Global security lies not in isolationism but in building successful societies

Development is not being taken seriously enough as a way to tackle mass migration and terrorism.

Before November 8, the international security community was naively preparing for a Hillary Clinton presidency in the United States. Despite the hawkish public rhetoric, we knew her relatively progressive team recognised the value of a developmental approach to security issues.

We are now watching what the unpredictable president-elect Donald Trump does when he takes office in January 2017, particularly about the twin challenges of migration and violent extremism.

Our guidance to Trump, and to new United Nations secretary general António Guterres, is that the best way to beat terrorists is to improve the conditions in which their recruits live – undermining their support base.

The same goes for migration – tighter control of borders does nothing to address the drivers of this phenomenon. Not in Africa. Not in Mexico. Two decades of intensifying border enforcement by Mediterranean states did not alter the desire of people to get to Europe. It just changed their route and made the journey more hazardous.

The global community has a very good plan to tackle the world’s development and security priorities simultaneously. In September 2015 the UN General Assembly agreed on 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), based on a consensus that international problems were best tackled domestically. It was a monumental achievement in global diplomacy.

The SDGs replaced the millennium development goals (MDGs), which since 2000 had been a driver of reduced poverty, improved maternal health and lower child mortality rates. The MDGs kick-started a global movement for free primary education, and enabled huge strides in combating HIV and Aids, malaria and tuberculosis. MDG achievements include more than a billion people being lifted out of extreme poverty, the halving of child mortality and a 40% drop in HIV infections.

The SDGs are new goals to meet universal political, economic and environmental challenges. But they remain at the level of political commitment and don’t get enough attention in the forums where they matter the most.

The dissonance began the day after the SDGs were first adopted in New York, at a counterterrorism summit in the room next door featuring all the UN’s member states. Nobody even mentioned the SDGs. They simply didn’t draw the link between development and security.

Part of the problem is that the development community doesn’t want to be connected to securocrats. For their part, the securocrats see the SDGs as a long-term ambition benefiting other people far away, and not part of the security agenda.

With their 169 distinct development targets, the SDGs are a bold global commitment that must not be allowed to wither. They should top the to-do list of all global leaders, including populists, mavericks and the new anti-globalisation brigade.

The SDGs are the epitome of global co-operation and represent everything that those who voted for Trump and Brexit have rejected. International commitments for the common good are the very opposite of Trump’s isolationism and protectionism and the sentiments of emerging right-wing leaders in Europe.

Dealing with migrants and terrorists, however, is among the biggest priorities for Trump and his allies. The best way to deal with these challenges is by working tirelessly to achieve the SDGs. They may appear to securocrats as fluffy long-term aspirations. But the opposite is true. Development based on global co-operation is precisely the route to improved global security.

The SDGs need to crop up not just at feel-good events like the 2015 Global Citizen Festival in New York, featuring rock stars and slick celebrity videos. They need to be in the lexicon of the hawks.

Of particular importance is goal 16, which aspires to peace, justice and strong institutions. It recognises that sustainable development is not possible without human rights and effective governance based on the rule of law. Goal 16 is the entry point to all other SDG goals.

A state is defined as fragile when it has low capacity and poor performance in the area of security and development. Most people in Africa’s 20 fragile states are poor, experience high levels of violence and suffer from economic exclusion, inequality and poor governance. These are the drivers of terrorism and mass migration.

People living under decent conditions, in stable and fair societies, and with local opportunities for a better life are less likely to migrate or be lured into extremism. So the best way to give effect to the SDGs is to bring them into global security discussions that prompt serious international responses and attract big budgets.

The SDGs are a recipe for Europe and the US to work with African states to build economically successful nations. The SDGs also guard against Africa’s development budgets being cannibalised in favour of short-term security responses and reactionary measures to keep migrants out.

Development is what enables security, not the other way around. The SDGs are the best framework to achieve it. Let’s keep them on top of the agenda. – ISS Today

Anton du Plessis is executive director of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria

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