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					The Threat of Global Poverty
     susan e. rice

                 heN AmerICANs                         the world. Al-Qaeda established training
                 see televised images of               camps in conflict-ridden sudan and Af-
                 bone-thin children with               ghanistan, purchased diamonds from si-
distended bellies, their humanitarian in-              erra Leone and Liberia, and now targets
stincts take over. They don’t typically                American soldiers in Iraq. The potential
look at uniCef footage and perceive a                  toll of a global bird-flu pandemic is par-
threat that could destroy our way of life.             ticularly alarming. A mutated virus caus-
Yet global poverty is not solely a humani-             ing human-to-human contagion could
tarian concern. In real ways, over the                 kill hundreds of thousands, if not mil-
long term, it can threaten U.s. nation-                lions, of Americans.
al security. Poverty erodes weak states’                    Today, more than half the world’s
capacity to prevent the spread of dis-                 population lives on less than $2 per day,
ease and protect the world’s forests and               and almost 1.1 billion people live in ex-
watersheds—some of the global threats                  treme poverty, defined as less than $1
maurice Greenberg noted in the Winter                  per day. The costs of global poverty are
2005 issue. It also creates conditions con-            multiple. Poverty prevents poor coun-
ducive to transnational criminal enter-                tries from devoting sufficient resources
prises and terrorist activity, not only by             to detect and contain deadly disease. Ac-
making desperate individuals potentially               cording to the World health Organiza-
more susceptible to recruitment, but also,             tion ( wHo ), low- and middle-income
and more significantly, by undermining                 countries suffer 90 percent of the world’s
the state’s ability to prevent and counter             disease burden but account for only 11
those violent threats. Poverty can also                percent of its health care spending. Pov-
give rise to the tensions that erupt in civil          erty also dramatically increases the risk of
conflict, which further taxes the state and            civil conflict. A recent study by the uk’s
allows transnational predators greater                 Department for International Develop-
freedom of action.                                     ment showed that a country at $250 gdP
    Americans can no longer realistically              per capita has on average a 15 percent
hope that we can erect the proverbial                  risk of internal conflict over five years,
glass dome over our homeland and live                  while a country at $5,000 per capita has
safely isolated from the killers—natural               a risk of less than 1 percent. War zones
or man-made—that plague other parts of                 provide ideal operational environs for in-
                                                       ternational outlaws.
susan e. rice is a senior fellow at the Brookings           If in the old days the consequences of
    Institution and a former assistant secretary of    extreme poverty could conveniently be
    state for African affairs.                         confined to the far corners of the planet,

76                                   The National Interest—Spring 2006
this is no longer the case. The end of            petty thieves—drawn into global crimi-
U.s.-soviet competition, the civil and            nal enterprises frequently come from the
regional conflicts that ensued, and the           ranks of the unemployed or desperately
rapid pace of globalization have brought          poor. Transnational crime syndicates reap
to the fore a new generation of dangers.          billions each year from illicit traffick-
These are the complex nexus of transna-           ing in drugs, hazardous waste, humans,
tional security threats: infectious disease,      endangered species and weapons—all of
environmental degradation, internation-           which reach American shores.
al crime and drug syndicates, prolifera-               state weakness, exacerbated by pover-
tion of small arms and weapons of mass            ty, also contributes indirectly but signifi-
destruction, and terrorism. Often these           cantly to transnational anti-U.s. terror-
threats emerge from impoverished, rela-           ism perpetrated by substate actors such as
tively remote regions of the world. They          Al-Qaeda. still, there is a robust debate
thrive especially in conflict or lawless          over whether poverty causes individu-
zones, in countries where corruption is           als to become terrorists. some analysts
endemic, and in poor, weak states with            argue, as Daniel Pipes did in these pages,
limited control over their territory or           that the 9/11 hijackers were predomi-
resources. The map of vulnerable zones            nantly middle-class, educated saudis, so
is global—including parts of the Carib-           poverty cannot bear any meaningful re-
bean, Latin America, the middle east,             lationship to terrorism. Others reason
Africa, the Caucasus, and Central, south          that the poorest are struggling merely to
and east Asia. Fifty-three countries have         survive and have no capacity to plan and
an average per capita gdP of less than $2         execute terrorist acts.
per day. each is a potential weak spot in a            A commonly cited study by Alan
world in which effective action by states         Krueger and Jitka maleckova in the
everywhere is necessary to reduce and             Journal of Economic Perspectives concludes
combat transnational threats.                     there is “little direct connection between
                                                  poverty or education and participation in
                                                  terrorism.” They examine recruits into
Poverty, Crime and Terrorism
                                                  Palestinian terrorist groups in the middle

