Council Report Finds Direct Link Between HIV/AIDS Pandemic and National Security

July 18, 2005 11:05 am (EST)

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Report released as UN Security Council convenes for 5 year progress assessment of Resolution 1308, which designated HIV a potential threat to nations’ security.

July 18, 2005-The HIV/AIDS pandemic is affecting the security of states throughout the world, weakening economies, government structures, military and police forces, and social structures. This is the principal conclusion of a new Council Report, HIV and National Security: Where Are the Links? "Today, more than ever before, threats are interrelated and a threat to one is a threat to all. The mutual vulnerability of weak and strong has never been clearer...the security of the most affluent state can be held hostage to the ability of the poorest state to contain an emerging disease."

Authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council, the report finds that states with high rates of HIV infection in their productive labor forces and uniformed services have managed to remain intact, from the village level on up, through a plethora of coping mechanisms. But many of these nations are "coping" with HIV while also experiencing massive poverty, tuberculosis, drug-resistant malaria, regional conflicts and a host of other serious challenges. HIV is exacerbating each of these problems, and they, in turn, are straining mechanisms designed to cope with AIDS to the point of failure.

These effects are being felt long before the great wave of AIDS illnesses and deaths have occurred in most of these countries, and are predicted to worsen deeply over the coming ten years. "The pandemic now directly afflicts approximately 40 million people, has orphaned more than 12 million children, and killed more than 20 million people."

In less hard-hit countries, including those in Western Europe and North America, the national security impact of HIV manifests itself in the form of anti-Western resentment over inequitable access to life-sparing drugs; the use of HIV, itself, as a weapon or accusation; disinvestment potential; increased probabilities of local instabilities in strategic areas; and rising demand for direct financial and skills investment in hard-hit areas. While concerns about potential links between the pandemic and terrorism are certainly exaggerated, the Council report finds that the HIV epidemic is contributing to social alienation and could provide areas of operation for outside terrorist forces.

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • Claims regarding rogue state spread of HIV, or the use of the virus as a weapon, need to be verified through an extensive network and database of molecular epidemiology data. "Molecular epidemiology should be viewed as a verification tool, both to refute false accusations made by one state against another and to identify bona fide threats posed by a given state against its neighbors."
  • Hard hit, impoverished nations should take steps to preserve their trained elites, within both military and civilian sectors, through provision of anti-retroviral drugs. "The stability of states with high rates of HIV infection may well be threatened...through a process of erosion of its elite populations, its political leadership, its college-trained professionals, and its skilled labor forces." But the report warns that elite-only access could prove demoralizing, even destabilizing to the lower echelons and general population.
  • Wealthy governments must increase support both for targeted HIV/AIDS efforts in hard hit countries, and for overall poverty relief. "Further, they must recognize that these donor commitments cannot be revoked at a later date, as revocation would undoubtedly result in the immediate deaths of those HIV patients who have become dependent upon the treatments."

Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that individual and corporate members, as well as policymakers, journalists, students, and interested citizens in America and other countries, can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States other governments.

Contact: Lisa Shields, Vice President, Communications, [email protected], +1-212-434-9888

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