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The Chairman's Blog

Who should lead the international response to Ukraine’s Reconstruction Programme?

October 12, 2022

With all the talk of a Marshall Plan for Ukraine it is perhaps worth noting that one of the reasons for the original plan’s success was that it was led and driven by the US and that its architect reported directly to the US President.

A US Lead?

The German Marshall Fund of the United States at Harvard University picks up this historical baton in its report on 7th September making the case again – cogently – for a US lead for Ukraine’s reconstruction.

‘Given the complexity of this effort, strong leadership is essential. Unlike other blueprints, this paper does not foresee the European Commission leading the recovery in partnership with Ukraine’s government, because Brussels has neither the necessary political nor the financial heft.

Instead, the G7 countries should lead the recovery effort and encourage other countries to participate in this. Together with Ukraine, the G7 countries should appoint a strong recovery coordinator to lead this effort and liaise between Ukraine’s government, the international financial institutions (IFIs), and the G7 members.

The first coordinator should be an American with a global stature. This is because only the United States will be able to bring together the needed global coalition and forge consensus among Ukraine’s partners. The coordinator should build a recovery task force partnering with Ukraine and hosted and supported by the European Commission, reflecting the growing role of the EU in the recovery process as Ukraine moves forward on the path of integration and eventual membership.’

A British leadership role?

Could a Brit take a leadership role on behalf of the international community? 

The British – who are helpfully neither fully European nor quite American either – have stepped into proconsular roles of this type in the recent past with competence if not distinction. 

David Owen and Paddy Ashdown in the Balkans are the obvious examples. Even Tony Blair had several years in a “High Representative” type role in the Middle East. But everyone seems to have gone (very) quiet on the idea trailed through the Sun and Telegraph newspapers over the summer, that Boris Johnson might be appointed to such a role for Ukraine on leaving Downing Street. 

Some veterans of multinational expeditionary reconstruction programmes will feel a bit queasy at memories of some other recent proconsuls – I’m thinking Paul Bremer – but the debate on who leads is sensitive and far from over as the parallel planning of the EC and others comes into view. 

An EC/Ukraine lead?

The EC has proposed a “Rebuild Ukraine” platform that would act as ‘an overarching strategic governance body’ it would supervise alongside the Ukrainian government. This would co-ordinate aid from the EU and its member states, other countries (including America, Britain, Canada, Japan and South Korea) and international lenders such as the IMF, the World Bank and the EBRD. Ukraine would take the lead in drawing up a reconstruction plan and has already formed working groups of domestic stakeholders and international donors for this purpose. The Economist chimes in:

‘Everyone accepts that the EC should have a leading role, not least because Ukraine aims to join the club. Some worry, though, that the EC’s bureaucracy and need for consensus will slow it down. Furthermore, not all interested parties are members of the union. America and Britain play big roles in Ukraine’s war effort, and institutions like the World Bank have their own rules and priorities. This argues for a looser sort of co-operation among different donors.

The EC may focus on institutional reforms, economic integration and development, while America helps Ukraine build up its armed forces and defence industry. The IMF would guide the restructuring of Ukraine’s debt and launch a new lending programme. Individual countries will take credit for their own aid projects.

Such decentralisation risks duplication. The scramble for funds, both by Ukrainians and foreign contractors, will be fierce. It could also make it harder for anti-fraud agencies to spot corruption. Ukraine has the worst score in Europe on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, apart from Russia. It has improved since protests toppled a crooked government in 2014, instituting a transparent public procurement system and an independent anti-corruption investigator. Some say its poor image stems partly from Russian propaganda, but all stress the need for more accountability.’

This author favours a centralised approach not least for the purpose of accountability. But having sat through countless Kafkaesque donor coordination meetings with dozens (and once more than a hundred) of principal participants I fear for the ability of any government to manage a decentralised multi agency/multi-platform approach on this scale. 

I favour a single point of leadership for the international response and for contact between the international community and the Government of Ukraine.