            OW-INCOme states are                  east and find they are neither illiterate
            often weak states that lack ef-       nor impoverished and that citizens of the
            fective control over substan-         world’s poorest countries are not more
tial portions of their territory and re-          likely to turn to terror. But by their own
sources. Ill-equipped and poorly trained          admission, their analysis is incomplete.
immigration and customs officials, as well             It is also unconvincing in several re-
as under-resourced police, military, judi-        spects. First, it extrapolates data on Pales-
ciary and financial systems, create vacu-         tinian terrorists and crime rates in several
ums into which transnational predators            countries to draw conclusions about a
can easily move. Conflict, difficult terrain      very different phenomenon—transna-
and corruption render weak states even            tional, anti-U.s. terrorism. second, other
more vulnerable. Terrorist groups have            evidence casts doubt on the argument
raised funds through tactical alliances           that socio-economic conditions are un-
with transnational criminal syndicates,           related to the recruitment of terrorist
smugglers and pirates operating in lawless        foot soldiers, if not leaders. For instance,
zones from the somali coast and Central           research at the University of maryland’s
Asia to the tri-border region of south            Center for International Development
America. Not surprisingly, the human              and Conflict management shows that
pawns—narcotics couriers, sex slaves and          countries with low income, productive

                                  The Threat of Global Poverty                              77
efficiency and life expectancy, as well as a      external predators. While low per-capita
high male youth bulge, were more likely           income increases the likelihood of civil
to experience political violence, including       conflict, conflict zones in turn have been
terrorism.                                        exploited by terrorists to lure foot sol-
     In the Greater middle east, the              diers and train new cadres—as in Bosnia,
emergence of a youth bulge in the 1970s           the Philippines and Central Asia.
was followed by the rise of political Islam.          In extreme cases, conflict results in
many countries in the region suffer from          state failure, as happened in somalia and
high unemployment rates, an exploding             Afghanistan. When states collapse, the
labor force and stagnant real wages. For          climate for predatory transnational ac-
years, saudi Arabia, home to several 9/11         tors is improved exponentially. economic
hijackers, experienced rapidly declining          privation is an important indicator of
gdP. The emergence of Algeria’s Front             state failure. The Cia’s state Failure Task
Islamique du salut was also preceded by           Force found that states in which human
plummeting gdP growth and high un-                suffering is rampant (as measured by
employment rates caused by the 1986               high infant mortality) are 2.3 times more
collapse in world oil prices. The breakup         likely to fail than others. state failure is
of the soviet Union led to dramatic eco-          also substantially correlated with uneven
nomic decline in Central Asia, as in the          distribution of income within societies,
Fergana Valley, where the radical Islamic         as well as a lack of openness to trade.
movement of Uzbekistan took root in               While poor economic conditions are not
the midst of unemployment rates soaring           the only major risk factor for state weak-
to between 60 percent and 90 percent.             ness and failure, they are widely under-
Numerous analysts hold that Al-Qaeda              stood to be an important contributor,
has gained adherents and global reach in          along with partial democratization, cor-
part by seizing on the hopelessness and           rupt governance, regional instability and
despair of aggrieved muslims in these             ethnic tension.
regions. Poverty, vast income dispari-                even absent conflict, poverty at the
ties, joblessness and lack of hope may in-        country level, particularly in states with
deed engender sufficient levels of fatalism       significant muslim populations, may en-
among some groups (perhaps especially             hance the ability of transnational ter-
educated but underemployed youth) to              rorists to operate. Poor countries with
render them vulnerable to recruitment by          limited institutional capacity to control
radical groups linked to terrorists.              their territory, borders and coastlines can
     however, the primary flaw in the             provide safe havens, training grounds and
conventional argument that poverty is             recruiting fields for terrorist networks.
unrelated to terrorism is its failure to cap-     By some estimates, 25 percent of the for-
ture the range of ways in which poverty           eign terrorists recruited by Al-Qaeda to
can exacerbate the threat of transnational        Iraq have come from North and sub-sa-
terrorism—not at the individual level but         haran Africa. To support their activities,
at the state and regional level. Poverty          networks like Al-Qaeda have exploited
bears indirectly on terrorism by sparking         the terrain, cash crops, natural resources
conflict and eroding state capacity, both         and financial institutions of low-income
of which create conditions that can facili-       states like mali and Yemen. militants
tate terrorist activity.                          have taken advantage of lax immigration,
     Conflict zones not only cost lives, but      security and financial controls to plan,
they can incubate virtually every type of         finance and execute operations in Kenya,
transnational security threat by creating         Tanzania and Indonesia. Al-Qaeda is now
the optimal anarchic environment for              believed to have extended its reach to ap-

