Only one penny for the world's poor
We are in a great debate over how to budget for our national security. The Congress wants to provide more billions for our defense establishments than the President does. Yet our real nationa security front lies where the worst poverty lines are marked on the global map.
Our real "enemies" are the world's impoverished, malfed, unskilled, and illiterate. They number in the billions. They create the atmosphere where brutality, instability, terrosism, and aggression thrive, and where eventually the political powers confront each other directly or through surrogates.
World poverty is the greatest threat to our national security and the gap between the resources available for that first line of defense and the second, which is our military effort, is too extense.Five to six percent of America's GNP is allotted to the defense budget; less than one-fifth of one percent to international development. thirty times as much is programmed for the Defense Department as is available for the global war against poverty, hunger, and disease, the battleground where the third world war will be fought and won or lost, long before the missiles are launched.
Don't mistake me. I believe strongly in the best equipped, trained, and paid US force that we can buy. I spent 25 years in the active and reserve Army, and I am not advocating reductin or less emphasis on the defense budget. Far from it -- a strong military establishment ism a deterrent. This world is full of irrational people and we must be ready to defend ourselves and our allies.
But we have fought wars on two fronts before and we must now be prepared to do it figuratively speaking.
These two security objectives -- the war on international hunger, poverty, and disease and the augmentation of our military strength -- are inevitably interrelated and complementary, not competitive. Our national priorities are already well reflected in our budget. Last year 58 cents out of the tax dollar properly went for attempts to correct the serious social problems here at home; 24 cents went for direct defense through military effort; but only one penny for everything that is called foreign aid.
Many elements of our foreign policy ride on that one cent for international assistance. It is supposed to preserve our financial and commercial interests in the less developed countries; it is to serve as an indicator of our political support and is intended to be the reward or penalty as we measure the observance of human rights. It is used to monitor whether in our judgement the recipient nation is spending too much on its own military efforts.
The money, a large part of it on a loan basis, for the most part stays in this country, represents 600,000 jobs for Americans, and creates foreign markets for US products. It satisfies our humanitarian instincts. It keeps American maritime ship afloat, and helps the American farmer get a parity price for this product.
Finally, we know that political strength which generates peace can only be built on a sound economy. Financial disarray and the social ills that come with it erode a country's security from within. That elementary lesson applies to the developing countries as well as our own and foreign aid helps build that economic base.
That's a lot for that penny to buy -- yet the aid program is the first to be cut when the budget knives are our because it has no real constituency, and is the least understood in terms of these US basic interests.
Right now the poor countries are buying more than a third of our total exports, $48 billion a year; one out of every four acres in the US is planted in food that is sold to the less developed countries. They ship us 93 percent of the tin we need for the electronics industries; 85 percent of the bauxite used in aircraft; and 79 percent of the cobalt needed for steel and other manufactured items. They are paying back almost $1 billion a year in principal and interest on earlier government loans, and a lot more than that on private debts, for private Americans have invested over $40 billion in those poor countries.
No mathematician has worked it out but one US dollar spent on helping a country develop so that it eventually can sustain itself has a multiplier effect and can be worth several times one spent on sophisticated arms. For one thing it generates more resources, in the country concerned and from other national donors and the international financing institutions.
An all-out international effort headed by the United States to improve conditions in the poor world could signal a positive new US "offensive" in place of continuing reaction to other powers' choice of crisis points. It's not an easy or guaranteeable solution but goes to the heart of the trouble, rather than dealing as we always seem to with symptoms or consequences. Yet a modicum of the funds Congress proposes to add over the President's request, totalling $1 trillion for the defense budget over the next five years, could, if made available for development, launch that offensive.
If the few marginal billions being debated for the defense budget were applied to the other national security goal, the global poverty war, we wouldm be enhancing US security, improving our credibility as a nation truly devoted to world development, and giving ourselves some financial and economic benefits all at the same time.