The Unspoken Threat

excerpted from the book

Betraying the National Interest

by Frances Moore Lappe', Rachel Shuman, and Kevin Danaher

published 1982 - by The Institute for Food and Development Policy
(Food First)

... the only way to fully comprehend U.S. policies toward the third world is to posit what we call "the threat of a good example." Insurgencies in the third world do not challenge U.S. military security or even, ultimately, investments by U.S. corporations.... What they represent is the possibility that emerging nations may demonstrate by example that the United States may not be the last word in democracy, freedom, and opportunity. That threat is much greater if weighed from the perspective of those who see it in their interest to preserve unchanged the present U.S. economic and political order.

This might sound farfetched. But think of the implications. What if a third-world society demonstrated that the choice is not just between U.S.-style capitalism and Soviet-style statism? What if an emerging third-world order were to offer greater opportunities for citizens to be involved in the shaping of economic policy than either superpower model-more worker-owned businesses, independent farming cooperatives, as well as citizen participation in village to national economic planning? Or expanded human rights protection to include the right of every rural person to farmland sufficient to live in dignity? Or began building a political system in which wealth is strictly precluded as a factor in gaining office?

We are not talking about utopias. We don't believe in them. We are simply talking about societies trying to do things some what differently than we do here, based on different underlying assumptions. To U.S. policymakers, only the market distribution of goods and exclusively private control over productive property are consistent with freedom and democracy. To do things differently is to undermine both. But what if an emerging society were to question such a dogmatic approach to the market and private control, putting people's need for land, jobs, and food first? And what if such policies were pursued with broad popular support, not repressive measures, so that people felt their freedom expanded?

Such a development almost certainly would give hope to oppressed peoples throughout the world who today have so few positive examples to inspire them. Moreover, U.S. citizens, observing these developments abroad, might be encouraged to challenge the control of concentrated wealth here at home and the assumption that those monolithic corporations so determining our well-being are best left beyond democratic control. It should be noted that the concentration of wealth in the United States is no less than in many third-world countries. Here, the richest one percent own more wealth than the bottom ninety percent.

In this sense, the "domino effect" may be a legitimate fear, for some. Not that dominoes fall into the Soviet camp, but that, if there were just one third-world society to offer both greater freedom grounded in economic security, along with civil liberties, it would inspire others to work to challenge the control of concentrated wealth.

Our government constantly rivets public attention on the Soviet Union as the only real threat to our well-being. This approach serves beautifully to insure that such embarrassing questions are not raised. And, at the same time, it insures- through militarized foreign policies...- that no third-world society that might provoke such questions is allowed to emerge.


Common Interests

... a U.S. policy supporting repressive governments and subverting those with Soviet ties ends up backfiring, in some cases even strengthening the position of the Soviet Union. But in a broader sense, we believe these policies ultimately defeat the interests of the majority of Americans as well. As long as the United States contributes to maintaining political structures in the third world that trap people in poverty, it undercuts the well-being of U.S. citizens. How? To answer, we must first ask: On what does the well being of most Americans rest?

First peace and security. But can there be peace as long as people are deprived of survival necessities? Throughout the world, the 20th century has seen the concept of human rights deepen to embrace the notion of economic justice. In part through religious awakening, in part through growing awareness that sufficient resources do exist for all, people who have been robbed of life-sustaining resources are demanding economic rights: land to feed their families, jobs, food. (An irony is that in part it is American rhetoric of freedom and democracy that has helped to inspire this spreading belief in a better future.)

Such people, long oppressed but awakening to their rights, will not be silenced. Thus, unless their rights are acknowledged, violence will continue to mount. Our point is simple: it takes violence to keep people hungry. Americans want to live in a less volatile world, but are denied this greater security, as long as Washington's low intensity warfare blocks real change in the third world.

Second, bargaining power as workers. In an economy dominated by globe-spanning corporations, neither the jobs nor wages of American workers are secure, as long as hundreds of millions of workers in the third world are denied the right to organize. Until workers can organize and establish links of mutual support across national borders, corporations are free to go wherever they can find the most inexpensive and pliant workforce. And, they can always threaten to, and often do, go elsewhere if workers demand a living wage and healthy working conditions.

Third, markets for their production. As long as majorities abroad are kept in poverty, U.S. workers are denied millions of customers for our exports. And, as long as third-world countries are ruled by elite-controlled governments eager to push food exports while their own people go without, U.S. farmers will be increasingly squeezed out of international markets. Today, for example, markets for U.S. farmers' commodities abroad are being undercut in part by rapidly increasing exports from Latin American countries.

In these and many other ways the interests of the vast majority in the United States are not served by a keep-the-lid-on change foreign aid policy. Our interests can be met only as profound changes occur that begin to democratize political and economic life within third world societies.

