A friend voiced this frequently found opinion in an email today:
Until basic survival needs are met in these [poor] countries peace isn’t possible.
Actually, we can have world peace before these basic survival needs are met. In fact, I would be astounded if we could meed basic needs globally before we abolish war. War is one of the worst ways that prevents these needs from being met. Desperation, according to Paul Collier, economist and author of “The Bottom Billion”, is not a big driver of war. Surprised? I was too. The reason is brutal economics–which is probably why they call economics the dismal science. Here is the simple reason desperately poor people rarely or never wage war: it costs a lot of money.
Even “cheap” war requires food, ammunition, transportation, and supplies. War is always very expensive relative to the population–even in the USA. A starving or desperate population simply does not have the resources to wage war. Even though desperation may fuel acts of cruelty, outright war, with political or economic objectives, in a poor country is typically not sustainable without some form of outside economic input.
Imagine you are starving, weak, and desperate–you might fight for a moment of survival, but you don’t have the energy or motivation to fight a war, until maybe you eke out enough food and ammo to get out of your immediate dire situation.
War often happens near scenes of desperation and starvation, because war is a cause of famine. Refugee populations, fleeing death and destruction, or often just the rumor of death and destruction, are cut off from food, water, shelter and health care. But generally the soldiers acting as agents of the mayhem are well enough fed and supplied to continue the violence, often directly against a civilian population.
War in desperately poor areas is usually financed by extractive industries pumping cash into the hands of warlords and corrupt politicians. It’s not the fault of the companies, or of the corrupt politicians, as it is the entire system we ALL participate in, that lets us buy minerals and timber found in our computers and furniture that finances war and corruption without our knowledge or consent. We peacemakers need to look at and change these systems to increase transparency, so that our purchases support peace.