Bush is obsessed with war
JEFFREY D. SACHS
Throughout 2003, the world lived with Bush’s obsession. Debate over
Iraq dominated international diplomacy, and took up almost the entire UN agenda. The war
in Iraq cost countless innocent lives, such as when the UN headquarters in Baghdad was
bombed. At the same time, Bush’s emphasis on a one-dimensional, militarized approach to
global problems has fueled unrest and instability throughout the Islamic world, leading to
increased terrorism in Turkey, North Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Southeast Asia.
The nature of suffering around the world hardly justifies this narrow
strategy. Focusing on terrorism to the exclusion of other issues, and emphasizing the
military response to it, will not bring prosperity and peace, or even a significant
reduction in the number of attacks. While 3,000 innocent people died in the US on
September 11, 2001, in Africa 8,000 innocent children die every day from malaria.
Yet malaria is preventable and treatable. The problem is that most of
Africa is too poor to mobilize the methods of prevention (bed nets) and treatments
(anti-malarial medicines) that could save millions of children every year. The US spends
more on Iraq each day than it does on Africa’s malaria in a year.
George W. Bush is obsessed with the war on terrorism, especially with
the military response to terrorism. American foreign policy reflects that obsession. This
year, the US will spend around $450 billion for the military, including the costs of the
Iraq War, while it will spend no more than $15 billion to overcome global poverty, global
environmental degradation, and global diseases. In other words, US foreign policy spending
is thirty times more focused on the military than on building global prosperity, global
public health, and a sustainable environment.
As 2003 draws to a close, it is time for world leaders to help guide
the world away from the obsessive, failing approach of America’s government. President
Bush should be made to understand that the US will find no true international support if
America speaks incessantly about terrorism while doing almost nothing about the problems
that really affect most of the world: poverty, lack of access to safe water and
sanitation, vulnerability to disease, and climate change.
Ironically, President Bush claims that the UN does not follow through
on its word. He declared in London recently that “the credibility of the UN depends
on a willingness to keep its word and to act when action is required.” Yet the US
repeatedly violates its own UN pledges.
For example, at the International Conference on Financing for
Development, in Monterrey, Mexico in March 2002, America signed the Monterrey Consensus,
which includes a promise by rich countries to raise their development assistance towards
0.7% of national income. That would bring an additional $60 billion per year in foreign
assistance from the US--approximately what it spent on Iraq this year. Yet President Bush
has simply ignored this promise.
There are many other similar commitments that the US has made in recent
years to the UN that remain utterly unfulfilled. The US promised action to fight man-made
climate change as a signatory to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in
1992. It has so far failed to act.
America also promised--in the Doha Declaration in 2001--to open its
markets to the world’s poorest countries. Yet at Cancun, Mexico earlier this summer, it
refused to open its markets even to exports from struggling African economies.
The list goes on and on. At the Millennium Assembly in 2000, the US
promised to pursue reduction of global poverty, yet it has taken few steps in that
direction. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, America
committed itself to protect global ecosystems, yet little has been seen or heard from US
policy makers on this issue since then.
America is certainly not alone in failing to promote the international
goals adopted in the UN. But because the US is the richest, most powerful country in the
world, its neglect is devastating. If the US really wants to undercut terrorism, it must
recognize the interconnectedness of extremism, poverty, and environmental degradation, and
it will need to understand the struggles for survival that are underway among the poor
But the world should not wait for the America to come to its senses.
The US represents just 5% of the world’s population, and just one vote of 191 countries in
the UN General Assembly. Poor countries, especially the democracies of the developing
world--Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico, Ghana, the Philippines--should say, “We
need to act on the issues that concern us, not just on the issues that concern the
US.” What the world needs most in 2004 is a declaration of independence from American
[Jeffrey D. Sachs is Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth
Institute at Columbia University.]
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2003.