78                              The National Interest—Spring 2006
proximately sixty countries worldwide.            decades, while twenty previously detected
      Country-level poverty may also              diseases have re-emerged in new drug-re-
weaken state capacity to provide essen-           sistant strains. Avian flu, Hiv/aids, severe
tial human services and thereby render            acute respiratory syndrome (sars), hepa-
states more vulnerable to exploitation by         titis C and West Nile virus are just a few
terrorist networks. In low-income coun-           of the newly discovered diseases that have
tries, social and welfare services are often      spread from the developing world to the
inadequate, creating voids in education           United states or other developed coun-
and health that may be filled by radi-            tries. In the United states, the number of
cal non-governmental organizations or             deaths due to infectious disease doubled
madrassas. In Indonesia, the sahel and            to 170,000 between 1980 and 2000.
Bangladesh, for example, international                 Poverty contributes substantially to
Islamic charities are filling the welfare         the outbreak of infectious disease. As
gap. In Pakistan, egypt and the Palestin-         the search for clean water and firewood
ian territories, radical groups offer social      drives impoverished people deeper into
welfare services that governments fail to         forested areas, the risk of animal contact
provide. Global terrorist networks may            and exposure to new pathogens increases.
also use legitimate and illegitimate chari-       By spurring population growth, contrib-
ties as fronts to garner popular support.         uting to immune-compromising malnu-
                                                  trition, and exacerbating crowding and
                                                  poor living conditions, poverty also fuels
Poverty, Disease and the Environment
                                                  the transmission of disease. For instance,

                hILe seNIOr U.s. of-              water-borne diseases like cholera—which
                ficials now acknowledge           often result from bad sanitation—now ac-
                that poverty helps erode          count for 90 percent of infectious diseases
weak states’ capacity to control “ungov-          in developing countries. similarly, almost
erned spaces” and combat terrorism, in-           two million people will die this year of
ternational crime and narcotics, they still       tuberculosis and another nearly four mil-
tend to portray disease and environmen-           lion from lower respiratory infections,
tal degradation primarily as scientific is-       most of whom live in poor, crowded areas
sues rather than national security threats.       of the developing world. These commu-
Yet both have the potential to inflict great      nicable diseases are mutating dangerously
damage on U.s. security by killing large          and spreading to other regions. Antibi-
numbers of American citizens and caus-            otic-resistant tuberculosis, for example, is
ing major economic losses.                        resurgent in the United states, especially
    The risk of the global spread of com-         among immigrant populations.
municable diseases has vastly increased as             health experts’ most alarming pre-
people and cargo now traverse the globe           diction is that the h5N1 strain of avian
with unprecedented speed and frequen-             flu, which is rampant in poultry stocks
cy. more than two million people cross            in Asia, will soon evolve into a virus eas-
an international border each day. Forty           ily transmitted from human to human.
million travelers left the United states          We have recently witnessed the difficulty
in 1994, compared to twenty million in            Turkey, a middle-income country, has had
1984. half these Americans made trips             containing its outbreak of avian flu. The
to the more disease-prone tropics, rais-          discovery of the virus in northern Nigeria
ing the risk that they will return to the         highlights the particular danger of the
United states with contagious illnesses.          disease spreading further in impoverished
    At least thirty new infectious diseases       parts of Africa and Asia, where poor rural
have surfaced globally in the last three          people live in close proximity to animals

