April 6, 2017 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads – Food Security is National Security

When does food insecurity abroad affect national security at home? The two matters seem discrete. A crop failure is not a terrorist network. A drought is not a cyber-attack. And yet, as a consequence of the global shortage of food supplies and water scarcity, the United States today faces serious and growing national security risks.

This connection between food security and national security was a recurring theme during last week’s “Global Food Security Symposium,” hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in Washington, DC. And it is the focus of a new Council report entitled “Stability in the 21st Century: Global Food Security for Peace and Prosperity.”

What both the symposium and report make clear is that America's promotion of global food security and agricultural development is not only morally justified, but strategically prudent.

Consider the consequences of the famine afflicting Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen today. Across these four countries, over 20 million people are at risk of starvation. As Ed Luce notes in the Financial Times, it is under such dire conditions that groups like Boko Haram, ISIS, and al-Shabaab expand. Perhaps more consequential is the mass migration likely to follow. We have already seen the political impact of mass migration from Syria—most acutely in Europe, where a surge in blood-and-soil nationalism now poses an existential threat to the European Union. Another major outflow of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa would add immense pressure to the political crises mounting across the West. 

Then there is the political instability that results from food-related crises. In 2007-2008, destabilizing rises in food prices produced widespread social unrest and toppled governments in Haiti and Madagascar. In 2011, grievances over food policy and prices contributed to the Arab Spring--the consequences of which the United States is still dealing with. 

So it is squarely in the American interest to reduce these risks by strengthening its commitment to ending hunger and malnutrition. The good news is that we have the technology and resources to make this happen. The challenge will be getting America's political leaders to recognize food security's strategic importance. (Notably, as Washington considers cuts to foreign aid and development funding, China is stepping up to fill the leadership void, with major spending commitments for aid and development across Asia and Africa).

There are many important issues competing for attention in Washington, but among the most immediate must be the growing concern about global food insecurity. This week's reads explores some of the ways in which food insecurity threatens America's strategic and national interests. 

Drought and War Heighten Threat of Not Just 1 Famine, but 4

Jeffrey Gettleman/The New York Times

International aid officials say they are facing one of the biggest humanitarian disasters since World War II. There is a very real possibility of four famines — in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen — breaking out at once, endangering more than 20 million lives. Some causes are natural, others relate to climate change, and others are exacerbated by war and supply blocks. This New York Times piece reports the grim and heartbreaking consequences of famine and the frantic but so far inadequate efforts by the international community to address them.

The Famine Abroad that Donald Trump Fails to Notice

Edward Luce/Financial Times

While election season has come to a close, the media frenzy surrounding President Trump continues to eclipse coverage of important international events. Edward Luce writes on the importance of staying informed in this article criticizing several of President Trump’s decisions. Citing an incipient crisis described as the “the largest famine since the second world war,” Luce criticizes the President’s proposals to drastically increase military spending while reducing diplomatic and foreign aid budgets by as much as 30 percent. Linking heightened poverty in Africa to increased radicalization in the region, Luce reminds us that compassion remains vital to our nation’s defense.

Fleeing Boko Haram: Thousands Cling to a Road to Nowhere

Dionne Searcey/The New York Times

Even as Boko Haram, a militant group which has ravaged central Africa for eight years, is losing ground to military assaults across their territory, the cost to the refugees displaced by the conflict remains high. Along a partially constructed highway, thousands of people from numerous villages and countries gather under harsh conditions to escape the violence that has taken their homes. Combining powerful photography by Adam Fergusson with personal accounts on life in these makeshift camps by refugees of many different ages and walks of life, Dionne Searcey has written an article that is at once chilling and heartbreaking

Destined for War? China, America and the Thucydides Trap

Gideon Rachman/Financial Times

Ahead of President Trump and President Xi Jinping’s meeting this week, Gideon Rachman weaves together reviews of several new books on US-Asia relations to provide insight into whether the rivalry between the United States and China will turn into open conflict. The books look at China’s ambitions to return to Asian dominance and include a first-of-its kind comprehensive history of US involvement in the Asia-Pacific. Written before Trump took office, the books don’t cover the new dynamic that may be emerging, so as Rachman writes: “The meeting with Xi may give a crucial indication as to whether the US and China are indeed sliding towards a much more antagonistic and dangerous relationship.”

Brussels Takes Back Control of Brexit

Phillip Stephens/Financial Times

Highlighting the impracticalities of Britain’s move to exit the European Union, Phillip Stephens writes an article which contrasts the statements and promises of Prime Minister Theresa May with the “cold shower of reality” that her nation faces at the negotiating table. In addition to critiquing what comes across as politicized, insubstantial language from Britain’s pro “Brexit” administration, Stephens outlines the political clout Britain stands to lose. In reference to Mrs. May’s policies, he writes: “…she has handed the negotiating initiative to Brussels. All this, we are told, in the interests of taking back control.”

Dereliction of Duty Reconsidered: The Book That Made the National Security Advisor

Kori Schake/War on the Rocks

Measuring the value of experience versus idealism, Kori Schake gives a thoughtful review of “Dereliction of Duty,” the book by Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, on the subject of where the fault for America’s failure in the Vietnam War should lay. While McMaster finds fault with most of the high-ranking officials in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he finds the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the time to be the most culpable. Schake disagrees, citing the difficulty of reconciling political agendas with military practicality, to the point that the chiefs of staff were removed from the decision making process altogether.

The Subtleties of Soft Power: China is Spending Billions to Make the World Love It

The Economist

China, in a bid to increase its influence internationally, has adopted tactics based on the western academic idea of “soft power.” Ceding that their authoritarian policies remain a difficult sell for most foreign audiences, China has spent billions attempting to make their culture more attractive to foreigners, funding programs to teach mandarin and aspects of Chinese culture across the globe. While these efforts have met with success, particularly in Africa, the heavy-handed presence of the communist party’s power in all of these efforts to gain “soft power” has led to a decrease in China’s popularity among citizens of America and many other western nations.

Martin Schulz and Emmanuel Macron Could Save Europe

Wolfgang Münchau/Financial Times

Eschewing any speculation on how the election of Martin Schulz in Germany or Emmanuel Macron in France might affect their countries, Wolfgang Münchau instead focuses on a broader question: Will these men be able to solve the current political turmoil in the Eurozone? His conclusion is hopeful, but realistic. Münchau writes on the uncertainty of both elections and is skeptical altogether of either seat’s ability to direct policy in this divided political landscape. However, he predicts that France and Germany will soon set the course for the European Union and that these two candidates are the best suited to set a correct heading.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.


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