The Military Case For Ending Global Poverty

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Pentagon’s “three Ds of protection” are defense, development and diplomacy. Military officials from former secretaries of defense to over 50 three and four-star generals have all supported an increased international aid budget. Why? Because they recognize that one of the most effective ways to better national security is to alleviate global poverty.

Eighty-four percent of military officers agree that use of non-military efforts including foreign aid should be equal in concern to military spending. This recognition that development should be used as a complement to military force is not a new concept.

Following the Soviet Union leaving Afghanistan in the 80’s, a man by the name of Charlie Wilson pleaded with congress to not leave the people of Afghanistan without basic institutions and aid. Congressman Wilson recognized, as depicted in the Tom Hanks movie Charlie Wilson’s War, that leaving a country without help would only lead to the impoverished conditions required to breed negative and even violent outcomes. Nevertheless, Congress did not heed his advice and shortly after, the Taliban took over Afghanistan and utilized the country as a base that would eventually be used to organize and plan the 9/11 attacks on America.

However, in the 21st century Charlie Wilson is no longer alone. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has discussed how he would give part of his military budget over to the State Department “in a heartbeat” and how foreign policy is too dependent on the opinions of the military and should be focused more on the State Department. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speaks in relation to the efficiency of development, stating that “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”

Former Secretary of State General Colin Powell explains that when you move people out of poverty and increase their socioeconomic status they are far less likely to resort to violence, extremism or terrorism. In 2002, General Powell wrote that “poverty, destruction of the environment and despair” are causes of instability that can “destabilize countries and entire regions.”

United States National Security Advisor Susan Rice explains in her book Confronting Poverty that not only does poverty give rise to national security concerns but it is also a source of tension that results in internal conflicts within countries. Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Stewart Patrick also explains that poverty does not only directly kill through hunger, disease or malnutrition but does so indirectly by leaving regions open to internal conflict and extremist belief systems that ultimately lead to international security threats and violence. Chairman of the House Committee Representative Howard Berman also agrees with Susan Rice and Stewart Patrick: “Done right, development assistance is a sound investment in a better, safer world.”

There are many solid reasons why U.S. investment in foreign countries is an effective policy. Whether it is the economic, diplomatic or population benefits provided by such aid, foreign aid is often an effective and efficient concept. The military case for ending global poverty is one of these reasons.

Christopher Kolezynski

Sources: The Borgen Project, The Wilson Center, Brookings Institution, The Wilson Center, ONE,

Feature Image: ComicVine

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