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Shahnawaz Qadri asked: What would be the theoretical point to describe India and Turkey as newly emerging third world international aid donors?

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  • Md. Muddassir Quamar replies: International aid is a well-established tool of foreign policy. Many identify the beginning of the phenomenon to the US Marshal Plan (1948) for the economic reconstruction of Europe after the Second World War. However, others dispute this claim underlining the historical nature of foreign aid and donations, thus denying it being a 20th century phenomenon. Traditionally, rich developed countries were the leading international donors. Gradually, however, emerging global economies as well as rising powers, namely China, Japan, South Korea, India, Brazil, Turkey and others have joined the list of donor countries both through directly partnering with governments in Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as through regional and international organisations.

    There is no overarching theoretical or conceptual idea to describe or define foreign aid. Scholars look at it from different vantage points. Liberal internationalists deem it necessary for eradicating extreme poverty and emphasise the need for processes and cooperative mechanisms for reducing the rich and poor divide. Realists, on the other hand, see foreign aid largely as a tool for advancing the foreign policy of powerful nations by influencing recipient countries’ behaviour. Critics underline the practice of donor as perpetuating the power relations between the rich and poor states; for example, the world system theory argues foreign aid constrains economic development in recipient countries while promoting unequal capital accumulation.

    As noted earlier, the fast-developing economies have emulated the developed or the ‘first’ world in undertaking foreign aid in poorer countries to advance their foreign policy agendas. These countries wish to be seen as more responsible actors in the international system and hence have engaged in the politics of developmental aid. This not only generates goodwill for them in the recipient country but through public diplomacy helps in building soft power. The growing involvement of large ‘third’ world economies in international aid is also a response to criticism hurled at them by rich countries for their lack of contribution to the developmental aid. Whatever way one looks at it, there is no single overarching theoretical explanation of foreign aid by emerging economies as various schools and disciplines continue to define the phenomenon differently.

    Posted on March 12, 2021

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.