Wars cost money — a lot of it — and financing them has always been great business for some and impoverishment for others, always the same ones. The war in Ukraine is certainly no exception, and Italy has decided to finance it in part by drawing on the funds earmarked for international cooperation for development. At the beginning of the conflict, the government announced that €110 million would be transferred from the funds of the Italian Agency for Cooperation for Development (AICS) at the Foreign Ministry toward unspecified “budget support” for the Ukrainian government.
The news sparked justified protests by the Italian Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), not only those engaged in activities of solidarity on the ground, working with Ukrainian people, but also those which have been responsible for supporting, assisting and housing thousands of refugees in our country during these months of war.
Perhaps the figure might seem relatively insignificant for the uninitiated, since it would be barely enough to buy one F-35; but the truth is that these funds were taken from a total AICS budget of only €571 million. More precisely, the funds in question are part of the so-called bilateral cooperation funds, i.e. those allocated for initiatives that Italy conducts in direct partnership with other countries, which amount to just under €400 million, so the amount going to Ukraine was around one-fourth of the total. The rest of the AICS’s funding is allocated for multilateral initiatives through the United Nations system.
The impact of the measure is even greater on a political level, because in this year’s Budget Law, through the combined push of the Forum del Terzo Settore and the lobbying of the CSOs directly involved in international solidarity and humanitarian aid, the agency’s funding had been increased by €100 million, inching closer to the famous figure of 0.7% of GDP, which represents the percentage Italy has committed to at the international level – but which today in practice still hovers around 0.25%, putting us in twentieth place among donors.
And so, as an old saying goes, this policy of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” seems clearly shortsighted – also taking into account the fact that it took just a few hours to decide to start raising the share of GDP for armaments towards 2%.
For instance, one can ask: what was it that prompted 30 African countries to abstain from voting on the UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Some of these are the same countries we are asking to supply us with gas in order to diversify our supplies; and one should bear in mind that for many years, Russia has been supplying them not only with arms, but also with development aid, in terms of food and infrastructure, but not only.
In short, bilateral cooperation with many countries – not only that conducted through the United Nations – is the best tool to weave political relationships, which can materialize in mutually beneficial exchanges in a moment of need. Thus, even in the face of a war scenario, especially one of “glocal” dimensions like the one in Ukraine, with heavy repercussions on geopolitical scenarios worldwide and not only on the European continent, taking funding away from the line item of cooperation for development seems to be a short-term choice made in the moment, stuck within a perspective that seems to deny Italy’s national priorities in the medium-long term.
Cooperation for development means planning, having priorities that are clear and consistent with one’s own foreign policy interests, investing in peace that is built through a more equitable redistribution of resources on a planetary scale, and being consistent with the commitments of Agenda 21 for a sustainable world, in order to secure a future for all, not only for some.
To accomplish this, however, it is necessary to have adequate resources. And so, the political significance of these diverted funds – whose sources must be replenished – is taking on an import that goes beyond quantity alone, becoming the litmus test for a vision that would be able to include and not exclude, dialogue and not dictate, persuade and not just defeat.
The author is a spokesperson for Coordinamento Italiano Ong Internazionali (CINI).