This rapid literature review collates lessons related to aid (conditionality) and non-state armed groups (NSAGs). This is a companion paper to Herbert (2019)1 which looks more broadly at lessons from the use of aid conditionality in peace processes, that paper includes greater detail on what conditionality is.
While the question posed sought to find information on where the following three issue areas collide: aid conditionality; influencing NSAGs; and the provision of basic services and governance by NSAGs. This rapid review did not find one article focussed on this specific question, nor did it find information on different combinations of just two of these issue areas. Due to this dearth of information, this query collates lessons on related issues, including lessons from external actor-NSAG relations; aid conditionality used in fragile and conflict-affected states (FCAS); and negotiations and cooperation between NSAGs and humanitarian actors.
There may be various reasons for this lack of information. Firstly, as it is obviously very difficult for international actors to fund NSAGs, and even just dialogue is subject to increased scrutiny
and controls. Second, as aid conditionality is most relevant when there is a high level of leverage over the actor, and this is typically very limited with NSAGs who do not directly receive much aid.
Third, if they do receive or benefit from aid, much will likely be humanitarian, not development, aid. And the consensus is that it is not ethical, practical or legal to use conditionality with humanitarian aid. Aid is almost most likely to be given related to the achievement, or implementation, of peace agreements. Fourth, if (and when) aid is provided to NSAGs, it is unlikely to be documented in publicly available papers due to sensitivities. Fifth, this whole enquiry is complicated by the fact that most aid is conditional (to some degree), and the term and understanding of conditionality are not clear and is often not used in the literature. Notably, the language of conditionality has become more unpopular as the international community has favoured principles of partnership, local ownership, and selectivity (Goodhand, 2006). This all complicates the search for literature for this paper and the criteria for inclusion.
All of these factors may explain why so little information is publicly available on this subject. While we know that NSAGs often provide extensive services to the people living in areas they
control, there is very little literature that documents whether and how external actors provide the NSAGs with conditional aid to do so, and the lessons from that. The closest this rapid review got
to finding such information was passing comments in the literature – e.g. on occasional work by international NGOs that complements or implements, work by ethnic armed groups in Myanmar
on health, education, and agriculture (South & Joll, 2016); donors funding state and non-state actors to provide health services in Myanmar (though it does not mention whether that includes
NSAGs) (Décobert, 2020); donor funding to new civil society groups in Syrian opposition areas to deliver services and humanitarian aid – however in this example, they are generally only funded
on the condition that they are independent of NSAGs (Meininghaus, 2016; Elhamoui & alHawat, 2015). Due to the dearth of information on this subject, this review draws on some very old literature from the 2000s (and even the 1990s), when “conditionality” was a more popular concept.
Historically development actors and policies have had a state bias, yet in the mid-1990s this began to change as development actors increasingly engaged with NSAGs. In contrast, for humanitarian actors, direct contact with NSAGs has always been a feature of its work, to negotiate access to populations at risk. NSAGs often provide extensive public services to the people living in areas they control, and in this, they can take on the role of proto-states. While NSAGs post 9/11 tend to always be framed as spoilers and negative for development, examples reveal that NSAGs can play positive roles in development and in-service provision. Grävingholt, et al. (2007, p.7) identify four ideal-type motives that may underlie engagement with NSAGs in the development policy context: access to target groups; responsibility for personnel; commitment to norms; and conflict transformation.
It is difficult for bilateral donors to engage directly with NSAGs as relations with NSAGs (especially funding relations) are often prohibited by the government of the country that the NSAG is based in. This difficulty is compounded by the use of terrorist lists, which can entirely prohibit and even criminalise external actors from engaging with NSAGs. Engagement with NSAGs should: take a conflict-sensitive approach; observe the do no harm principles; have clearly identifiable ends; be legally defensible; form part of an overall foreign policy strategy that is coordinated and coherent with other external actors (where possible); and be ethically defensible (Grävingholt, et al., 2007)
Generally, relations between NSAGs and international actors are taken up by the UN, other humanitarian actors and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) – their engagements can include: negotiating and securing access to territories for the delivery of humanitarian aid and basic services; negotiations with kidnappers; political appeals to NSAGs (e.g. regarding child recruitment, of human rights obligations; conflict mediation relations; and funding the implementation of a peace agreement. The different external actors have different means and methods of engagement with NSAGs – e.g. state actors can use coercive measures, bribery and blackmail; international organisations can use political leverage, and NGOs use mechanisms that do not require massive resources and political authority. Relations between NSAGs and international actors are likely to be mediated by local actors who may already be able to access to NSAGs but may require more agency to influence them (Haspeslagh & Yousuf, 2015).
NSAGs are more likely to receive, or benefit from, aid: following the agreement of a peace process to ensure implementation; during ceasefires; during peace processes; and during humanitarian crises. NSAGs may benefit from funding that does not go directly to them, but funding for services in the regions they control.
Aid conditionality is most relevant when there is a high level of leverage over the actor – e.g. when the recipients are aid-dependent or are dependent on one industry that can be controlled/restricted by an external actor, or coordinated external actors. As NSAGs are unlikely to receive much aid, and as their revenue sources tend to be illicit, the potential for external
actors’ leverage tends to be limited. The potential for leverage may increase after a peace agreement when the NSAG is allowed to receive aid or aid funded services according to peace process conditions. Conditionality is more likely to be effective when it is responsive to the incentive structures of the conflict parties, the decision-making processes of the principal leaders, the interests, incentives and power of the NSAGs, and the wider socio-political context.
There are extensive and contentious debates over whether it is appropriate to use conditionality with humanitarian aid. In general, the consensus of opinion is that, in principle, humanitarian aid
should not be conditional, and should be administered as a right to all people, no matter whether they live in an area dominated by NSAGs. This is especially important considering that the
impact of conditionality is not predictable, and there is little evidence, in general, as to whether it is effective in securing its aims.
As NSAGs, by their nature, tend to operate in FCAS, where conflict may be ongoing, and where protracted emergencies may be ongoing, much of the aid delivered to those areas may be considered humanitarian (rather than development) aid, and thus is not suitable for conditionality. Notably, the boundary between humanitarian and development categories is blurry. And this argument is further complicated by the lack of clarity about what is considered to be “conditional”, and the use of that term in the literature. While the term “conditionality” is usually used to refer to more specific “hard” 2 forms of carrot and stick incentives (Herbert, 2019), in humanitarian situations it could also be understood to include basic rules agreed to secure access (e.g. “ground rules”).
In comparing the different tools the different external actor groups have to make their aid, or relations, conditional, Chong (2002) finds international organisations: can apply some leverage in
negotiations through punishing or rewarding; can offer political responsibility, and can provide a platform for rapprochement between governments and NSAGs. While NGOs: generally have
less leverage, are insufficiently coordinated, and have more responsibility for protecting vulnerable populations, therefore, conditionality is more problematic (Chong, 2002).
Humanitarian aid has been delivered directly through NSAGs during humanitarian crises. While “hard” conditionality is considered not suitable for humanitarian aid, these arrangements are
underpinned by “ground rules”, which as mentioned above, could be understood as a form of “soft” conditionality, although the rules are much less likely to be enforced in cases of noncompliance due to international humanitarian law (IHL) principles.
Since 9/11, humanitarian, development and peacebuilding work and dialogue that engages with NSAGs has become even more complex due to heightened sanctions and counterterrorism measures. The view all armed actors are spoilers denies the historic and social legitimacy that many groups have (Podder, 2012). The most effective way to ensure humanitarian operations do
not violate laws is to secure exemption clauses from sanctions regimes, counterterrorism measures, and national laws (Gillard, 2017)