In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, the war on terrorism has consumed our minds and our resources. Many other critical challenges facing the international community have been left feebly competing for a space in the consciousness of world leaders and ordinary citizens. Among these challenges is that of HIV/AIDS. At one point or another, the severity of this pandemic has been impressed upon all of us through a blur of statistics. Yet many of us have walked away from such conversations feeling that AIDS, though a serious problem, is an alien one with no implications for us. This is a myth that needs to be shattered. AIDS has been termed a pandemic because of its global impact; it has decimated individuals and societies around the world from New Haven to entire villages in China.
Although the pandemic continues to be primarily viewed as a health issue, there is a growing consensus that HIV/AIDS is also a security threat. AIDS has killed more people than all the soldiers killed in the major wars of the 20th century. The concept of framing AIDS in the context of security is relatively new. The report that primarily established this connection was drafted by the National Intelligence Council and is titled “The Global Infectious Disease Threat and Its Implications For the United States.” Drawing on this report, former Vice President Al Gore presided over the first special session of the U.N. Security Council dedicated to the issue of HIV/AIDS in January 2000. Subsequently, many nongovernmental organizations have released reports related to AIDS and security. One such organization is the International Crisis Group, which states in its report “HIV/AIDS As a Security Issue,” “AIDS can be so pervasive that it destroys the very fiber of what constitutes a nation: individuals, families and communities; economic and political institutions; military and police forces.”
According to the ICG’s report, AIDS doesn’t cause wars itself but is a security issue in the following five ways. First, AIDS is a personal security issue. As people continue to become ill, gains in health and infant mortality will be lost. Agricultural production will decline, breaking families and creating and exacerbating divisions among groups. Economic migration and refugee seekers will also increase. Second, AIDS is an economic security issue. It hampers social and economic progress that strongly contributes to violent conflict. A World Bank study indicates that infection levels above 20 percent can result in a GDP decline of one percent per year. Third, AIDS is a communal security issue. It destroys police capability and community stability. It breaks down national institutions and has been shown to affect civil servants, teachers and health care professionals. Fourth, AIDS is a national security issue. Many African countries have an infection rate five times that of civilian populations. This leaves them vulnerable to outside attacks. And finally, AIDS is an international security issue. It weakens the international capacity to resolve conflicts by reducing the number of healthy troops who can participate in peacekeeping missions.
This Friday and Saturday (Nov. 8-9), the International Conflict Research Group will be hosting a conference titled “HIV/AIDS as a Threat to Global Security” at the Yale Law School Auditorium. In hosting this conference, the ICRG seeks to promote greater awareness of and critically examine the often-ignored international security implications of the AIDS pandemic. The conference will be divided into three panels: Causes and Dimensions of HIV/AIDS, Regional Case Studies, and Solutions and Policy Challenges. Keynote speakers include Stephen Lewis, U.N. Special Envoy to Africa for HIV/AIDS and Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group.
The struggle against HIV/AIDS cannot be marginalized in the face of the war against terrorism. A simultaneous war must be waged against HIV/AIDS with the international community continuing to grapple with the threat it poses and formulate new strategies. We hope that members of the Yale/New Haven community will seize the opportunity this conference presents to hear and engage in critical discussion with a series of eminent panelists regarding one of the most critical issues of our time.
Ziad Haider and Genevieve Tremblay are seniors in Berkeley and Pierson colleges, respectively. They are conference co-directors of the International Conflict Research Group.