The world’s most recognizable rock star, an outspoken advocate for third world debt relief, and a self-described egomaniac, Bono is also America’s new ally in the War on Terrorism.
Though he has advocated humanitarian causes in Africa for years, Bono’s message is now more urgent: poverty and instability breed terrorism. Helping Africa, then, helps America. Bono has met with Jesse Helms, the Pope, and Harvard economists, among others, in an attempt to bring together conservatives, liberals, and religious leaders for the purpose of helping Africa. Now, his crusade is gaining more support following the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Bono and Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill recently concluded their 10 day Africa tour. They visited South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Uganda to evaluate the effectiveness of past foreign aid and the need for more aid. The question is whether the trip has convinced O’Neill, and by extension the Bush Administration, to give more foreign aid to Africa. O’Neill, skeptical of the efficacy of foreign aid, prefers private development and investment. Bono’s goal on the trip was to convince him that foreign aid is not only effective, but also essential.
Bono has long been active in humanitarian projects in Africa, from his involvement in the Live Aid concerts of 1984 to his recent advocacy of the Jubilee 2000 debt forgiveness movement. Bono knows, however, that private philanthropy is not adequate in addressing all of Africa’s needs. Governments must help. But when he petitions governments for aid he isn’t relying on moral arguments. “We don’t argue compassion. We put it in the most crass terms possible; we argue it as a financial and security issue for America… There are potentially another 10 Afghanistans in Africa, and it is cheaper by a factor of 100 to prevent the fires from happening than to put them out.”
Bono understands that terrorist organizations recruit from nations that are poverty-stricken and conflict-ridden. Accordingly, any factors that increase poverty and decrease stability — AIDS, corrupt governments, religious conflict — should be considered security threats. Bono is not the first to recognize the relationship between humanitarian intervention and national security. The Clinton Administration named AIDS a threat to national security in 2000, explaining that AIDS is “terribly destabilizing with untold political and diplomatic consequences as decades of hard-won progress is wiped out by the assault of HIV/AIDS.”
Bono is convincing the Bush Administration. On March 14, President Bush announced that the U.S. will increase development assistance by $5 billion over the next three years to “work for prosperity and opportunity because they help defeat terror.” Both Bush and O’Neill have expressed reservations about foreign aid that is squandered by corrupt or inept governments, however, and this concern is reflected in Bush’s “new compact for development” which demands democratic and structural reforms in exchange for aid. The U.S., like any philanthropist, wants to know that its money will make a difference.
Humanitarian intervention must be recognized as a vital component of national security. It is no coincidence that conflict is found where disease is rampant, religion is restricted, and the law flouted. That is why we must require fundamental improvements in countries who receive our aid. But this is no excuse for U.S. reticence in granting foreign aid. It is widely known that America’s $10 billion in foreign aid is only 0.1 percent of its GNP, ranking it 22nd among donor nations. We can give more. This year President Bush proposed a $44 billion dollar increase in the defense budget. Spending money is not the concern; it’s a matter of where to spend it.
The terrorist attacks of September 11 left many Americans asking, why do they hate us? The ensuing debate has sparked a renewed interest in humanitarian aid in underdeveloped nations, the breeding grounds of terrorism. Bono’s message: helping Africa helps America, is both prescient and pertinent. International affairs too often involve morally ambiguous choices. This is not one of them. We can do something that is both morally right and strategically effective. We must embrace Bono, our new ally in the War on Terrorism.
This column was reprinted with permission from the Institute for Global Engagement.