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WorldWatch Report Says War On Terror Diverting Attention From Poverty, Disease, Environment

The WorldWatch Institute says the global war on terror is diverting attention from the main causes of instability. Its annual State of the World report says poverty, disease and environmental decline are the true axis of evil. However, critics dispute the findings and say the United States can battle terror and meet humanitarian needs at the same time.

The WorldWatch report says, “Acts of terror and the dangerous actions they provoke are symptomatic of underlying sources of global insecurity.” These include poverty, infectious disease, environmental degradation and rising competition over oil. It says unless these issues are tackled, they could “lead the world into a dangerous downward spiral.”

Senior researcher Michael Renner is a project director for the State of the World report.

He says, "In the years after the September 11th attacks, obviously the focus has been so much on the issues surrounding Al Qaida. And then of course since the start of the Iraq invasion, I think that has really just taken center stage so much, particularly, of course, in the United States. And I think it has really just had the effect of crowding out often I think less visible issues that may crop up in various ways in the form of various symptoms."

Mr. Renner says the report presents a dramatic picture of the world, but also a hopeful one.

"We felt that it was probably important to, in a sense, to dramatize the kinds of issues – including social and environmental pressures – that tend not to be very visible but sometimes have very severe consequences – really need proper attention. But I feel really and my colleagues I think strongly feel that we also have quite a number of hopeful messages," he says.

The WorldWatch State of the World report calls for “strengthening civilian institutions and systems best equipped” to address the problems. It also recommends “a range of strategic investments in sustainable energy, public health, protection of ecological systems, education and jobs.”

Michael Renner says the international community should also bolster, what’s called, environmental peacemaking.

"Just to take an example, I mean for all the violence that has happened between the Israelis and Palestinians, in the last few years they have continued to talk about water issues. Now, it’s not something that has been resolved certainly, but it is ongoing despite all the horrible things that have been happening," he says.

WorldWatch State of the World reports have drawn criticism in the past. For example, the Cato Institute has said the reports often claim the “state of the world is dire and that economic and environmental collapse are inevitable.” Nevertheless, it said “the findings are always wrong.”

R-P Eddy, senior fellow on counter-terrorism at the Manhattan Institute, questions the latest report’s claim that the war on terror is “diverting attention from the central causes of instability.”

He says, "It certainly is absorbing a lot of resources. Our Iraq occupation is an extraordinary expensive undertaking, not only in dollars, but in the time our leadership is putting into it and the amount of American lives and other lives that are being lost and dedicated to it, right? But, it also turns out that this administration has put more money into HIV and global disease mitigation than any previous administration. And American donor assistance in fact is not declining. It’s doing fairly well given all the other expenses that we have incurred as a nation by virtue of our global war on terror, primarily Iraq."

Mr. Eddy says the United States is by far the most generous nation in the world in both government donations, as well as corporate and private giving. But the Manhattan Institute analyst says the United States may need to do a better job of projecting, what he calls, “soft power.”

"That’s basically explaining what we hold to be true about our nation and about our allies, which is we’re not selfish. We’re not out trying to feed the American oil coffers. We’re not out trying to build American fortunes when we do these initiatives. We’re actually doing this because we think it matters for our security and the security of the world. And we do it with a benevolence. But it’s easy to understand why people miss the benevolence of an aggressive act or an act of war, but in fact a lot of what we do is intended benevolently," he says.

Mr. Eddy, however, does agree with parts of the WorldWatch report that address such issues as poverty and education.

"In my estimation, there are two steaming kettles on the stove, right now, and they’re both whistling. And we have to deal with both of them and they’re both of equal importance. The first one is, we’ve got to go out and eradicate terrorists who want to eradicate us. Now, at the same time, anyone who tells you we just have to kill the bad guys and that’s the end of the story if full of baloney. There is an absolute need to deal with the second kettle on the stove. And that is the way the United States and the rest of the free world can stop the creation of future terrorists basically. It is absolutely right that the way that’s going to happen is through the provision of better education systems, through the provision of better health systems, through the provision of better governance and more democracy," he says.

In the foreword to the WorldWatch State of the World report, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev writes, “We need a Global Glasnost – openness, transparency…public dialogue and preventive engagement…to meet the challenges of poverty, disease, environmental degradation and conflict in a sustainable and non-violent way.” But he says one of the challenges facing the world is security, including “the risks associated with weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.” Mr. Gorbachev is founder and president of Green Cross International, an environmental organization.