March 20, 2004
This column appeared in the Valley News, Lebanon, NH.
If there is such a thing as a universal human wish, it must be to have security – to live one’s life in peace, to be safe and know one’s family is safe, to have shelter, food and freedom from violence.
The wish may be universal, but ideas on how to realize that wish definitely are not – although this fact might surprise you if you get your news from U.S. sources.
Today’s U.S. foreign policy relies heavily on a single approach to security. This approach begins with the assumption that security lies in the power to overcome enemies. To achieve this kind of security may require killing people and injuring them. It may require blowing up buildings and water systems and electricity generators. It’s a shame it is all so costly but, according to this theory, there may be no other way.
Except for the views of a few radical thinkers at the edges of U.S. politics, the public discourse offers little to demonstrate alternatives to this reigning theory. But look outside the national conversation and you will find other views on where security comes from. You will find, for example, the vision of Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former trade unionist who was elected on a platform of social goals, including fighting hunger in Brazil.
Last June at the G-8 summit of industrialized nations, he made the case that investing in the fight against global poverty and hunger was a way to create security for all. “The poverty and misery that attacks millions of men and women in Brazil, in Latin America, in Africa, and in Asia, obligates us to construct a new alliance against social exclusion. I am convinced that there will not be economic development without social sustainability and that, without both, we will live in a world that is less secure each day. It is in the space of social inequality that resentments, criminality, and, especially, narco-trafficking and terrorism, prosper.”
In a meeting last month with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, President Jacques Chirac of France and President Ricardo Lagos of Chile to promote the goal of fighting hunger, he put it even more plainly. “If we want a safer world,” he said, “we mush fight for a more just and equitable world.”
Lula’s vision stands on high moral ground. With 840 million people affected by hunger and 11 children under the age of 5 dying of hunger every minute, the intolerability of the problem is reason enough for action. The notion that we might make ourselves safer by helping the most desperate people in the world is only a theory, of course. We won’t know if fighting hunger and poverty on a global scale can contribute to ending violence until we make more progress in the effort. But it’s worth remembering that the dominant U.S. theory – that in today’s world we can end violence using violence – is still the subject of active experimentation itself.
What makes these two plans for achieving security so different is that one addresses a symptom and one focuses on a root cause. By attacking those we think might attack us, the United States tries to manage a symptom. Attending to symptoms is essential, of course. It would be foolish, even reckless, to do otherwise.
But focusing on symptoms without attending to root causes doesn’t make problems go away. Most of us know this from painful experience with ordinary problems such as physical illness or relationship woes. If you haven’t solved the problem at its root, then as soon as you stop fighting the symptoms – as soon as you stop taking the painkiller or avoiding the difficult conversation with your mate – the symptoms flare back up. Lula’s plan recognizes the power of addressing root cause. Cure the disease, he says, and then you won’t need to invest so dearly in fighting the symptoms.
A World Bank study reports that in addition to the $60 billion already spent on fighting hunger by the United Nations each year, another $50 billion is needed for the organization to meet its goal of cutting the number of hungry people in half by 2015. Unfortunately, the United Nations is having trouble raising the money.
But that $50 billion looks like small potatoes next to the $400 billion allocated for defense in President Bush’s 2005 budget. Imagine what progress we could make toward security with even a fraction of the U.S. defense budget invested in addressing the root causes of insecurity.
Lula is not waiting for the United States to reorient its defense budget toward global poverty reduction. Instead he has convinced the United Nations to study the feasibility of taxes on arms exports or on certain global financial transactions as a way to fund the fight against hunger.
Under the plan, the more the world spends on fighting the symptoms of international insecurity, the larger the fund would become for addressing its root cause.
The beauty of the plan, of course, is that it’s driven by both moral imperative and rational analysis, which makes sense in an interconnected world where one’s security depends upon the security of others.