From the CIA to the GFE

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The cur­rent i mbal­ance in US spend­ing on global ed­u­ca­tion and mil­i­tary-re­lated pro­grams is stag­ger­ing: $1 bil­lion per year on the for­mer, and roughly $900 bil­lion on the lat­ter. Mil­i­tary-re­lated pro­grammes in­clude the Pen­tagon (around $600 bil­lion), the CIA and re­lated agen­cies (around $60 bil­lion), Home­land Se­cu­rity (around $50 bil­lion), nu­clear weapons sys­tems out­side of the Pen­tagon (around $30 bil­lion), and vet­er­ans’ pro­grammes (around $160 bil­lion).

What US politi­cians and pol­i­cy­mak­ers in their right minds could believe that US na­tional se­cu­rity is prop­erly pur­sued through a 900-to-1 ra­tio of mil­i­tary spend­ing to global ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing? Of course, the US is not alone. Saudi Ara­bia, Iran, and Is­rael are all squan­der­ing vast sums in an ac­cel­er­at­ing Mid­dle East arms race, in which the US is the ma­jor fi­nancier and arms sup­plier. China and Rus­sia are also sharply boost­ing mil­i­tary spend­ing, de­spite their press­ing do­mes­tic pri­or­i­ties. We are, it seems, court­ing a new arms race among ma­jor pow­ers, at a time when what is re­ally needed is a peaceful race to ed­u­ca­tion and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.

Sev­eral re­cent in­ter­na­tional re­ports, in­clud­ing two last month by UNESCO and the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion on Fi­nanc­ing Global Ed­u­ca­tion, headed by for­mer UK Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown, show that an­nual global de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance for pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion needs to rise from around $4 bil­lion to around $40 bil­lion. Only this ten-fold in­crease can en­able poor coun­tries to achieve uni­ver­sal pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion (as called for by Goal Four of the new Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals). In re­sponse, the US and other rich coun­tries should move this year to cre­ate the GFE, with the needed funds shifted from to­day’s mil­i­tary spend­ing.

If Hil­lary Clin­ton, the likely next US pres­i­dent, gen­uinely be­lieves in peace and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, she should an­nounce her in­ten­tion to back the GFE’s cre­ation, just as Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in 2001 was the first head of state to en­dorse the newly pro­posed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. She should call on China and oth­ers to join this mul­ti­lat­eral ef­fort. The al­ter­na­tive – to con­tinue spend­ing mas­sively on de­fense rather than on global ed­u­ca­tion – would con­demn the US to the sta­tus of a de­clin­ing im­pe­rial state trag­i­cally ad­dicted to hun­dreds of over­seas mil­i­tary bases, tens of bil­lions of dol­lars in an­nual arms sales, and per­pet­ual wars.

With­out a GFE, poor coun­tries will lack the re­sources to ed­u­cate their kids, just as they were un­able to fi­nance the fight against AIDS, TB, and malaria un­til the Global Fund was es­tab­lished.

Here’s the ba­sic bud­getary chal­lenge: it costs at least $250 in a poor coun­try to ed­u­cate a child for a year, but low­in­come coun­tries can af­ford, on av­er­age, only around $90 per child per year. There is a gap of $160 per child for around 240 mil­lion school-aged kids in need, or about $40 bil­lion per year.

The con­se­quences of un­der­funded ed­u­ca­tion are tragic. Kids leave school early, of­ten with­out be­ing able to read or write at a ba­sic level. These dropouts of­ten sign up with gangs, drug traf­fick­ers, even ji­hadists. Girls marry and be­gin to have chil­dren very young. Fer­til­ity rates stay high and the chil­dren of these poor, un­der-ed­u­cated moth­ers (and fa­thers) have few re­al­is­tic prospects of es­cap­ing poverty.

The cost of fail­ing to cre­ate de­cent jobs through de­cent school­ing is po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, mass mi­gra­tion to the US (from Cen­tral Amer­ica and the Caribbean) and Europe (from the Mid­dle East and Africa), and vi­o­lence re­lated to poverty, drugs, hu­man traf­fick­ing, and eth­nic con­flict. Soon enough, the US drones ar­rive to ex­ac­er­bate the un­der­ly­ing in­sta­bil­ity.

In short, we need to shift from the CIA to the GFE, from the ex­pen­sive fail­ures of US-led regime change (in­clud­ing those tar­get­ing Afghanistan’s Tal­iban, Iraq’s Sad­dam Hus­sein, Libya’s Muam­mar el-Qaddafi, and Syria’s Bashar alAs­sad) to in­vest­ments in health, ed­u­ca­tion, and de­cent jobs.

Some crit­ics of aid ar­gue that funds for ed­u­ca­tion will sim­ply be wasted. Yet the crit­ics said ex­actly the same about dis­ease con­trol in 2000 when I pro­posed a scale-up of fund­ing for pub­lic health. Six­teen years later, the re­sults are in: dis­ease bur­dens have fallen sharply, and the Global Fund proved to be a great suc­cess (the donors now think so, too, and have re­cently re­plen­ished its ac­counts).

To es­tab­lish a suc­cess­ful coun­ter­part for ed­u­ca­tion, first the US and other coun­tries would pool their as­sis­tance into a sin­gle new fund. The fund would then in­vite low-in­come coun­tries to sub­mit pro­pos­als for sup­port. A tech­ni­cal and non-po­lit­i­cal re­view panel would as­sess the pro­pos­als and rec­om­mend those that should be funded. Ap­proved pro­pos­als would then re­ceive sup­port, with the GFE mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­at­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion, en­abling well-per­form­ing gov­ern­ments to build track records and rep­u­ta­tions for sound man­age­ment.

Since 2000, the US and other coun­tries have squan­dered tril­lions of dol­lars on wars and arms pur­chases. The time has come for a sen­si­ble, hu­mane, and pro­fes­sional new ap­proach that would scale up in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion while scal­ing back ex­pen­di­tures on wars, coups, and weaponry. The ed­u­ca­tion of the world’s youth offers the surest path – in­deed, the only path – to global sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.

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