The Unspoken Threat
excerpted from the book
Betraying the National Interest
by Frances Moore Lappe', Rachel Shuman, and Kevin
published 1982 - by The Institute for Food and
... 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
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.
... 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
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
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
Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First)
398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94618