Security and Scarcity: Welcoming World Leaders

Commentary | March 27, 2012

The Affordable World Security Conference opened Tuesday in Washington, where former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, now Executive Director of UN Women, and others addressed world security and the role of women and young people.

“Half of the world is women. In some places more than half. ... And half the world is under 25 years of age,” Bachelet said.

The afternoon also included powerful remarks by Sylvia Earle, former chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who underlined the importance of the world’s ecosystems.

Assistant Secretary of State José Fernandez argued for continued support for important international development initiatives.

Earlier, the day began with an exchange of views about future security priorities and the best use of economic and other resources in the 21st century.

Hosted by the W. P. Carey Foundation and the EastWest Institute (EWI), the conference runs Tuesday and Wednesday at the Newseum in Washington and by livestream on the Internet. It confronts the stark choices before U.S. and international policymakers as they seek security with limited resources.

Smart choices about security expenditures are necessary to ensure economic prosperity, according to Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics.

"The wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq have shown how expensive little wars can be," Stiglitz said. Arguing that much of the U.S. defense spending has been “counterproductive,” he added, “we have to be focused on maintaining economic strength.”



Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff argued that a broad range of new threats including cybersecurity mean the cost of one action versus another is hard to determine. “It’s easy to understand what you’re spending,” he said. “It’s not easy to understand the cost if you don’t spend.”

Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), emphasized the vulnerability of populations in developing countries to the effects of climate change. In response to a questioner who noted challenges to the accuracy of climate science, Pachauri said the IPCC reviews all criticisms. “We do realize that this has major implications,” he added.

Ambassador Paula Dobriansky also noted the importance of energy in international security. “We are not looking for a silver bullet but for greater diversification,” she said, emphasizing the need for increased international cooperation.

Conference Chairman William R. Polk, speaking by video, set the stage for the gathering. “There are no quick fixes, no simple answers, and the traditional ways that we've organized ourselves to meet dangers are insufficient,” Polk said. “We are trying to solve 21st century problems with 20th century means.”

New strategies and security measures are necessary, said EWI Board Co-Chairman Francis Finlay. “Current policies and organizational frameworks are not only failing to achieve security and peace, but actually run the risk of aggravating confrontation and conflict,” Finlay said.

The conference continues Wednesday with discussions on the U.S. defense budget, the pivotal relationship between the United States and China, and other key issues.

Speakers Wednesday include Nobel Peace Laureate and former President of Costa Rica Óscar Arias Sánchez, General Michael Hayden, former leader of both the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, and Khalid Malik, director of the U.N. Development Programme’s Human Development Report Office.

Follow along live at the livestream.

Click here to read coverage of the second and final day of the Affordable World Security Conference.