School of Business in the University of New South Wales, Canberra, Australia.

    Cecilia Escobar holds a PhD and an MPhil in Economics from the University of Athens and a Master in Economic Development from the Carlos III University of Madrid.

    Vlassis Missos is Research Fellow at the Centre of Planning and Economic Research, Athens, Greece, and a staff member of the Department of Economics, University of Athens.

    ‘The rhetorical cover of aid and assistance programs is appealing. The reality it veils is rather different, as shown in this careful study based on intimate direct involvement and a broad and informed review. The issues are always crucial, particularly today as the world faces the ruins of the neoliberal assault of the past half century in which many of these programs were embedded.’ — Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics Emeritus, MIT, and Laureate Professor, Department of Linguistics, University of Arizona

    ‘The looming climate catastrophe and the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic have shattered what little was left of neoliberalism’s ideological mantra. Based on detailed case studies, this book reveals how so-called ‘bilateral technical assistance’ is part and parcel of the neo-imperialist enterprise and is functional to the predatory designs of leading donor countries. Additionally, it offers viable, decent, immediately applicable alternatives.’ — Yanis Varoufakis, Member of Greek Parliament and MeRA25 leader, DiEM25 co-founder; Professor of Economics, University of Athens; Honorary Professor of Political Economy, University of Sydney; Honoris Causa Professor of Law, Economics and Finance, University of Torino; Distinguished Visiting Professor of Political Economy, Kings College, University of London.

    ‘This book is a trenchant critique of the policies and practices of some of the world’s leading bilateral donors. Its recommendations for reforming the so-called ‘technical assistance’ they offer to developing countries must be heeded without delay.’ — Prabir Bhattacharya, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics (Sage); former Editor-in-Chief, Progress in Development Studies; Associate Professor, Heriot-Watt University, UK.

    ‘As argued so convincingly in this book, resource-rich countries like Mongolia (indeed, all developing countries) must resist foreign exploitation by unshackling themselves from the systems (neoliberalism and development aid) that have been an important means of their subjugation, and which threaten the well-being of the planet. There is little time left in which to make the necessary reforms.’ — Luvsangiin Erdenechuluun, former Foreign Minister of the Government of Mongolia (2000-2004) and former Mongolian representative to the Executive Board of UNESCO with the rank of ambassador.

    ‘This important book exposes the complicity of leading bilateral donors in neoliberalism’s relentless plundering of the planet’s resources and its exploitation of the weak. It is a timely reminder of the vast amount of work that remains to be done in our greatest hour of need in order to avert climate disaster and to rectify historical injustices. The reforms proposed for bilateral technical assistance in this book will make a vital contribution to these efforts.’ — Ken Kamoche, Professor of HRM and Organization Studies at the University of Nottingham, UK.

    ‘Those of us who have been both recipients and technical specialists of development aid have always suspected that the results on the ground were worse than mixed. Blunt with Escobar and Missos have had the courage, honesty, and the wisdom, through critical analysis based on strong empirical data, to expose the truth about bilateral development aid as an instrument of exploitation by the rich, and not development for the poor. That is, they have revealed the false promise and disappointing results of development aid founded on the legacy of colonialism, which prepares the ground for neoliberalism, the new imperialism. Time is of the essence. Climate change is real and so are the immediate and long-term effects of Covid-19. The authors call for urgent and effective implementation of workable reforms for development aid that will serve the interests of donor and recipient countries and the planet.’ — Moses Kiggundu, Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Research Professor, International Business, Carleton University, Canada.

    ‘For the global public good, bilateral technical assistance must be reformed for the reasons and in the ways set out so cogently and so persuasively in this book. Time is fast running out.’ — Aminu Mamman, Professor of Management and International Development, University of Manchester, UK.

    ‘I endorse wholeheartedly the analysis of the Afghanistan case. As this book demonstrates so vividly, however the chips are stacked, the costs of exploitative bilateral development assistance under neoliberalism are always borne by those least able to carry the load. The system must be reformed. Now more than ever.’ — Farid Mamundzay, Afghan Ambassador to India (from March, 2021); and former deputy minister of the Independent Directorate for Local Governance, Government of Afghanistan.

    ‘It is bad enough when one is patently robbed by undisguised robbers. It is much worse when people who come purportedly bearing gifts and bringing assistance are in fact perpetrators of the most insidious forms of robbery. In this book, the principal author and his colleagues assert that the latter phenomenon is what characterizes the bulk of so-called bilateral developmental/technical assistance which they describe as a crucial instrument for the globalization of neoliberalism (a new imperialism). They support their arguments with primary cases and arguments interrogating how "a miniscule fraction of humankind, mainly in the rich countries, is largely responsible for the planet’s perilous condition". Not only is this book an enlightening read; it is also a call to action based on workable remedies which give profound impetus to earlier calls for corrective action. It calls for significant thought, critique and action, especially on the part of political leaders and technocrats (both on the supply- and demand-sides of developmental assistance) and all others involved in developmental discourse at the educational and practitioner levels. Indeed, all of us, if we acknowledge our responsibility for the sustainable existence of this planet, need to take informed action, before it is too late.’ — Michael Manuel, Professor and Nippon Foundation Chair, Head, Maritime Education & Training, World Maritime University, Malmo, Sweden.

    ‘This book demonstrates emphatically that bilateral technical assistance is a vital cog in the neoliberal doomsday machine. Its recommendations for change must be acted upon. Now.’ — Ganbaatar Sainkhuu, Member of Mongolia’s State Great Khural (from 2020; also 2012-2016); Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party’s nominee for President of Mongolia in the 2017 election (3rd place, 30.61% votes); and former president of the Confederation of Mongolian Trade Unions.

    ‘This book provides a timely critique of much contemporary bilateral aid to developing countries. Drawing on extensive practical experience in the aid business and with a strong grasp of theory, the author shows how technical assistance aids neoliberalism and the self-interest of donors while the recipients continue to suffer. Robust critical analysis is complemented with clear guidance on how technical assistance can be made to work to bring benefits to both recipients and donors.’ — Mark Turner, Emeritus Professor, University of Canberra; Honorary Professor, University of New South Wales (Canberra).