Reduce poverty - get a safer world
ST. PAUL, MINN.
As nations gathered at the UN General Assembly in September, it became alarmingly clear that two distinct worlds are pursuing two different agendas. While security is the common denominator, these two worlds - the rich nations and the poor nations - view the threats to their security quite differently.Skip to next paragraph
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President Bush challenged the international community to remain vigilant in its campaign against international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, reflecting the view that these are the greatest challenges to the physical security and way of life in the West. As they have previously, those in the developing world responded to his "with us, or against us" tone with stony silence.
Although sympathetic to these security challenges, poor nations believe that their safety is most compromised not by terrorism but by debilitating poverty. As such, in their public addresses they tried to galvanize the international community to support an international antipoverty campaign.
It was like ships passing in the night. Neither side was listening to the other. The Bush administration needs to demonstrate genuine leadership, showing that the US is ready to lead not only to promote its agenda, but to advance global needs.
A good start for a more productive dialogue would be for the US to acknowledge this gap between the two worlds. UN reports reveal a very disturbing state of affairs. The richest 1 percent in the world enjoy the same amount of resources consumed by the entire bottom 50 percent. Few in the world of affluence ever experience chronic starvation; many in the world of poverty know little else. Only a small minority of parents in the US ever experience the trauma of having a child die before the age of 5; nearly 10 percent of parents in the poorest countries do. In the world of affluence, parents worry increasingly about childhood obesity; in the world of poverty, nearly 163 million children are malnourished. An American child born in 2004 has a life expectancy well into her 70s, will learn to read and write, and is likely to complete an advanced degree. A child born in Angola has a life expectancy of 46 and little chance of finishing high school; less than half of all Angolans gain enough education to read a newspaper.
There are several reasons the US must direct urgent attention to the issue of global poverty. The US expects cooperation from a range of countries in the southern hemisphere in its fight against terrorism. But cooperation comes at a price, and those developing nations expect that if they are attentive to American security interests then the US will address their development needs. The failure to reciprocate might cost important allies.
There is also a complicated but tangible connection between poverty and regional and global violence. Many of the terrorists connected with the Sept. 11 attacks did not envision themselves as Islamic Robin Hoods. Yet economic despair and the loss of faith in a better future create greater sympathy for groups that rise against the West. Poverty and its maladies also are helping to produce the failed states that the US views as potential breeding grounds for terrorism. Even if these societies do not fail utterly, poverty contributes to the violent conflicts, refugee movements, environmental disasters, and spreading disease that ultimately affect those in the West.