Washington Post Editorial 02/24/11: A Broader Approach to National Security

Opinion article in the Washington Post, by Conor Williams, argues the importance of focusing on human security in the international arena instead of solely addressing national security in military terms.  The United States spends about one percent of the federal budget on foreign assistance, compared to the twenty percent spent on the military.  The new budget cuts could mean the United States will spend even less money on foreign aid in the future.

“As several of the world’s dictators have learned recently, political stability is about more than just military strength. Economic desperation and ineffective political institutions breed dissatisfaction that can eventually lead to uprisings.”

“It’s much cheaper to address desperate poverty and humanitarian crises before they lead to security challenges that involve military intervention. It’s also easier to help develop markets and trading partners than it is to slay all of America’s enemies. It’s in our national interest to promote human security across the globe.”

6 thoughts on “Washington Post Editorial 02/24/11: A Broader Approach to National Security

  1. Chuck Woolery March 9, 2011 / 11:47 PM

    About ten years ago the CIA completed a study on nation state failures. They were looking for a way to prevent the kind of thing that happened in Somalia where American lives were lost. They looked at over 600 indicators and narrowed it down to about 30 that were useful in predicting nation state failures. They finally narrowed it down to the top three that were approximately 75% reliable. The top of their list was infant mortality rate. Hi IMR…Hi chance of crisis. Their second was surprising. Free trade. Low levels of free trade meant higher chance of breakdown. (another economic indicator). The third was democratization. High level of democracy…low level of conflict. However. And this was a very interesting ‘however’. As nations moved from low level of democracy to higher level of democracy there was an increase in armed conflict. As people got a taste of freedom…they were more willing to kill and die for it.
    Not sure this wins the argument or if its even relevant, but it does make economics a very important factor in generating conflict.

  2. nagesh ojha March 9, 2011 / 11:28 PM

    The best way to avoid any form of uprising is ” the establishment of electoral democracy”, however the US should strive and prioritize for this around the globe, alleviation of poverty is not the best solution for the US national security. In fact electoral democratic pattern provides a safety valve to the establishment as well as political system, and this is proved by many third world countries.India is a miraculous example of this kind of uprising-treatment,where tiny stakeholders and other vested interests have played shock absorbers and safety valves to the political system. Today any kind of financial assistance from the US to any country or organization is perceived as a tool of making its dominance, not the philanthropic act and this only boomerang. The US should keep continue to attract ‘brains’ from all over the world with a caution from Islamic intellectuals especially of those who belongs first to a religious fold then to a nation-state.

  3. Harry C. Blaney III February 28, 2011 / 5:35 PM

    Can’t but help in agreeing with Chuck on much of what he says. But I do question Some “tea Party” types who have pushed for not cutting expensive and unneeded DOD projects. I know some like Ron Paul want to cut DOD and he recognizes that taking DOD off the table half of the discretionary budget goes untouched. But most of the “tea party” people backed by business interests and the older GOP right wing are big pushers for increases in military funding. Note, for example the unneeded funding of the DOE nuclear weapons complex at $80+ billion dollars largely pushed by Republicans in the Senate backed/funded by the “military-industrial” interests.

  4. Chuck Woolery February 28, 2011 / 2:11 AM

    While Conservative leaders and Tea party followers may be taking our country toward a more dangerous world by cutting US funding for development and diplomacy I don’t believe their motives are evil. The conservatives I know and talk with are deeply committed to protecting both our national security and our sovereignty. And their actions are consistent with their words. From my perspective their error is in believing military power ensures national security. In other words, our nation’s security is dependent upon our level of military spending.
    Any serious examination of the actual and inevitable threats we really do face, both as individuals and a nation — shows more troubling reality. In the real world of growing interdependence increases in military spending may actually decrease national security if other budget areas that reduce threats like pandemics, poverty, proliferation, ignorance/extremist beliefs, environmental protection, international crime…

    These threats were well detailed in the Bipartisan Presidential Commission ‘Hart/Ruddman’ reports and have since been acknowledged by our nation’s top military leaders. Conservatives are still caught in a World War II mind set…where military power did provide national security.

    With exponential growth and increasing affordability and accessibility of WMD technologies everything has changed. The most powerful military in the world can’t stop IED’s from killing our best trained and most heavily armed soldiers or armored vehicles. Making very good friends in far away places can. Traditional military mindsets may still be needed for stopping genocides or deterring an occasional aggressive nation but they don’t win the hearts and minds needed for addressing most of the greatest security threats we face.

  5. Harry Blaney February 27, 2011 / 3:22 AM

    Conor Wiliams and Chuck Woolery make a lot of sense, as have many others who over the decades, have supported “preventive diplomacy” rather than “war-war” or sending our troops in after it is too late to influence the crisis short of the costly use of our military. Afghanistan is a god case in point. Will we every learn?

    We are likely to see a battle royal over not only over funding for development aid but over the very existence of USAID. This has much to do with defining America’s responsible role in world affairs which now seems to be attacked by the “Tea Party” congressional types who’s primary goals appear to be to mindlessly cut the budget.

    They seem to focus their cuts especially on programs that help the poor,but enhance the role of the rich in politics, given the support they receive by the billionaire Kock brothers of Koch Industries, and their push for an extreme social agenda. Thus no cries to bring back a fair tax on the very rich by these so-called hypocritical “tea party” types.

    But their other key goal is to destroy both the presidency of Barack Obama and the Democratic party as a viable political force in America. But all their cuts will likely bring another severe recession to this nation and prolong the global economic downturn. The Republicans seem not at all to be interested in helping the unemployed, or our children who need a better education, nor our poor and old who need a better health care system, or an America that needs to shape a better safer world.

    In the process of doing this they have adopted a strategy of “slash and burn” aimed at every domestic and international program initiated by Obama and the Democrats or even programs backed by past Republican administrations. Examples, on the international side, besides attacking vital foreign aid programs, include funding for international organizations that help provide security and stability in a dangerous world, cuts in vital State Department diplomacy efforts, and even by cutting totally the U.S. Institute of Peace. These efforts will only weaken America not strengthen it.

  6. Chuck Woolery February 26, 2011 / 5:17 AM

    Conner Williams makes a profound case regarding the wisdom of investing US tax dollars in global development efforts to prevent astronomically expensive (in lives and dollars) military campaigns. Too bad our nation’s conservatives aren’t as wise as those in the UK. Even while they are trimming their expenditures in almost every category UK conservatives are increasing development aid for the very reason Mr. Williams states. What I find most troubling is the lack of liberal US policy makers and NGO leaders who are too gun shy to make this very point. It appears their fear of a public backlash or the potential abuse of US military forces in waging development is greater than their commitment to actually achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Humanitarianism is a legitimate reason for fully funding and even exceeding these goals. Unfortunately, its insufficient to getting the job done.

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