We are all at risk if we allow an anti-terrorism campaign based primarily on military action to overshadow the vital development work that is being done – and must be done – to close the gap between the rich and the poor, says Jimmy Carter. Without the promise of peace and prosperity in poor countries, there can be no true human security

The greatest challenge our world faces today is the growing chasm between the world’s rich and poor. Our need to address this problem more effectively is not only a moral and humanitarian imperative, but also an important component of a war on terrorism.

At the Carter Center, we have long recognized that promoting civil and political liberties by mediating disputes and monitoring elections is not enough to ensure that our efforts to wage peace, fight disease and build hope could be successful and sustainable. During the past two decades, my concept of human rights has grown to include not only the right to escape political tyranny, but also to live in peace – and to have adequate health care, shelter, food and economic opportunity.

The tragic events of September 11 suggested that the conditions that keep people in abject poverty also can breed hopelessness, despair and, sometimes, violence. While no one should attribute what happened on that horrible day solely to underdevelopment, we must recognize that human suffering, inequity, joblessness and social disintegration are part of the problem.

Poverty often is a contributing cause of conflict, government instability, or failed states which, in turn, can become havens for terrorist ideologues seeking refuge and support. Failed states are the breeding grounds for drug trafficking, money laundering, the spread of infectious diseases, uncontrolled environmental degradation, mass refugee flows and illegal immigration.

When governments and communities cannot provide citizens with hope and opportunity, their hearts and minds are fertile ground for those who wish to sow seeds of unrest.

To mobilize resources and adopt policies necessary to ensure that terrorists do not receive support from wider populations, it is necessary to educate the citizens of rich countries about the connection between development, human rights and human security. In his keynote address to a 2002 Carter Center development conference, former US treasury secretary Robert Rubin called for a “multi-year, intense, and broad-based public-education campaign” – similar to the American campaign against smoking or drug addiction – that would counter the lack of any “meaningful degree of political energy”. A widespread campaign, centred on a broader vision of human rights and targeted at average citizens, could help to change people’s perceptions on everything from farm subsidies to the percent of gross domestic product spent on development assistance.

Only when citizens make clear to elected officials their concerns about poverty, human rights and security will the political process that hinders good development policy begin to change.

We are at an unprecedented stage in the history of development assistance: wealthy nations have committed themselves to halving the number of people living on $1 per day by 2015; countries are opening up their development agendas to civil society input; international financial institutions are beginning to embrace the need for country-owned development strategies; and leaders from developing nations are committing themselves to eliminating corruption and ensuring that aid is used appropriately.

We risk a tremendous setback if we squander this opportunity and allow an anti-terrorism agenda predominantly based on military action to take centre stage.

A vision for global development has been forged over the past decade, and now we must generate the political will to implement it. The problem is not a lack of knowledge of what it takes for a society to develop, but rather the inability or unwillingness of the industrialized world to support policies and resources agreed upon at the Millennium Assembly, at Monterrey and in Johannesburg. Creating greater awareness for what is at stake requires bold leadership.

Political leaders from the world’s richest countries regularly proclaim their commitment to development assistance. But the hard truth is that even the most generous nations have a long way to go to make their policies adequately helpful for the developing world. There is a failure to act on social and economic rights with the same vigour they devote to civil and political rights. Such is the case in Mali, where US cotton subsidies cost Mali $45 million a year – exceeding the $37 million it receives in US aid. What Mali needs most is fair access to the world’s markets.

We are working in Mali to encourage donors to harmonize their policies. Like so many other developing countries, Mali has a weak internal capacity that is further taxed by the need for donor governments to improve their coordination with each other.

Donors often impose myriad procedures that overburden what little management capacity exists in developing countries. We are also helping government and civil society to strengthen the democratic institutions that are needed to establish national development priorities. Only with these reforms will Malians control – and be accountable for – their future development.

International financial institutions must also continue to reform. Their aid policies and one-size-fits-all programmes are often stringent and do not effectively respond to the individual needs of developing countries.

This is evident, for example, in South America – a region now in crisis. The policies advocated by international financial institutions have done too little for the poor. Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay are languishing. Argentina’s economy has collapsed. And Brazil is in danger of defaulting on its $260 billion debt.

The Carter Center, through its promotion of participatory, long-term national development strategies, provides countries with the methodologies and mechanisms that facilitate the shaping of a broad, country-owned vision – upon which shorter-term plans, like poverty reduction strategy papers, can be based.

The Center’s national development strategy process promotes a seamless integration of the economic, social and environmental aspects of development. This approach also fosters debate on the costs and benefits of different policy formulas, thereby encouraging cooperative participation by donors and recipients and ensuring that the strategies are nationally owned and ultimately can be implemented.

The growing disparity between the rich and poor in an increasingly interdependent world directly threatens our security. We must create the political will to support the policies and practices that we know are required to achieve sustainable development, peace and security in the new millennium. If we fail, there will be tragic consequences.

Jimmy Carter
Former US president and Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter chairs The Carter Center, a not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization that has helped to improve life for people in more than 65 countries. Its work involves: resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers to increase crop production. To learn more about The Carter Center, please visit: www.cartercenter.org