This year, while the military has a 7 billion dollar budget, the Peace Corps's budget is frozen at $400 million and is forced to scale back its plans to expand. While there are over 1.4 million soldiers on active duty, there are only 8,600 Peace Corps volunteers. The U.S. has had soldiers fighting abroad, almost non-stop, since World War II and despite the spread of democracy, many countries (particularly in sub-Saharan and North Africa and the Middle East) are no closer to economic or political stability. The U.S. must take development work more seriously if it wants to support stability and save money and lives.
Conflict is often caused by a suffering economy. Historically, evil men have risen to power riding the promise to deliver a country from economic turmoil (e.g. Lenin, Hitler, Milosevic, Sadaam). Often, economic instability leads to political instability, which leads to U.S. military intervention. In The End of Poverty, world famous economist and development expert Jeffrey Sachs points out, since 1962, 25 cases of U.S. military involvement following state failures. That’s about one conflict every two years.
This can be prevented. One easy option is to redistribute some of the military budget to expand and improve the Peace Corps. The 8,600 Peace Corps volunteers directly affect at least one million lives each year. In 1961, Kennedy said that the Peace Corps would be a legitimate organization when it had 100,000 volunteers. On its 50th anniversary, the Peace Corps wants to double the number of volunteers by 2015, which would lower the cost per volunteer and extend its influence. Expanding the Peace Corps at least puts more unarmed American faces in impoverished areas and at best plays a major role in ending poverty and promoting stability, so the United States military doesn’t have to fight so often. Given the budget freeze, even the modest goal of 15,000 volunteers will probably not be accomplished on time.
With protests and violence spreading through North Africa and the Middle East, the argument for stabilizing, rather than militarizing has never been more pertinent. The U.S. needs to make development, not war, its priority so that it can spend less of our money and send less of our soldiers to battle.
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