Poverty and Conflict
In President Bill Clinton’s 2007 Technology, Education, and Design (TED) talk, he describes the word as “interdependent but insufficient.” He goes on to explain that the world should strive to integrate communities, share opportunities, and instill a sense of belonging across the globe. These may seem like the ideological musings of a past President, but they are more than mere speculations. Identity is arguably the driving factor behind motivation. Therefore, when a conflict occurs, on an individual, state, or global level, motivation is the key to understanding how and why the conflict was initiated.
Upon reflection, the 7/11 attacks in the UK have been noted as “more personal” than 9/11 because the attackers were “home grown” terrorists. The culprits found their differences more important than the common humanity of peers they were raised with. This demonstrates how community, culture, and connectivity all play a role in shaping the identity and motivations of individuals. Religion, nationalism, and globalization, are some of the many identities that are shaping the world today. The issue now becomes building a more expansive communal identity in order to create a safer, more inclusive world.
Inequality and Instability
Oxford Professor and author of The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier, has proven how the world’s poorest individuals account for one billion of the world’s population. Most of the “bottom billion” live in concentrated regions in Africa, but are also in other areas of the world. These areas are becoming hotbeds of instability; most residents live in harsh conditions, combating increased food insecurity, water scarcity, and limited medical services, while attempting to survive on incomes of less than one USD per day. In addition, the economies of these countries have been stagnant for the past 30 years. With the MENA region dealing with rocky transitions to democracy, political uncertainty has exacerbated the regional economic instability.
This is where the Western notion of aid, whether monetary or personnel, is seen to be a glorified form of charity. If the instability is in a region far away, aid is viewed as an act that has no vested interest by the Western state choosing to assist. A commonly held belief in the USA is that too much money is spent on aid; when the average citizen is asked how much they think of overall government spending goes to aid, estimates are well over 25%. Citizens usually follow with bitter remarks on how it needs to be significantly decreased, probably “to around 10%.” Those citizens would be happy to know that US spending on aid actually accounts for less than 1% of overall spending.
The matter of aid and instability in regions far away from the West is that these regions are not actually that far away. When conflict increases in certain resource rich countries in the Middle East, the US and Canada face a hit in oil and gas, and prices increase. When government protests erupt halfway around the world, relatives abroad put pressure on their new home government to play a role in creating a solution and resolving the conflict. The concerns from halfway around the world are now the West’s daily concerns, with immense economic, social, and political implications.
With an increased investment in overseas events, countries have more of an incentive to be engaged with these nations. However, when economic times are hard, it becomes easy to revert back to “it’s not our problem” mentality. The reality is that it is everyone’s problem. Simply put, investing in development is smart foreign policy. When infrastructure is built, education is accessible, and international norms promote democratic features of government, there will be a decrease in conflict. Why? Because the bottom billion are not terrorists. They are not trying to engage in conflict, thievery, or any other form of harmful activity to prove a point. Instead, they are concerned with feeding their families, maintaining (or finding) a home, and getting through to the next day. If they can achieve these things without engaging in risky activity, they will. Not only will there be one billion people unburdening society from threats, but these one billion will also join in the fight against radical behaviour.
While NATO cannot raise funds for developmental efforts, it can still play a role in encouraging members and allies to increase their individual initiatives. The benefits of this could translate into material change through other international bodies such as the United Nations and the European Union. Recognizing that NATO is not the only global forum members are committed to is important; while NATO focuses on political and military means to security, its efforts can be enhanced with other organizations focusing on development. Building communities that can function within the greater global community is the most sustainable strategy for creating global security. Members of the Alliance would benefit from using other international organizations to further the agenda of international security by investing in this preventative, rather than reactionary, (inter)national security approach. Lifting one billion people out of poverty and integrating them into the global society will decrease their incentive to engage in conflict, and as such should be a global priority.
Strategies for reducing global poverty are imminent, with goals to eradicate poverty by 2030 being integrated into policy around the world. For more information, read this article from the Economist.