                                  The Threat of Global Poverty                             79
and depend on those animals to subsist.          on track to reach nine billion by 2050.
In such places, farmers have few incen-          This growth is coming disproportion-
tives to cull their animals and may instead      ately from the developing world. Poverty
choose to dump infected poultry on the           substantially fuels population growth, as
market. As the disease spreads, the risk of      families have more children in response
mutation increases.                              to high infant mortality and the need to
     The wHo ’s conservative estimate            raise income potential.
is that an avian flu pandemic involving               Population pressure, in turn, increas-
human-to-human transmission could                es pollution in watersheds and will reduce
kill between two million and 7.4 million         already scarce global water supplies. By
people around the world. An additional           the mid-1990s, eighty countries contain-
1.2 billion could fall sick, and over 25         ing 40 percent of the world’s popula-
million could require hospitalization. A         tion faced serious water shortages, and
worst-case estimate is that sixty million        18 percent did not have safe drinking
could die, exceeding the more than forty         water. The United Nations estimates that
million who died in the great 1918–19            two-thirds of the world could face signifi-
influenza epidemic. The economic con-            cant water stress by 2025. Competition
sequences for the United states could            for scarce water resources could provoke
also be enormous, considering that sars,         future conflicts involving key American
which killed only 813 people, caused             partners and even risk drawing in the
global losses estimated at $30 billion.          United states. Potential flashpoints in-
     The lack of adequate health-care in-        clude Israel and its neighbors, India and
frastructure and surveillance capacity in        Pakistan, Turkey and syria, egypt and
poor countries hinders early detection           ethiopia, and several countries of south-
and timely treatment of disease, while           ern Africa.
also reducing states’ abilities to halt its           Deforestation is accelerating in the
spread abroad. The economic, health and          developing world due to increased de-
security consequences of these weak links        mand for fuel in the form of firewood
in the global public-health chain are po-        and for arable acreage to enable growing
tentially as dire for developed countries,       populations to subsist in marginal areas.
as they have proved deadly in the devel-         The loss of trees further exacerbates de-
oping world.                                     sertification; two billion hectares of soil,
     Like disease, environmental degrada-        or 15 percent of the planet’s land cover,
tion is linked significantly to poverty in       is already degraded. Logging for trade in
the developing world and could result            exotic African and Asian hardwoods mag-
in long-term adverse consequences for            nifies the problem, contributing to the
the United states. The implications for          elimination of 2.4 percent of the world’s
Americans range from global warming,             forest cover since 1990. One result is re-
which could eventually threaten major            duced biodiversity, which alters delicate
cities in low-lying U.s. coastal areas, to       ecosystems and depletes the world’s stock
the loss of critical biodiversity and poten-     of flora and fauna that have produced im-
tial wars over water in strategically sensi-     portant medical benefits for mankind.
tive regions.                                         Another environmental hazard is
     much of the world’s environmen-             global warming. While carbon dioxide
tal stress can be attributed to popula-          emissions in rich and rapidly growing
tion pressure. From 1950 to 1998 the             economies are the main culprit, deserti-
world’s population doubled. It has grown         fication and deforestation can accelerate
a further 14 percent in the last ten years       global climate change by reducing the
to 6.4 billion. The global population is         availability of trees to absorb carbon diox-

80                             The National Interest—Spring 2006
ide. moreover, deforestation that results          percent annually of our gross national in-
in the burning of firewood now accounts            come (gni) to overseas development as-
for 25 percent of annual global carbon             sistance (oda) would cost about $80 bil-
dioxide emissions. Warming is already              lion annually, a seemingly great sum—ap-
causing ice caps to melt, sea levels to rise       proximately equivalent to the cost of the
and perhaps seasonal storms to increase            2002 Farm Bill, the latest supplemental
in intensity.                                      appropriation for Iraq, or roughly one-
      As temperatures rise in temper-              fifth of the defense budget. moreover,
ate climates, the transmission vectors             opening U.s. markets to goods from the
for mosquito-borne and other tropical              least developed countries may cause fur-
diseases will also change. New areas of            ther short-term job loss in sensitive sec-
the world, including our own, will face            tors in the United states. Given conflict,
the possibility of once-tropical illnesses,        corruption and fragile states, would more
like dengue fever, becoming prevalent,             assistance to developing countries not
potentially afflicting large numbers of            simply amount to pouring money down
Americans who lack acquired immunity               a hole?
to such diseases.                                       Increasingly, there is convincing evi-
                                                   dence that foreign aid can make a crucial
                                                   difference, especially in countries lacking
Breaking a Doom Spiral
                                                   resources to jump-start rapid economic

