Three ideas whose time has come: Dr. Oscar Arias Sánchez on the future of world security

Increased investment in human development, a fundamental restructuring of the way international aid is distributed, and a comprehensive treaty to regulate the global trade in small arms are three ideas whose time has come, according to former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Oscar Arias Sánchez.

President Arias presented these ideas during his keynote at last week’s Affordable World Security Conference (AWSC) presented by the EastWest Institute and the W.P. Carey Foundation at the Newseum in Washington D.C. PopTech was one of the conference's many partner organizations.

The AWSC was a two-day event that featured top thinkers and a distinguished guest list to discuss ways in which the United States and other countries must weigh competing priorities and find new ways to ensure comprehensive human security in an era of increasingly limited resources.

For President Arias, investments in education, public health, and poverty reduction are far more likely to increase security for all nations than unchecked investment in weapons of war.

“Imagine the impact on security by reducing poverty by half,” Dr. Arias said in his moving and matter-of-fact speech. “Imagine the impact on security of universal primary education. Imagine the impact on security in eliminating the digital divide. Imagine the impact on security in drastic reductions in hunger and sickness.  These changes would take power from terrorists and dictators in ways that weapons never could.”

President Arias also said that the way in which international aid is distributed to countries that choose to invest in human development at the expense of military spending discourages best practices.

“The rules our international community has established for aid and debt forgiveness say that a country that makes good decisions must be punished,” he said. “A country that invests wisely and achieves improvements in human development is then told it is too rich for debt forgiveness or aid. A country that finds a way out of war is told it is no longer of interest to its more powerful neighbors.”

Finally, Dr. Arias, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end the civil wars then raging in several Central American countries, called for support for a comprehensive small arms treaty that would regulate the trade in small arms and light weapons, much like those that exist to regulate weapons of mass destruction.

"Who said that killing thousands in a single instant is worse than killing thousands one by one every day?” he asked. “The regulation of conventional weapons is essential to the safety not only of countries in conflict but all countries.”

As a matter of practical concern, these ideas “whose time has come” are ones the world cannot afford to ignore if achieving security is truly the goal. This is not to mention the morality of continually relegating human need and suffering to the bottom of the list of global priorities.

“Eleanor Roosevelt once asked, ‘When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather to avenge it?’” he said. “I am afraid we must answer her, ‘Not yet. Not yet.’”

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