Global Health-A National Security Issue

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) produced a 50+ page report on global health and national security. The findings are still relevant today, 3 years later. Previous discussions regarding global health and national security were usually limited to bioterrorism and the spread of infectious diseases. While acknowledging that the paper is excluding discussion of the former, the paper states that the biggest immediate threat to the United States is a global flu epidemic. However, it concludes, while immensely dangerous and potentially destabilizing, the threat the NIC wants to talk about is the lack of health sysytems and, especially, non communicable diseases.

When reading the report, it comes as no surprise that the United Nations devoted its General Assembly opening to a discussion of the role of non communicable diseases. It notes the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that infectious diseases will decline as a percentage of total deaths over the next 20 years or so. While non communicable diseases are already the largest killers in low and middle income countries the disparity will be even greater in the following 2 decades. Lifestyle choices are a huge driver of the growth of these diseases whether it be tobacco use (especially in China) and the adoption of western diets which will turbocharge the growth of heart disease and diabetes. Just go to the World Diabetes Foundation website, www.worlddiabetesfoundation.org  . The statistics are sobering. Although not discussed directly, climate change, environmental destruction, water and nutrition are part of the same bleak scenario as global health.

So why is this discussion a national security issue? Economic stability and prosperity are under threat. Clearly, a society increasingly burdened by disease cannot function in any sort of optimal way. The paper mentions the economic research that 50% of  the economic growth of Britian, from 1790 to the present, can be credited to greatly improved nutrition and health. Mexico, as well, over the last 35 years has seen strong economic growth coupled with improvements to its health infrastructure. More subtley, the direct costs to society trying to constrain, ameliorate, or stop the spread of disease will eventually bankrupt countries. Indeed, the U.S. discussion of health care costs is being played out across the globe. Also, the sovereign debt crisis in the western world will only hasten that day of reckoning.

Political stability is also at risk. Apart from the economic issues driving the politics, governments will derive greater legitimacy if they are seen as providing for their citizens. Also, military strength can suffer if disease guts the supply of soldiers. With budget issues limiting government effectiveness, conflict will spread within states as well as between states. Of course, water, food, global warming, and the environment will exacerbate, at a minimum, the causes of such conflicts. The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), especially the latter 3, are on the leading edge of this slow moving crisis and is the biggest threat to their well being over the next couple of decades.

For the United States, this is the major national security threat over the next 25 years. Global health, environment, global warming, water and nutrition will define what we look like in 2030. There are not enough armies, not enough money to win this battle unless we take these threats seriously as soon as possible.

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