Global Poverty Reduction
Most Americans perceive the current political climate as increasingly polarized by party affiliation. In 2019, Pew Research Center surveyed the American public and found that nearly 80% believe divisions are increasing between Democrats and Republicans. Yet, the political pursuit of global poverty reduction benefits those on both sides of the political aisle.

The Science Behind Political Unity

In a recent interview with The Borgen Project, social psychologist Dr. Calvin Lai explained key factors contributing to the difficulty of Democrats and Republicans to simply get along. Primarily, the core of political division – a type of intergroup conflict – stems from differing morality and values between Republicans and Democrats. Beyond differences of morality and values, geography, demography and culture also shape one’s political outlook. Despite these differences, Dr. Lai points to “bonding together based on a common goal” as a useful tool in overpowering intergroup conflict to reach bipartisan consensus.

Poverty Reduction as a Common Legislative Goal

Leading up to the 2016 elections, Gallup and Pew Research Center conducted polls to survey Americans on their legislative priorities. The results revealed that Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike regarded national security and terrorism, the economy and jobs as the most pressing issues.

The survey thus indicates room for a bipartisan stance on foreign aid. Global poverty reduction – which improves national security, strengthens the economy and improves domestic employment – can be the common thread that pulls together both sides of the political spectrum and encourages collaboration over conflict.

National Security and Terrorism as Cornerstones of American Legislative Priorities

In 2002, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that “sustainable development is a security imperative. Poverty, destruction of the environment and despair are destroyers of people, of societies, of nations, a cause of instability as an unholy trinity that can destabilize countries and destabilize entire regions.”

Global poverty relates to a host of environmental, economic and political problems for the international system, regardless of a nation’s wealth. For instance, deforestation – though people do not typically regard it as a threat to national security – occurs more frequently in impoverished, tropical countries. The state of the environment knows no borders. Issues like deforestation pose a risk to the entire world by degrading the climate.

Political unrest and terrorism also unfold in connection with poverty. Notably, poverty does not directly cause terrorism, and most terrorists are not poor. Rather, poverty breeds systemic issues and mental turmoil for societies, which may cause people to abandon hope for institutionalized change and instead support radical terrorist organizations.

The Causal Nexus Between Global Poverty Reduction and Economic Growth

After national security, the economy and employment rank high for the American people’s political interests. In today’s highly globalized world, an unstable global economy prevents the U.S. from reaching its full economic potential.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush once declared, “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.” Echoing Bush’s sentiments, research indicates that a highly active world economy cannot be sustained long term if coupled with increasing income inequality. Conversely, mitigating global poverty advances equality and allows all countries to participate in a more just, sound and stable international marketplace.

In particular, the U.S. – a dominant economic power dependent on exports – stands to benefit significantly from global poverty reduction. Asia and Africa are home to the top 10 countries with the fastest-growing GDPs. Libya tops this list, followed by Rwanda and Bangladesh, to name a few. As developing nations stabilize and prosper, more opportunities exist for trade with U.S. markets. Developing countries have accounted for half of international economic growth, and 50% of U.S. businesses supply half their exports to these emerging economies. Success for U.S. businesses boosts the economy but also promotes domestic employment by extension.

Approaching Global Poverty Reduction from a Bipartisan Front

In recent decades, global income equality has improved dramatically with less than a 10th of the world facing extreme poverty. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic will likely have crippling effects on developing countries faced with scarce resources and infrastructural challenges to health care. The U.S. has the power and privilege to drastically improve the conditions of those facing life or death by endorsing foreign aid.

Domestically, the clash between red and blue has eroded a sense of national unity in recent years. Still, there is room for political consensus: most Americans agree that national security, the economy and employment remain essential aspects of the U.S. legislative agenda. Global poverty reduction allows people of all ideologies to tackle these problems and come together for something good.

– Maya Gonzales
Photo: Flickr

How Foreign Aid Can Prevent Child Soldier RecruitmentAccording to new numbers released by the United Nations, the number of child soldiers recruited to fight across the Middle East and North Africa has more than doubled in one year, rising from 576 in 2014 to 1,168 in 2015. UNICEF notes that the real number of child soldiers recruited into these conflicts is likely significantly higher, as many cases go undocumented.

The most notable increases were found in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, which have suffered ongoing violence for years. Civilian infrastructure in these areas has been under attack for significant periods of time, eliminating basic services families need to survive. As resources dwindle, families are forced to send children to work in what are often unsafe conditions. Furthermore, ongoing violence creates unrest within communities, making them more vulnerable to radicalization. This is of particular importance for children, as they are less capable of resisting indoctrination by extremists.

Of the 28 million children throughout the region who are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, 90 percent of these live in areas where violence persists. This indicates that a significant population of children are at risk for child soldier recruitment as they live in areas of conflict, lack access to basic necessities and likely do not have the means to gain an education. In many cases, families have elected for their children to join the fight as a measure of protection. While in the past most child soldiers were assigned roles as guards, cooks or similarly inactive roles, recent reports point to minors participating actively in violence.

The case of South Sudan, where the United Nations reports 18,000 child combatants recruited over the past four years, is also alarming. Many former child soldiers report consciously deciding to join the conflict, though they may not have understood what was going on. In an interview with the Guardian, several former child soldiers with the Cobra Faction in South Sudan recalled that their education and standard of living had been poor and local violence inspired them to join the fight. They explained that they were drawn to the rhetoric espoused by the militia, though they did not fully understand its implications.

Rebel commanders in South Sudan have claimed that they are forced into child soldier recruitment and that it is not a voluntary choice. Their logic is that due to the lack of education, infrastructure, food and other key factors, children are left to stagnate. By recruiting them to fight, they are then able “to achieve something better.”

This mindset is precisely why foreign aid is a key tool in stemming the growth of child soldier recruitment. Both the international community and those who participate in child soldier recruitment note that the practice results largely from the lack of education and basic goods and services. Employing foreign assistance to stabilize communities through providing food and clean water and creating the infrastructure necessary for reliable functioning would minimize the opportunities and incentives for indoctrination.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that “terrorism really flourishes in areas of poverty, despair and hopelessness, where people see no future.” Child soldier recruitment flourishes here as well, which is why the use of aid as a preventative measure can prevent increases in child soldiers in the future.

Alena Zafonte
Photo: Flickr