AIDS and International Security

Peter W. Singer
Peter W. Singer Former Brookings Expert, Strategist and Senior Fellow - New America

April 1, 2002

At the start of the new century, the AIDS epidemic is finally receiving high-level attention on the international stage. In 2001, the UN Security Council and General Assembly held special sessions on its dangers. Committees at the US Congress and the British Parliament held similar hearings. A meeting of African heads of state declared it “a continental emergency.” Emboldened by this attention, Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, led a push to create a $10 billion fund to battle the disease?s spread, personally meeting with nearly every major world leader. At the Davos Forum, the annual gathering of the world?s elite, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, the world?s richest man, donated $100 million to the fund. He then urged the rest of the world?s wealthy states and individuals to follow suit.

A recurring themes at all of these meetings was the new danger presented by the epidemic, not just in terms of direct victims of the disease itself, but also to international security. Speaking at the UN Security Council session, James Wolfensohn, the head of the World Bank, stated, “Many of us used to think of AIDS as a health issue. We were wrong?nothing we have seen is a greater challenge to the peace and stability of African societies than the epidemic of aids…we face a major development crisis, and more than that, a security crisis.” Peter Piot, chairman of the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), similarly noted that “Conflicts and AIDS are linked like evil twins.”

In fact, this connection made between the epidemic of AIDS and the danger of increased instability and war was also one of the few continuities between the way the Clinton and Bush administration foreign policy teams saw the world. Basing its assessment on a CIA report that discussed an increased prospects of “revolutionary wars, ethnic wars, genocide, and disruptive regime transitions” because of the disease, the Clinton Administration declared it a “national security threat” in 2000. While it was originally accused of pandering to certain activist groups, by the time of Secretary Powell?s confirmation hearings the next year, the lead foreign policy voice of the new administration had also declared it a “national security problem.” He later affirmed that it presented “a clear and present danger to the world.” Similarly, US Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky stated that “HIV/AIDS is a threat to security and global stability, plain and simple.”

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