Genuine National Security

Foreign aid and resource conservation will protect us more than missiles

| March / April 2003

The real key to homeland security, says Amory Lovins, has nothing to do with regime change in Iraq or destroying Al Qaeda. It?s all about using our resources more efficiently.

The co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, who is noted for conceptualizing the idea of ?soft path? technology in the 1970s, argued in a January 2002 speech at the National Defense University that the conventional approach to defending our borders in the wake of 9/11 is ultimately futile. ?It?s . . . now very clear that you can?t effectively guard an open society, especially one that has [saddled] itself with alarming vulnerabilities, built up over decades,? he said in the address, reprinted in Whole Earth (Fall 2002). Those weak points include our water supplies, wastewater treatment facilities, telecommunications and financial infrastructures, and transportation systems, which, if disabled, ?can make a large city uninhabitable pretty quickly.?

Rather than employing a Cold War?era response to terrorism, Lovins suggests, we should shift our attention to a new model that recognizes the ?tripolar society? that now dominates geopolitics. This new new world order consists of governments, global corporations, and civil society. Approaching national security issues based on the outmoded assumption that governments are the axis of power in the world is, he says, ?dangerously incomplete and obsolete.?

Prevention is the only lasting and effective defense against the hatred that fuels anti-American terrorism, Lovins adds. It?s the only strategy that requires no threat of violence; and it?s the only one that actually saves taxpayer dollars.

At the center of Lovins? approach is the notion that it is a safer world when no large group of people is without basic needs (food, shelter, energy). To that end, he stresses increased U.S. foreign aid as a pivotal part of any national security strategy. The cost of providing clean water, sanitation, basic health care, adequate nutrition, and education for every person on earth has been estimated by the United Nations to be about $40 billion a year. That?s less than what the United States spends on its anti-terrorism programs, he notes?and it?s less than a quarter of the tax cut passed by Congress last year. Such a modest investment?applied to nations equitably and without political strings attached ?could go a long way toward calming social and political unrest throughout the world, and toward mending America?s battered reputation.

This strategy ties into Lovins? three-pronged approach to protecting Americans from attack:

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