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Treating the roots of terrorism

By Jonathan Moore, 9/29/2001

THERE IS something missing from the US strategy against global terrorism. The military operations to track down and incapacitate the terrorist organizations and those who abet them simply will not work alone. Over time they will fail, unless we also act against the conditions that spawn terrorism.

Waging war against terrorists will not work unless we also pursue peace through ambitious commitment and action to help improve the worst-off parts of the world. Along with military action, the United States must undertake a dedicated and sustained engagement with the poor parts of the world to help them reduce their misery and raise their hope.

Much of the world population lives in insecurity, deprivation and helplessness, without rights to adequate food, shelter, health and education. The economic, technological, and political forces of global expansion have not alleviated this disparity, and it inevitably contributes to the export of terrorism and other chaos: disease, environmental crisis, economic disruption, regional conflict.

Consider the increasing gap between rich and poor. More than one billion people live on $1 a year. Sixty percent of the next one billion people to be born will be born in developing countries, which have more than 90 percent of HIV/AIDS cases. Over the next quarter century, 98 percent of the predicted doubling of the world's urban population will occur in cities in developing countries, and the 300 million people now living in areas of serious to severe water shortage are expected to increase to 3 billion. Thirty-six countries are engaged in conflict, with the attendant destruction and suffering of 21 million internally displaced and 14 million refugees. Private investment to poorer countries is weak, yet official development assistance from affluent to needy countries has dropped more than 60 percent in the last 10 years. US foreign aid has fallen to 0.1 percent of our Gross National Product, placing us relative to the size of our economy eighth among major donors.

This situation is both morally and politically dangerous, and requires a new appreciation that our national interest is increasingly defined in terms of the lives of others. Seizing the benefits of interdependence while avoiding its perils requires a mobilization of both our philosophical convictions and material competence. Here our assets of idealism and realism, far from competitive, are essential reinforcements to each other.

Many interrelated policy avenues, some already available, will have to be activated, and paid for, over a long time, together with the multilateral cooperation of other powerful states. What are the prospects for this?

There is obvious cause for doubt. But now, in order for the United States to wage the war it is planning, we need the cooperation and support of some of the nations that require our help to achieve better lives and real peace for themselves. And this can't be accomplished merely by the kinds of emoluments we offered other countries to send their troops to Vietnam, or by impositions of instant democracy, or by providing humanitarian assistance for the new refugee flows that are already beginning.

As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush spoke frequently of the necessity for America to be ''humble'' in its relations with the other members of the world community. He has spoken of the need for religious and spiritual values to become more present in our public life and public policy.

In a speech at the World Bank in July, he underscored his recommendations for reform as follows: ''This is compassionate conservatism at an international level, and it's the responsibility that comes with freedom and prosperity. The needs are many and undeniable. And they are a challenge to our conscience and to complacency. A world where some live in comfort and plenty, while half of the human race lives on less than $2 a day, is neither just, nor stable.''

It remains to be seen if action will follow words. It's unlikely, but essential and within our capacity.

Jonathan Moore served as US coordinator for refugees and ambassador to the United Nations during the Reagan and Bush administrations. He is now at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 9/29/2001.
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