Containing global violence costs nearly $10 trillion a year | 

A U.S. Army Soldier from Alpha Company, 13th Psychological Operations Battalion pulls security from a humvee at a vehicle control point in the village of Kapisa, Afghanistan
A U.S. Army Soldier from Alpha Company, 13th Psychological Operations Battalion pulls security from a humvee at a vehicle control point in the village of Kapisa, Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Michael L. Casteel

The price of insecurity is quite high. The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that the world spent $9.46 trillion to contain violence, in 2012. That accounted for some 11% of the global economy.

“Were the world to reduce its expenditure on violence by fifteen percent it would be enough to provide the necessary money for the European Stability Fund, repay Greece’s debt and cover the increase in funding required to achieve the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals,” says the Institute for Economics and Peace.

The estimate is a part of a new report from the group that calls attention to the economic impact of violence. While the human cost is well documented, this is one of the first reports that accounts for the money spent on containing violence and the money lost due to it happening. A marginal decrease in violence could have a major impact.

Military spending eats up half of the cost, followed by the impact of homicides and then internal security (ie. police officers). The countries that spend a large portion of their GDP on violence containment come as little surprise: North Korea, Libya, Syria and the US. One slightly surprising entry is development darling Liberia. The country is still emerging from the damage caused by a pair of nearly successive civil wars spanning from 1989 to 2003.

I spoke with Michelle Breslauer, the Americas Program Manager for the Institute for Economics and Peace, about why Liberia is so high on the list and what can be learned from the study.

I found it surprising that Liberia was so high on the list. Why is violence still such a problem in a country that is lauded for its post-civil war advances, including a Nobel Peace Prize?

Despite Liberia’s notable advances, it is a country that still feels the effect of conflict. The methodology of this analysis attempts to measure the full space devoted to violence containment in a country. The majority of Liberia’s violence containment spending is a result of the UN Peacekeeping mission presence, which is operating partially to compensate for weak peace-supporting institutions. In the 2013 Global Peace Index, IEP compared levels of peacefulness with a country’s peace-supporting institutions. Liberia has a ‘peace deficit’ which suggests that the level of peace the country experience is not matched by the strength of its institutions. Continue reading

Philippines Response Turning the Corner, says US Official | 

3d07951562The international relief effort in the Philippines responding to the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan is slowly improving.

Roads are clearing, making it easier for lifesaving supplies to reach people in need. Trucks and cars now move between Tacloban city and its airport.

US officials are cautiously optimistic that the improvements will accelerate the relief response to the disaster.

“We are getting to a better place,” said a senior US government official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity. “We are starting to turn the corner on the logistical challenges.”

The official said, before the recent improvements it was like trying to fit an orange through a straw. Logistical challenges to deliver aid are still immense.

“We now have more and bigger straws,” the official said.

The main airport in Tacloban is small Large aircraft, like a 747, are unable to land on the airstrip. C130s and other medium sized aircraft, managed by the US military, bring supplies in and evacuate people out to Manila.

Flights on Tuesday delivered 170,000 lbs of USAID supplies, as well as 6,000 lbs of water and 6,000 lbs of food from the Philippines. Wednesday saw similar levels of supplies that included tarps, medical supplies, blankets and humanitarian relief kits. People without homes were carried back to Manila on return flights. Approximately 800 people have been evacuated out of Tacloban on US flights.


Thus far, a $20 million commitment has been made by the US to support the Philippines in its relief work. Half of the money is to be spent by the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) on water, hygiene, emergency kits and more. The other half will buy food aid. The officials said US food aid should have been delivered to the World Food Programme some time yesterday.

Amid reports of declining fuel availability in the Philippines due to weather damage and looting, the US priorities remain food, water and shelter. The Philippines are leading and dictating where needs exist. Marines based in Japan will soon be deployed to the Philippines, which could bring the total number of US military on the ground to 1,000 by the end of the week, if requested.

“Our focus is to get those three key assets into Taclaban in order to prevent further loss of life,” said another official. “Then we will let the sustained piece come in.”

Overall security appears to be improving in the past day. The initial looting and violence were the result of people needing food and water. Areas in Tacloban that experienced looting only a few days ago are relatively calm following the penetration of aid.

There is still a long way to go. Aid is reaching only twenty percent of residents in Tacloban, said city administrator Tecson John Lim to Reuters today.

Tacloban, Philippines

A debrief with the advance OFDA team that was deployed before the typhoon struck is now underway. There are areas along the coast that have little or no humanitarian access. The officials are hopeful that information collected by the team on the ground will help to identify areas of need and ways to get to the hardest to reach people.

“It’s true, there are still areas that we have not been able to get to where people are in desperate need,” said UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos. “I very much hope that in the next 48 hours, that will change significantly.”

