The concept of a more affluent state providing capacity development to a recipient state has been around for quite some time.
History notes that back in the 18th century, the Kingdom of Prussia began to give its strategically important allies assistance in the form of military aid, and thus brought into the world the concept of foreign aid, or capacity development. Though the concept is most probably even older.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, European powers expanded on this idea by providing large amounts of money to their colonies to improve infrastructure. This was not done out of an overwhelming sense of love for their colonies, but usually with the goal of increasing their economic output, which in turn benefited the colonial power.
However, the capacity development that people think of today comes from the structure of the post-World War II European Recovery Program (The Marshall Plan), and the founding of significant international organizations including the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and World Bank.
So given the idea has been around a while, its somewhat surprising that donor states are still quite bad at it.
Or is it?
Very little capacity development assistance is motivated by altruism, but rather by self-interest and geopolitics. Indeed, the Marshall Plan itself was implemented because the US feared post-war poverty and unemployment in Europe would be a fertile breeding ground for communism.
Translating this to capacity development in aviation security, a similar pattern emerges. The networked nature of aviation means the weakest link in the system can provide the entry point to the whole. The Lockerbie bomb originated in Malta (this is the subject of dispute), the Metrojet 9268 bombing in Egypt killed mostly Russian passengers, the 2010 printer cartridge bombs discovered in the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom originated in Yemen.
Not for nothing do well-developed states look to protect their citizens by seeking to improve the aviation security measures at last ports of departure.
Historically, though, the problem with aviation security capacity development, in particular after the sudden post 9/11 spike in assistance activity, was that it was uncoordinated, poorly thought out, and full of short-term solutions to long-term problems.
A donor country would identify that a recipient state airport required screening equipment, go out and buy them some, and then discover during installation that the floor of the terminal was not rated to hold equipment of that weight. A state would provide off-the-shelf training on the use of ETD equipment to a state that didn’t actually have any ETD equipment. A state would fly advisers into a country to re-write their national programs, only to find that a different donor state had already done that six months earlier.
Worse than that. Having then provided the recipient state with equipment or training it couldn’t use, the donor left them to it, coming back years later amazed to find that the aviation security outcomes hadn’t magically improved.
Even when a donor state did provide useful equipment, it often did so with no ongoing support, not recognizing that if the recipient state couldn’t afford to buy the equipment in the first place, they were unlikely to find money in their budget for a multi-year equipment maintenance contract.
Sometimes the problem came down to a government’s love of putting its name on large shiny things. If you travel anywhere in the developing world you will see AUSAID, USAID, FCDO, BMZ, and others emblazoned across everything from primary schools to water tanks.
Unfortunately, this often leads to situations (that you will find in at least one Pacific country), where three hospital buildings stand beside each other. One built by donor country X in the 1960’s that has completely collapsed, the second built by donor country Y in the 1980’s that is falling apart but still being used, and the third, currently under construction, being built by donor country Z.
The recipient state did need a hospital. But just as importantly, they needed the support, training and ongoing assistance to keep that hospital maintained in good order. But no one wanted to pay for that, because it’s hard to put a banner on the side of a maintenance contract.
Everybody wants to change the world, but no one wants to help mum do the dishes.
This style of assistance can also lead to a learned helplessness on the part of the recipient country than develops over decades and generations. There’s no need to learn how to maintain anything if you know someone will eventually come and provide a new one.
There can also be greed on the part of the recipient. No one is blameless.
Some years ago, a South Asian country was planning for a donor meeting, at which they were going to have the opportunity put forward a list of desired aviation security screening equipment. In the pre-donor meeting they were told that donors would laugh them out of the room because they were asking for cutting edge equipment that, firstly, the country had no capacity to support and maintain, and secondly, they were asking for equipment that the donor countries themselves didn’t have in their own airports. They were strongly advised to be reasonable, to demonstrate to donors that they understood their own limitations and were seeking to master the basics before reaching for the cutting-edge technology.
