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Should Global Poverty Be Considered a U.S. National Security Issue?

Noted analysts Vincent Ferraro, Carol Lancaster, Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Jeffrey D. Sachs, and John Sewell answer the question in commentaries for the Environmental Change and Security Project's ECSP Report. The next issue of ECSP Report will be released in October.

The 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States (NSS) was a watershed document in a number of ways—-including its assertion that addressing global poverty is important to U.S. national security.

For example, the NSS Introduction by President George W. Bush stated that, while poverty does not directly lead to terrorism,“poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders.” The NSS went on to highlight the importance of African development for U.S. security as well as to argue that, while freedom “has been tested by widespread poverty and disease…humanity holds in its hands the opportunity to further freedom’s triumph over…these foes,” and that “[t]he United States welcomes our responsibility to lead in this great mission.”

In addition, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote in a separate July 2002 article that “sustainable development is a security imperative. Poverty, destruction of the environment and despair are destroyers of people, of societies, of nations, a cause of instability as an unholy trinity that can destabilize countries and destabilize entire regions.” Yet at the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, the United States delegation made little mention of either terrorism or how addressing poverty and its attendant issues might fit into an overall security strategy. The Bush Administration has also been accused in many quarters of underfunding both its own Millennium Challenge Account initiative as well as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis.

Given these policy tensions, ECSP invited analysts to address whether global poverty should and can be a U.S. national security issue. Is poverty alleviation crucial to national and global security—and if so, which policies should be highlighted? Or would “securitizing” such efforts weaken both the drive against poverty and the drive for security? And can poverty be linked to anti-terrorism efforts?

The commentaries below provide an excellent and overdue entrée into these debates.

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The Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) explores the connections between environmental change, health, and population dynamics and their links to conflict, human insecurity, and foreign policy.  Read more