OFDA says it starting to provide grants to NGO partners that have more expertise in the region. Many groups on the ground are relying on individual donors and available budgetary space to mount a response in the Philippines. Grants from major donors, like the US, will help ensure work continues.

“That will add a lot of gasoline to the tank of their activities,” said an official.

The two day-old Haiyan Action Plan launched by the UN has raised only thirteen percent of the $301 million appeal. The US officials repeatedly said that this was a demand driven response. It was intimated that the US was willing and able to provide increased assistance if requested by the Philippines.

The focus today is on the humanitarian essentials. There is an expectation that the US will remain involved in the ensuing recovery effort in the months ahead.

Syria 911 | 


President Obama gave a very compelling, powerfully argued speech yesterday in which he made the case for a military strike against Syria and also the case for delaying military intervention while we see if the Syrian government adheres to Russia’s proposal that the Assad government give up its chemical weapons.

What a relief for the Syrians. I’m sure the hundreds of Syrians who get killed today by bullets, bombs or just disease spread by the conflict are glad they weren’t killed by chemicals. Much better.

Geopolitics is politics on a global scale, which increases the tendency we see in local or national political dialogue to even more dramatically divorce itself from common sense and reach a higher level of absurdity by several orders of magnitude.

How do we solve a problem like Syria? Military actions tend to kill people, so humanitarians tend to be against war in general. Warfare also seldom solves underlying political or social problems. And we often do war for the wrong reasons. Speaking of that:

Today is the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, a tragedy that immediately killed nearly 3,000 Americans – and later prompted a war that killed many more of our soldiers, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

But let’s compare 9-11 to Syria, where more than 3,000 men, women and children are being killed every month.

Weekly deaths in Syria

Continue reading

Is Africa the new ‘playground’ for Al Qaeda? | 


That’s the gist of a new report by Global Post, which says the links between local rebel movements in Mali, Nigeria and Somalia and the Islamist terror group Al Qaeda are growing stronger. The report coincides with today’s anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9-11.

It’s a good series, but I can’t help but worry that this angle will translate into a simplistic pitch for a military response to the continent’s troubles with various separatist movements. Are these conflicts really about Al Qaeda? I’m not so sure.

Here’s an artsy map accompanying the GP’s series on this thesis:

Al Qaeda in Africa

Some of these alleged linkages to Al Qaeda are not new, of course, and most are often preceded by squishy lingo such as “believed to be” linked with or “has ties to” the terror group.

It’s often not clear just how strong such ties are, or even if they mean much more than sharing a similar ideology or antipathy. Nigeria’s Boko Haram, for example, is perhaps best thought of as an Islamist separatist movement that has only recently sought to ally itself with Al Qaeda. Does that translate into anything on a material basis, or is it just a boast aimed at boosting the group’s terrorizing image?

Somalia’s Al Shabaab clearly considers itself part of Al Qaeda. But militant movements in parts of Africa and hostility to the U.S. goes way back (remember Blackhawk Down?) and it would be simplistic to think this is all due to Al Qaeda’s influence.

In any case, the possibility of a growing Al Qaeda movement in Africa should be taken seriously. Bin Laden had his base in Sudan for many years in the early 1990s. The question is how best to respond to this trend. Will we take the standard route and support a policy of responding to terror simply with military or police actions? Or will we also battle for hearts and minds?

Gen. Carter F. Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, aka AfriCom, had this to say today:

To successfully defeat terrorism requires not only the collective efforts of many nations, but it requires the combined effects of military, diplomatic, development, economic, good governance, education, food security – it requires all of those to work in concert to address the underlying causes that establish the conditions in which young people, primarily young men, find themselves attracted to these terrorist organizations.

Sounds good, but AfriCom (which was launched by Donald Rumsfeld during the Bush Administration) has yet to actually find a home anywhere in Africa. It was supposed to be headquartered somewhere on the continent in 2008 but has so far remained in Stuttgart, Germany.

Africans, and others, appear reluctant to allow the U.S. military to establish a large presence there. And a new survey indicates many Americans are also not that interested in expanding our military footprint overseas.

If Al Qaeda is indeed gaining turf in parts of Africa, the first step is make sure we understand why. Are these separatist groups joining forces with Al Qaeda for ideological or practical reasons? Was Ho Chi Minh primarily a communist or a Vietnam nationalist? Many would say the failure to answer this question accurately prompted what was, until Afghanistan, our longest war.

Al Qaeda is probably best thought of as a fungus rather than as a military force. It tends to only really flourish in places of rot – places of poverty, injustice and dysfunction.

Sure, it’s a lot more fun and entertaining to use a flame-thrower to fight a fungus. But the more reasonable approach is to just stop the rot.

