Fighting Terror with Aid: Underlying Conditions That Foster Terrorism

Article excerpt

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the war on terrorism have brought the most fundamental changes to US security strategy since the beginning of the Cold War. "Defeating terrorism is our nation's primary and immediate priority," stated US President George W. Bush. It is this generation's "calling."

The 2003 National Strategy on Combating Terrorism outlines the US effort against global terror. Its third and fourth objectives--to deny terrorists resources and state sponsorship, and to diminish the underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit--are particularly relevant to programs at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). There is a simple reason for the renewed prominence of foreign assistance: the recognition that national security ultimately rests on spreading prosperity and democracy to the rest of the world. Persistent poverty and oppression breed despair. They rob people of their potential and can turn nations into terrorist recruiting grounds. Regimes that are politically and economically closed foment hopelessness and multiply the number of aggrieved, who become easy recruits to the terrorist cause.

The war on terrorism has brought both new urgency and substantial funding increases to USAID's development mission. In 2003, for example, USAID administered a nearly US$14.2 billion portfolio, including supplemental funds for Iraq--up from US$7.8 billion in 2001. With that money, and with the most thorough reassessment of the country's development mission since the end of World War II, we are responding by addressing five conditions besides simple poverty that underlie terrorism: isolation, lack of economic opportunity, weak institutions and governance, lack of financial transparency, and poor educational systems.

Isolation

As the experience of Afghanistan indicates, remote and isolated areas of poorer countries are the most fertile grounds for terrorist fanaticism. These continue to be Taliban strongholds. Road building has been extremely effective in combating isolation. USAID's signal achievement last year was the rehabilitation of the 389-mile-long road connecting Kabul with Kandahar--an unprecedented engineering feat given the constricted time frame and insurgency threats. Approximately 35 percent of Afghans live within 50 kilometers of the highway. Plans are being implemented to extend it to Herat, from which it will are back and reconnect with Kabul. The road is crucial to extending the influence of the new Afghan government, now endowed with democratic legitimacy. When complete, it will help end the isolation that has sheltered the Taliban and fed terrorist insurgency. It will stimulate development and reconnect the country to a larger network of regional trade. Recent evaluations have shown that in places like Nepal, where we built roads decades ago, they have enormously helped to open access to remote areas and counter the impact of insurgent groups.

Radios are another way in which we combat isolation. Afghanistan has a radio culture, and USAID has restored radio transmission towers. It has also funded innovative programming and provided the capital to build private radio stations. For example, Radio Kabul has broken new ground with a program that appeals to the music tastes and concerns of the young, featuring a mix of female and male disk jockeys that is representative of the diverse ethnic groups in Afghan society. Such things were unimaginable under the Taliban. Similarly, USAID recently began funding its "Last Mile" initiative, which will bring rural and isolated populations in the Middle East and elsewhere into the information age via connection to the Internet.

Lack of Economic Growth and Job Creation

Countries become vulnerable and subject to terrorist subversion when there are high rates of unemployment, particularly among males aged 15 to 35. This has been confirmed time and again by our experiences with fragile and failing states. …