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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:58 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #132: May 26, 2004

Japan's Ranking as the Lowest Among Rich in terms of Commitment to Development Questionable

John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)

Japan has been characterized as the least committed rich country, among twenty-one, to development. At least that is how the Center for Global Development and the bi-monthly magazine Foreign Policy view things according to their Commitment to Development Index. This is the second time the index has attempted to measure how the policies of rich countries "help or hinder social and economic development in poor countries." Rankings are determined according to seven major categories that include foreign aid, trade, investment, migration, environment, security and technology policy. Sebastian Mallaby a columnist to the Washington Post has described the index as "the best index" to grapple with the question of whether or not rich countries, particularly the U.S., are helping to make the world a better place (April 19, 2004). The Economist also featured the index, focusing on why Japan did so poorly. (May 6, 2004). In my opinion, apart from the statement that, "no wealthy country lives up to its potential to help poor countries," the measure is a hoax and should be largely discounted.

However, before getting to that argument, there are a number of valid points that the index makes in relation to Japan. First of all, it could do much more. In terms of foreign aid, not only have ODA levels dropped considerably over the past several years but the practice of "tied aid" continues. In relation to trade, as I have written before, Japan should eliminate its protectionist trade barriers, which impact developing countries most, in particular agricultural subsidies. In reference to migration, Japan is notoriously discriminatory in its immigration policies and is unaccommodating to asylum seekers, much improvement is needed here. Finally, on the environment, although Japan did initially take a leadership role in promoting the Kyoto Protocol, its commitment seems to have waned in light of the Protocol's dismal chance of reaching the necessary global emissions quota necessary to come into force.

Nevertheless, the index is flawed. Primarily because it does not rank countries in terms of the impact that its policies have on development. What is the purpose of creating an index that does not measure the outcome of development initiatives? It makes absolutely no sense to judge any aid project without examining how that program has aided the beneficiaries on the ground. Take for example, President Bush's $3 billion commitment to HIV/AIDS. The program refuses to fund prevention activities apart from abstinence. What kind of an impact do you think this is having in terms of protecting young men and women from contracting the deadly virus? Practically none.

In the area of security and conflict prevention, Japan ranks among the lowest. However, once again, a lack of emphasis on impact skews the results entirely. Japan's commitment to "Human Security" up until 2000 was next to none and many of the projects that it funded in the West Bank and Gaza for instance were small projects that promoted dialogue and confidence building. One such initiative involved the hosting of twenty or so Palestinian and Israeli leaders in Japan for several weeks in an attempt to move beyond those psychological barriers and help foster bonds of friendship and mutual respect. Although a small venture, the importance of this project cannot be measured by simply assessing how much money went into the endeavor.

More fundamentally, the index completely overlooks the detrimental effect that military aid and intervention has on development. In the Israeli-Palestinian case, Japan's investment in initiatives such as the one above was crushed by the U.S.'s endorsement, both financially and politically, of Israeli military invasions that demolished houses, schools as well as infrastructure and killed hundreds (Jenin for example). No matter how much money and effort the Japanese invested to improve the human security of Palestinians, nothing could annul the catastrophic impact that the violence the region has witnessed over the past four years. The same can be said for U.S. military aid sent to countries such as Colombia, where thousands of civilians have been internally displaced as a result of incursions by the Colombian military and government sponsored militias.

Finally, the index does not incorporate the amount of misery, death and destruction caused by U.S. military forces in places such as Iraq where an entire country has been thrown upside down based on bogus allegations that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the security of the U.S. and indeed the world. Thousands of Iraqis have died, more are malnourished than ever before and infrastructure has been utterly devastated (aided by the fact that the Iraqi people were under U.S. and U.K. sponsored sanctions for 10 years).

The notion of developing an index that takes no account of the actual impact of the projects themselves is entirely incomprehensible. Although, Japan has much to do in terms of the areas highlighted above, little or even no, reference should be made to this Commitment to Development Index when constructing a relevant development policy. The end result would be nothing more than superficial.

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