This is not to say that some would not lose in such a redirection of our foreign aid policy. The primary losers here would be among the 30,000 U.S. companies now engaged in military production, the demand for which is fueled by current U.S. policies. A less militarized foreign policy would surely mean fewer jobs in the arms industry; wouldn't this undercut the well-being of American workers? Money transferred from the military budget to the civilian economy would minimally generate the same number of jobs; and compared to investments in weapons development, civilian spending creates more jobs. Moreover, many economists believe that the militarization of our economy is contributing directly to America's economic decline, because high military expenditures are linked to low productivity growth. (And productivity-output per worker-is essential to increased real income.) The United States ranks first in military spending but last in productivity growth among nine industrial capitalist countries, in part because nearly seventy percent of all federal research money now goes to the military.


For the long haul

In even broaching such far-reaching issues, we are, in effect, saying that those who want to make a difference in changing U.S. foreign policy must be ''in it for the long haul." The policies ... did not originate in the I 980s. Today's foreign aid program is merely an extreme version of what went before.

What Americans must undertake is nothing less than a rethinking of the very definition of our national interest. We must become ever more articulate in explaining that a foreign policy based on ... moral and logical inconsistencies ... cannot mean greater security to us.

And such a change is possible only, we believe, through broad educational initiatives. Offering alternative sources of information and analysis to one's representatives in Washington is the first step. Working to put people in office whose positions reflect a deeper understanding of security than the policies now pursued is equally important, but neither is enough. Profound change can only emerge as we reach out even more broadly to awaken people to new ways of thinking-in our communities, churches, schools, workplaces, and through the media. Ultimately, pressure will mount in Washington only as more and more Americans know what is being perpetrated in their names, and against their own interests.

We must work to encourage Americans to ask: What would be the basis of a constructive foreign aid policy? We believe that three premises follow ...:

Our own security is enhanced by overcoming our government's fear of change abroad. No longer allowing our government to prop up dictators blocking change (who use the cry of communist subversion to ensure U.S. backing), we can find hope and inspiration ourselves in the efforts of third world people to change their societies. To overcome fear of change, we can learn from history. At the time of China's revolution, policymakers could think of nothing more foreboding to our interests than ''losing' China. Yet a few decades later, China is a valued U.S. trading partner and recognition of its independence from control by either superpower is a stabilizing force in the world.

In the late 20th century, a nation's influence arises more from economic than military strength. "Geoeconomics is replacing geopolitics,'' note World Policy Institute analysts Sherle Schwenninger and Jerry W. Sanders. ''Economic strength and political dialogue, not military might, increasingly determine a nation's power and influence-its ability to shape events, and to build a world order compatible with its values.'' China and Japan seem to grasp this reality, but not the United States. While the United States was becoming a debtor nation, Japan's net foreign assets leapt twelvefold to $125 billion, just since I980. And Japan is predicted to displace the United States in I988 as the world's leading trading power.

Noting a sixty-five percent increase in real defense expenditures between I981 and I987, Schwenninger and Sanders write:

By devoting a larger portion of U.S. resources and talent to military competition at the expense of the economy, the Reagan administration and for that matter the Carter administration before it, have eroded America's national economic strength, and thus its foreign policy position.

Their well-put insight brings us to our final point concerning the basis of a constructive international role for the United States.

Genuine development cannot be imported or imposed; it can only be achieved by a people for themselves. This final premise has profound implications. It suggests that, at best, foreign aid can support initiatives for change that are already underway by people able to define their own means and goals.

It also suggests that among our greatest contributions to the cause of freedom and development overseas is not what we do over there, but what we do right here at home. In contributing what is best about America-including lessons from our long history of political democracy-we are bound to fail if we try to push our ideas down the throats of others. Freedom and democracy, by their very nature, can arise only as people themselves infuse these values into their own societies.

With the world's oldest political democracy, America should be a beacon of hope. But, emerging leadership in the third world can hardly be expected to find inspiration in our example, if we-with average incomes I00 times or more what they have-tolerate widespread and growing poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Thus, only as we address the roots of needless suffering of millions of poor Americans can we offer our most important contribution to the third world.

Upon these three premises a constructive foreign aid policy could be built. Its goal would be a redirection of U.S. aid away from governments actively blocking changes necessary to alleviate the poverty and hunger of their people. It would be grounded in the assumption that foreign aid cannot effectively control governments seeking to break free from domination by both superpowers. And it would understand that just because another economic or political structure is not like ours, it does not have to aid or become our enemy. Most important, it would acknowledge that a foreign aid policy built upon both logical and moral contradictions cannot serve the American people.


exerpted from the book
Betraying the National Interest
by Frances Moore Lappe', Rachel Shuman, and Kevin Danaher

published by
Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First)
398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94618

Betraying National Interest