The case for divorcing foreign aid from military support | 


Bill Easterly

Development expert and economist Bill Easterly, writing in The Guardian, argues that A firewall should be built between U.S. foreign aid and national security. Says Easterly:

US foreign aid programs should be for poverty relief and should not be taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building.

Easterly said the foreign aid budget was significantly increased under President George W. Bush and enjoyed wide bipartisan support in Congress until recently. So what happened to turn foreign aid into Congress’ favorite punching bag in the budget battle these days?

The answer is that the US aid program was taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) wound up in the most self-destructive position – the unsuccessful cover-up…. The resultant failures overshadowed notable successes in more traditional aid programmes like health. These disasters and the neglect of more feasible poverty relief failed to sustain the compassionate constituency evident earlier in the decade.

I’ve written about this issue several times before, when the Arab Spring came to Egypt and many of us learned how much of our “aid” to Egypt had been actually going for military equipment in support of the Mubarak dictatorship. Here was a story the next day in The Guardian noting the risk of mixing up defense and aid.

For comparison purposes, here’s a chart from GOOD comparing how much we spend on aid vs. the military.

Easterly says it’s clear most Americans want to help the poor overseas. He contends the only way we can rescue foreign aid is to disentangle it from our national security interests:

Compassionate American taxpayers continue to make private donations at a rate higher than any other nationality in the world. The bipartisan coalition that came together to increase aid in 2002 may be nearly extinct, but it could be resurrected by redirecting aid to where it has a decent chance of working. Aid will not get too many more chances.

Libya: Making the case for humanitarian warfare? | 

Flickr, Runs with Scissors

Gandhi and Che, two kinds of freedom fighters

On CNN’s Global Public Square blog, Stewart Patrick writes that the U.S. military’s support of the popular revolution in Libya and its defeat of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi vindicates the Obama Administration’s decision to engage in warfare on humanitarian grounds.

Patrick, who is a senior fellow at Foreign Affairs and director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance for the Council on Foreign Relations, notes that this was the “first unambiguous military enforcement of the Responsibility to Protect” doctrine. Writes Patrick:

The fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is a significant foreign policy triumph for U.S. President Barack Obama. By setting overall strategy while allowing others to shoulder the burden of implementing it, the Obama administration achieved its short-term objective of stopping Gadhafi’s atrocities and its long-term one of removing him from power. This was all done at a modest financial cost, with no U.S. troops on the ground, and zero U.S. casualties. Meanwhile, as the first unambiguous military enforcement of the Responsibility to Protect norm, Gadhafi’s utter defeat seemingly put new wind in the sails of humanitarian intervention.

I’ve raised this issue a few times on Humanosphere, including this post in mid-March immediately after the Obama Administration decided to intervene. I also noted an argument for intervention by Robert Pape in The Atlantic and later posted on the ongoing and, to me, somewhat confusing debate about what kind of humanitarian crisis justifies military intervention.

Patrick regards the decision to intervene in Libya as a justified but unique exercise of the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine — aka, the humanitarian case for warfare. Many will disagree with both characterizations.

As Patrick notes, many will see Libya as a dangerous precedent encouraging “interventionism run amok.” Others, looking at the Syrian government’s ongoing killing of democracy protesters, will see any argument against intervening there as a dangerous ambivalence.

New humanitarian standard for warfare? | 

Flickr, Jayel Aheram

Except for euphemistically calling warfare “intervention,” I think this article in The Atlantic about our current military efforts in Libya “The New Standard for Humanitarian Intervention” is a good read. Says the author Robert Pape:

We may be witnessing an historic shift in international norms.

Flickr, Runs with Scissors

Gandhi and Che, two kinds of freedom fighters

Pape’s article answers a question I raised a few weeks ago in my post asking “What determines the humanitarian military response?”

I will refer Pape’s article to my brother who, over the weekend, was challenging me on this — about Obama deciding to wage “intervention” against Libya without congressional approval, about the geopolitical wisdom of using warfare as a means to stop or resolve conflict and so on.

And it’s not just me and my brother. The chattering class (of which I am a card-carrying member) has been all over this issue as well, with some pundits who had been criticizing President Obama for not taking action in the Middle East now criticizing for him taking this action.

I recently looked at the reasons why I believe it is in our national interest to take aggressive “humanitarian military action” in Libya, as did Nick Kristof, who argues it is the better of several bad choices. For more than a month now, I’ve been citing stories about Ivory Coast that raise the question of why there has been so little international response to that crisis so similar in nature to Libya.

Pape goes beyond these specific cases and issues to look at what the rapid military intervention in Libya may mean for the future of foreign policy, and if it signals a more “humanitarian” approach by the international community — a lower threshold of intolerance for brutality. Says Pape:

Crises short of genocide, such as the Libyan conflict, justify a military response when it can save thousands of lives with reasonable prospects of virtually no or only very low casualties to international allies.