One of the major plenary sessions at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' 2017 Global Food Security Symposium focused on the relationship between food security and national security. The key takeaway? Hunger can lead to radicalization, instability, and rebellion. It is therefore crucial that all countries make food security a priority in ensuring their own national security.
But that’s easier said than done.
The international political and economic system is at an impasse. Existing and emerging security threats abound, and durable solutions are often challenging to identify. Steadily increasing youth populations, rising unemployment, natural resource pressures, and unprecedented migration loom large as challenges that could further undermine progress in the coming years. However, historically, population booms have also provided fuel to accelerate development. Indeed, rates of poverty and food insecurity have held steady or declined in recent years, signaling potential to gain further momentum. Investments in agricultural development are not only instrumental to food and nutrition security, poverty alleviation, and broader economic development—they contribute to our collective desire to realize greater peace and security. How might food and nutrition security become a more central component to national security strategies? What might we do to plan and act in anticipation of evolving food security challenges in the face of continued demographic shifts and increased migration? These questions remain up for debate.
What we do know: we need to commit sufficient funds and resources for research and development in the convergence of food security and national security. A lack of contributions in this regard will likely hinder innovation and development in this sphere. Sufficient public and private investment in food and agriculture R&D will hopefully further the production of new developments in these fields, helping address food security crises in developing countries and strengthen social stability.
But national security alone isn’t the answer; it is not enough to simply deploy military forces to developing countries around the world. In order for a project to be effective, there needs to be significant developmental power behind a military deployment. A lack of developmental power in project implementation attempts will lead to security gaps, which could later contribute to armed conflict and violence. Such a partnership of developmental power coupled with a military deployment has successfully been executed, for example, through the US Army’s well-drilling and veterinarian teams in Djibouti, and the airlift of aid by the US military through hunger relief programs all around the world.
A final topic of national and food security discussed at the Symposium was the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States’ (CFIUS) movements to finally include food security in its mandate as well as the inclusion of food security experts in the committee. Tasked with regulating mergers, acquisitions, and other aspects of foreign investments potentially affecting the United States, CFIUS will now examine potential trade and exchange opportunities in the area of food and agriculture as they pertain to US food security. Organizations such as CFIUS will hopefully add another layer of protection for developing countries’ food security and subsequent national security.
In conclusion, the consensus view of the panel speakers was that food security is directly linked to national security. Significant challenges remain for developing countries to achieve sustainable food security, but there exists tremendous opportunity to address these challenges and produce long-lasting solutions. The commitment of financial and other necessary support for food security research and development should provide developing countries with the opportunity for long-term innovation and growth in this field. In addition, regulatory organizations such as CFIUS will hopefully increase developing countries’ ability to control foreign influence on their food supply and associated resources. Finally, in the case of external aid, military deployments from developed countries must include specialized project-development expertise to effectively execute up-and-coming initiatives in developing countries. In the words of Norman Borlaug, “cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.” By adhering to the views expressed during this discussion, developing countries will hopefully continue to produce bread and much more to feed their populations, further reducing social instability and ensuring their national security.
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