         N sUm, poverty plays a complex            growth. In Taiwan, Botswana, Uganda
         and dual role in facilitating the         and mozambique, foreign assistance suc-
         emergence and spread of trans-            cessfully helped build the foundation for
national security threats. First, poverty          development. south Korea was able to
substantially increases the risk of conflict,      create millions of jobs while receiving
which in turn serves as especially fertile         nearly $100 per person of aid annual-
breeding grounds for such threats. sec-            ly in today’s dollars from 1955 to 1972.
ond, poverty, more indirectly, can give            Botswana, the world’s fastest growing
rise to conditions at the local or state           economy between 1965 and 1995, re-
level that are conducive to each of these          ceived annual aid flows averaging $127
transnational threats. Beyond degrad-              per person during this period and rapidly
ing human security, poverty can severely           expanded diamond exports. The Center
erode state capacity to prevent or con-            for Global Development finds that, ir-
tain such threats, which can create ad-            respective of the strength of a country’s
verse conditions within and beyond state           institutions or the quality of its policies,
boundaries that exacerbate poverty. Thus,          certain aid flows have strong pro-growth
a doom spiral is set in motion, in which           effects, even in the short term. Another
poverty fuels threats that contribute to           study for the uk’s Department for Inter-
deeper poverty, consequently intensifying          national Development has shown that not
threats.                                           only is aid beneficial on balance, but its
    Discerning and disaggregating this             effectiveness has also improved since the
dangerous dynamic is essential to grasp-           1980s.
ing the national security rationale for                 Based on recent donor commitments,
far greater U.s. action to reduce global           the Organization for economic Coop-
poverty. Yet to some, the investments and          eration and Development ( oeCd) now
policy changes required of the United              estimates that oda flows to developing
states to make meaningful progress ap-             countries will increase by $50 billion by
pear unaffordable and, to others, unde-            2010. sixteen of the world’s 22 major
sirable. To devote the much-vaunted 0.7            donor countries have pledged within a

                                   The Threat of Global Poverty                             81
decade to devote 0.7 percent of their gni        to “make poverty history.” The most im-
to oda. The major outlier is the United          portant ingredients are improved eco-
states. President George W. Bush has             nomic policies and responsible gover-
ruled out raising the United states from         nance in developing countries. Yet those
the current 0.16 percent of gni spent on         alone will not suffice. Developed coun-
oda (second to last among oeCd donors)           tries will need to drop trade distorting
to the monterrey target of 0.7 percent,          subsidies, further open their markets, en-
or committing to any other aggregate as-         courage job-creating foreign and domes-
sistance goal.                                   tic investment, cancel more debt, combat
     On the eve of the G-8 summit, Bush          infectious disease, prevent and resolve
pledged to double aid to Africa by 2010,         conflicts, and assist the recovery of post-
but relatively little of that additional $4      conflict societies.
billion represents new money. rather, the              For the United states to meet this
president can keep this promise simply           challenge, it will require a near tecton-
by meeting his as yet unfulfilled pledge         ic shift in our national security policy.
to fully fund his millennium Challenge           Policymakers and lawmakers must come
Account and Hiv/aids initiative. Over-           to view transnational security threats
all, the U.s. ante toward the G-8 goal is        as among the foremost of our poten-
small compared to europe’s and falls well        tial enemies. They must then embrace a
short of the customary U.s. contribution         long-term strategy in partnership with
to multilateral funding instruments of at        other developed countries to counter
least 25 percent, in this case $6 billion.       these threats, based on the imperative to
Partial debt cancellation and relatively         strengthen weak states’ legitimacy and
modest aid increases to sub-saharan Af-          capacity to control their territory and ful-
rica seem to mark the current limit of           fill the basic human needs of their people.
the Bush Administration’s will to achieve        This strategy must be built on the twin
the un millennium Development Goals.             pillars of promoting sustainable democra-
meeting those goals would lift more than         cy and development. Finally, the president
500 million people out of extreme pov-           and Congress must commit the resources
erty and allow over 300 million to live          to finance this strategy and see it to frui-
without hunger by 2015. It would also            tion. While it will be expensive and per-
enable universal primary education and           haps unpopular to do so, Americans will
reduce by two-thirds mortality rates for         almost certainly pay more dearly over the
children under five.                             long term if our leaders fail to recognize
     In reality, however, it will take much      the risks and costs to the United states of
more than large, well-targeted aid flows         persistent global poverty. n

82                             The National Interest—Spring 2006

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