They didn’t listen. They got nothing.
However, in recent years there has been a shift in how governments and agencies think about capacity development and its importance.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), through the Global Aviation Security Plan (GASeP) and initiatives such as No Country Left Behind and the current Year of Security Culture, have raised aviation security’s profile at the political level, and has brought the importance of aviation security capacity development to the fore.
Indeed, in his 25 March 2021 McGill University lecture, incoming ICAO Director General Juan Carlos Salazar laid out his vision for ICAO and stated that capacity development would be a key focus for the organization.
More broadly, governments have also become better at coordinating their activities within countries and regions both bilaterally and multilaterally. While not always perfect, donor states working in particular regions are seeking opportunities to either work in partnership, or at the very least coordinate their activities to maximize their assistance spending and limit duplication of efforts.
In addition, and somewhat counter-intuitively at a time when COVID is crippling national budgets and substantial money is being spent in most developed nations to support their own people, there has been a wash of money coming into the aid and development space, with a focus on economic recovery, of which a secure aviation network forms a critical part.
However, with more focus and more money does not immediately come best practice.
Aviation security capacity development partnerships, implemented thoughtfully, can be an agent for powerful and sustainable change. But blindly providing aid without consideration for what is actually required is about as welcome as buying your 90-year-old grandmother a Rottweiler puppy.
To truly implement a best practice approach, donor states must resist the temptation to say they know what the recipient state’s problems are and how to fix them, because they don’t. Problems in Africa are not solved by solutions designed for the European environment.
One of the most powerful statement in capacity development is, “I don’t live here, so I’m not going to tell you what your problems are or how to fix them.”
When that is followed with, “But I do have decades of experience, and the backing of XYZ government. So, if you want to share your problems, we can work together to come up with a solution that works for your country,” this sets an important foundation based on mutual respect and collaboration, and rightfully acknowledges that the recipient state is its own sovereign nation, with its own unique challenges and opportunities.
Compare that with, “It’s obvious you’ve been doing this all wrong, so get out of the way while I fix all your mistakes”, and you can see which one gets a better response.
Next, shiny things are rarely the solution. A poorly built house isn’t fixed by installing a pool, but by putting in place a long-term maintenance and improvement plan. A failing marriage isn’t saved by gifts, but by communication and hard work. And poor aviation security outcomes aren’t solved by new screening equipment, but by better training and oversight.
Donor states should be looking to invest in grass roots training, building oversight capability, and developing regulatory policies and procedures that drive sustainability within the regulator and the industry. These are the donors who create meaningful long-term partnerships and make the largest contribution to the improvement of a state’s aviation security outcomes.
To that end, best practice involves setting mid-term targets and putting in place long-term strategies. It’s about moving recipient states to a place where they are able to maintain some level of self-sufficiency. It is not about turning up once, waving a magic wand, and thinking the problem is solved forever.
This can be particularly challenging because it may involve securing multi-year funding in an environment where the donor state agencies often don’t have multi-year assurance over their budgets, and where bean counters want to see ‘tangible’ results within each financial year to justify the spend for the following year.
However, one of the key lessons COVID-19 has taught is what happens when recipient states can no longer receive the support from donors.
For states that rely on the importation of overseas trainers or technicians to undertake base level screener training or basic level equipment maintenance, many of these counties have now been on their own for over a year. In these circumstances, equipment is becoming inoperable, screeners are falling out of certification, standards are plummeting, and oversight is failing.
A fundamental building block of aviation security is continuous improvement, and this extends to the capacity development space. The partnership between donor and recipient should be designed towards moving the recipient state closer and closer towards self-sufficiency.
There are countries in the world that may never attain aviation security self-sufficiency. However, even in those circumstances, the goal of aviation security capacity development is not to create dependency, but to build a baseline of capability and compliance that, properly managed and developed, will allow the state to achieve some form of sustainable and effective aviation security outcome.
Indeed, the very security of the aviation network demands it.