Buy Security Through Aid


May 21, 2005

This commentary originally appeared in United Press International on May 21, 2005.

A decade ago, corruption was a taboo subject in economic development. Although studies showed that corruption did not increase growth but only greased greedy palms, the subject was still too hot, too political and too sovereign. Today, the issue of security is where corruption was a decade ago — development's awkward stepchild, too large to ignore but too domestic and too sovereign to be discussed explicitly.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn raised corruption to center stage in the development agenda in 1996. He helped the bank develop ways to measure corruption — and more importantly, made anti-corruption measures a mainstream consideration in the bank's lending. Now Wolfensohn's successor, newly elected World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, can put the spotlight on the importance of security to development, using his long experience as a security specialist to the advantage of the developing world.

Wolfensohn set in motion work on security at the bank and elsewhere — including a RAND Corporation concept paper on which this piece is based. Wolfensohn observed that the rich countries spend almost $1 trillion a year on defense but only $50 billion on development assistance. And yet, many security threats now and in the future will emanate from the poorest countries. That led Wolfensohn to theorize that rich countries could be made more secure by reallocating some funds from defense to development. Wolfensohn's proposition is intuitively appealing, but hard to demonstrate. The Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers were neither poor nor from the poorest countries; so, too, the suicide bombers terrifying Israel are not the poorest or most ignorant of Palestinians. This tells us that connections between development and security need to be probed, but not assumed.

For the rich countries — home to 1 billion of the planet's people — Immanuel Kant's dictum that democracies don't fight other democracies is increasingly validated. Nor are rich democracies likely to face major internal conflict. Nonetheless, in a globalized world the rich countries can easily suffer the costs and spillovers of conflict in middle-income and poor countries.

Middle-income countries, or those on a path to be so — where perhaps 4 billion people live — still face a risk of internal conflict four or five times higher than the rich countries. Moreover, their military and security policies and institutions — usually left out of development calculations — can have powerful impacts on development, both negative and positive. Many of these countries need security sector reforms in order to enhance their economic and political development.

In the poorest countries — home to perhaps 1 billion people — the links between security and development are most graphic. The states at the bottom suffer the most from upheaval, conflict and wars, mostly internal. They may be hotbeds for the trafficking of drugs and women and body parts, sanctuaries for international crime and terror, crucibles of communicable disease.

The poorest nations may also be the places rich countries have to help dig out and reconstruct from conflict, disaster and dictatorship. Even when the wars themselves don't spread to nearby states the refugees often do, bringing with them poverty and disease. The costs of an internal conflict to its neighbors as a group can often be of the same order of magnitude as the costs to the country concerned. Helping the bottom 40 or so countries of the world create the basis for peace and development is the major task for the World Bank.

These spillover costs stretch across the globe, and bear on the rich countries as well. When other countries are moved to intervene in a conflict, in military or humanitarian terms, costs are direct. Other costs are less tangible. If some combination of poverty, state failure, and internal conflict produces compliant states or territory beyond the control of states, those locations may become havens for drug traffickers or terrorists. Taliban-controlled Afghanistan played host to al-Qaida, even though most of its members were not Afghans; the act was partly voluntary, partly the compliance of a failed or weakened state.

The World Bank under Wolfowitz could spearhead research to probe the connections between security and development:

What reforms may help both security and development? Very much on the analogy with earlier work on corruption, this research would aim for a “security sector development index” designed to help assess the impact on development not just of military establishments but also of the broader security sector, including police, border patrol, paramilitary and intelligence agencies. And on a practical level, the World Bank and other countries would examine successful and unsuccessful examples of reforms in defense and security, sharing the results around the world.

  • Right now, the United States and other countries try to enable security and development through a variety of measures, such as trade and investment, diplomacy, cultural and educational programs, defense relationships, and foreign aid. How do rich countries' current portfolios of international activities stand up in light of new linkages between security and development?
  • How might conflict in the developing world be anticipated? What are the antecedents of conflict and upheaval of various kinds-and what might be done to mitigate those risks?
  • How to move from possibility to policy? Even with the best anticipation, some of the future conflicts and security risks may surprise us. Can Wolfowitz bring to the World Bank the kinds of analytical techniques used to analyze security risks?
  • The World Bank might help its partner countries to explore the possible risks between conflict and development through scenarios, simulations, and robust decision-making models. One special virtue of these methods is that they can be used to engage policy makers in the process.
  • What has worked in peacekeeping, peace enforcement, reconstruction, and development?

In all these questions, the World Bank might take the lead. It is, after all, the world's greatest center of development research. But ideally the bank would enlist a network of research institutions in rich and poor countries to examine together the many links between development and security.

The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Shalikashvili, a board member of Global Partnerships, recently made the case for an increase in foreign aid. “By the time the military gets to these trouble spots with peacekeeping forces, it's too late. Our country should be doing something much earlier in order to prevent the conflict,” he said.

Shalikashvili was asked what he would think if the money had to come from the defense budget. He responded: “It's all the same budget. And it would be an investment for our national security.” The challenge for Wolfowitz is to see if it truly would be, not just for the United States but for other countries as well.

© 2005 United Press International

Robert Klitgaard and Gregory Treverton are dean and associate dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School which is part of the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit organization that seeks solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems.

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