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Peace is the Solution to Development, Development is the Name for Peace

Craig Zelizer

April 18, 2016

This next three days I am fortunate to be able to attend the annual meeting of the Interaction Forum. imageInteraction is the largest network of humanitarian and development organizations in the world, connecting almost 200 institutions doing cutting edge work around the world. I will be doing a series of reflections and writings on the event and interesting learnings, connections and insights.

During the opening plenary, Neil Keny-Guyer, the chair of the Interaction Board and CEO of Mercy Corps started off the event by stating "the world is on fire" in many ways and the need for the work of Interaction members and partners is greater than ever.

The Interaction forum attracts around 1000 participants from over 20+ countries, and includes civil society, government, business and academic sectors. Sam Worthington, the President of Interaction opened the session indicating for the first time the global community has a framework, the sustainable development goals, that sets an agenda for the the world to end extreme poverty.He did caution that one of the challenges will be how to implement the SDGs in conflict affected areas, which may be the Achilles heal of development.

The opening speaker of the morning was Dr. Jeffery Sachs, the noted development economist, whose talk was titled, Peace is the Solution to Development, Development is the Name for Peace.


He is a professor of Economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He strated his bold talk by saying this will be a heavy talk as this is a heavy time. Emergencies are pervasive and violence are ever present in almost all parts of the world. The field is losing aid workers and vast numbers of innocents every day. He stressed it is time to face up to the root of many of the conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Sachs stated if we can end the conflicts, we can have a better chance at peace but that we aren't doing a very good job. He talked about the shocking stats of the Syrian crisis, with over 10,000,000 displaced and 400,000+ dead. In addition the emergency is also cutting out funding available for long-term development assistance. One of the shocking stats Sachs mentioned the UN appeal alone for Syria is 7.7 billion US dollars, to date only 10% of the request has been funded.

Wars are expensive, they are disastrous and they crowd out what the development community is trying do to. He explained the paradox that the the appeal for Syria is more than total global development spending on education. If the appeal is not met this means untold human suffering will continue, if the appeal is met this means funds are getting cut from other places.

Sachs emphasized that this is a war of choice. The central points of his argument is there are two main issues that need to be addressed. The first is that many of the conflicts in the Middle East and other regions are due to repeated meddling by Western powers over the past 100 years. Second, the US in particular needs to radically change the overemphasis on military spending and wars, which he stated are not making us safer, and invest heavily in global development to advance the SDGs around the world as well in the US.

Sachs explained the root of this crisis in Syria can be dated by the Skye's-Picot treaty of 1916 where the French and British secretly divided up the collapsing Ottoman Empire. He went through a brief history of many failed western interventions in the region, which has made it impossible for governance to take place in the region.

He discussed how the US pays a fortune for the bases in 70 countries and for unending war in the Middle East. One example is the US budget for 2017, Sachs discussed how the military programs total over 941,000 Billion USD (defense, intelligence, etc) while international assistance programs are only 27 Billion USD. The ratio of military to development spending is 31 times. This is astounding and he stressed does not make America safe.

Sachs went on to emphasize the wars of choice cost a fortune, but that we cannot see this in a single line item. He emphasized this emphasis on military spending and war will get us all killed. The US total 36% of all global military spending. The next closest is China 13%.

He emphasized we are wasting trillions of dollars and the development community are begging for tiny funding for development, health and other work. The US spends only .018 of our budget on global aid, which is compared to 10% or more on the military.
Sachs gave a few recommendations

1) Reduce US military spending by $100 billion and give that to official development, climate finance and R & D for sustainable development. He stated if you want us to be safe we have to invest in our safety, not the military
2) We need to revise the national security act and stop US interventions in many countries.
3) End a foreign policy based on regime change. No country can be stable if another country is overthrowing their governments. We need to allow homegrown democracy to grow.
4) Use the US influence to stop flow of funding to jihadist in the region that largely comes through US allies.
5) Promote the Sustainable Development Goals and work on them within the US as well. The US is not achieving the SDGs because we are not investing in health, disease control, decent jobs, etc. Public health works and we need to invest more. He emphasized we cannot even provide clean water or health or jobs in the US, thus we need to work on these internally.

He ended his talk to thank the NGO community for the work we do to bear witness to the abuse of power and suffering and spread the word about sustainable, as well help the neediest among us.

It was a provocative talk designed to engage the global development community in reflection on how to radically change the global system to one which puts less emphasis on security and instead on sustainable development. The big question, is can we move in this direction as a global development community? Can we move beyond technical approaches to development to also work on advocacy to addressing root causes not only in developing or conflict affected countries, but also the role that Western countries, particularly the US play.

While many may not fully agree with Sachs, I do hope we can see a world where defense spending by the US is not 31 to 1, but a much more equitable balance that provides the resources, tools and visions to help create a sustainable and just world for all.

What are your thoughts?



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