ST. LOUIS, Missouri – American foreign policy sits at the forefront. The American people as well as the people abroad are affected by it. People embroiled in poverty, conflicts, and human rights violations all over the world look to the United States for leadership and relief. Why does American foreign policy matter? The United States is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. American foreign policy sets the standard for world politics. Lives literally depend on it.
The United States Department of State lists four foreign policy goals. The first is to protect America and Americans. Next is to advance economic prosperity, human rights, and other American interests. Then, gain international understanding of American values and policies. Lastly, support American diplomats and other government officials who work at home and abroad to make all this possible. The United States can achieve those goals by forming policies and programs that aid struggling populations on a global scale.
Global health is a serious problem. It can be addressed by American foreign policy. What does global health have to do with foreign policy? Health correlates with political stability, economic growth and stability and war. As health declines, so do these factors. The outcome of that mutual decline hurts both the domestic population and the world. An isolationist foreign policy is counterproductive. The international system is more interdependent now than ever. If a country fails, the other countries will be affected too.
The political stability of a country weakens from low or deteriorating national health averages. How does that happen? Pervasive disease diminishes national prosperity and causes inter-elite conflict. It also worsens societal income inequality and exhausts human capital. Governments are then greatly limited from providing its constituents with basic needs. Distrust of the government and a cycle of instability and failure result. Widespread disease also hinders government transition into democracy. Effective political and economic institutions cannot be built under unstable conditions.
Good health stimulates economic growth and increases wealth. Labor shortages and absence from work increase when health declines. Economic productivity reduces and resources are taken from education and infrastructure to fund health care because of poor health. Higher health care costs and dwindling savings threaten individual resources. These weakening factors cause countries to be isolated from the global economy and lose prosperity
War is a destructive phenomenon that harms the general health of the population. Soldiers and civilians are injured and killed. Infrastructure and social structures are demolished. Infectious diseases and malnutrition become the norm as resources are cut off. Attacking medical facilities has become an effective war strategy. Civilians are unable to receive the medical attention they need. The high mobility of war makes it easy for diseases to be spread from person to person. A polio outbreak has occurred in the Syrian civil war. It has the potential to reach endemic proportions. The disease can spread to other countries as Syrian refugees flee and immunization becomes difficult to distribute.
The weakening security apparatus and declining economy caused by poor global health pose a risk to the safety and prosperity of all countries. Weakened countries lack law and order. They can become breeding grounds for drug, crime or terrorist syndicates. Countries weakened by disease will lose productivity and no longer demand as much goods and services from other countries. Exports to these countries will decrease and threaten job loss for exporting countries. The global economy will suffer as a result. Global health policies are crucial. American foreign policy can lead the charge. That is why it matters.
– Brittany Mannings
Sources: Future, CFR, National Geographic