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Poverty and Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:22 pm on 27th February 2002.

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Photo of Lord Dahrendorf Lord Dahrendorf Liberal Democrat 5:22 pm, 27th February 2002

rose to call attention to the links between third world poverty and terrorism; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, as I rise to,

"call attention to the links between third world poverty and terrorism",

I hasten to add the reservation:

"Poverty does not cause terrorism and conflict, but it increases the risk of it".

Those are actually the words of the Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, and I agree with her in that, as in her conclusion that what is needed is "more aid, better spent". But why does poverty increase the risk of terrorism? And how can aid be spent better?

On the extent of third world poverty in this age of globalisation there can be no doubt. Former President Clinton has, in his Dimbleby Lecture and elsewhere, cited the figures, which bear repeating:

"One billion people live on less than one dollar a day; one billion people go to bed hungry every night; a quarter of the world's people never get a clean glass of water; every minute one woman dies in childbirth".

This is, as Mr Clinton argued, the flip side of globalisation. It creates a lot of angry people. Some of them remain just frustrated and apathetic. Some want to "destroy the civilised world". However—this is Mr Clinton again—

"a lot of people are angry because they want to be a part of tomorrow, but they cannot find the open door".

That in fact is my theme, and helping them find the open door is our task.

Perhaps I may offer one further quotation—not from a politician but from the thoughtful and compassionate analyst, Michael Ignatieff—which identifies the link referred to in my Motion in words that I could not have chosen better. Mr Ignatieff said:

"One of the unacknowledged underlying causes of the September 11 events was the coincidence of globalised prosperity in the imperial world with disintegration in the states that achieved independence from the colonial empires of Europe in the 1960s. The collapse of state institutions has been exacerbated by urbanisation, by the relentless growth of lawless shantytowns that collect populations of unemployed or underemployed men who can see the promise of globalised prosperity on the TV in every café, but cannot enjoy it themselves. In states like Pakistan, where the state no longer provides basic services to the poorest people, Islamic parties, funded from Saudi Arabia, step into the breach, providing clinics, schools, and orphanages where the poor receive protection at the price of indoctrination in hatred".

We do not have to go to the third world to find the Ignatieff syndrome, if I may call it that. The so-called "shoe bomber" from Bromley, Richard Reid, illustrates the path from rootlessness to petty and not-so-petty crime, to prison, and from there to the hands of caring Muslim mullahs, on to the community of the faithful and further to militancy, ending in training for terrorism in Pakistan.

In the third world, the syndrome occurs in a systematic way. There are several kinds of terrorism, and what I have to say does not apply to all. One major strand, however, is related to the frustrations of the pathways out of poverty. It is not the truly destitute who organise themselves or turn violent, nor is it the traditional poor; it is those who have left the traditional cycle of poverty—for the most part of village life—but have failed to find a place in the new scheme of things. They have smelled a life which has inspired their dreams—often through American symbols, such as Hollywood, Coca-Cola and the rest, which is why America looms so large in their minds—but they cannot find a place in it. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, who would have liked to have been here for this debate, sent me a recent statement of his in which he talked about,

"the very real prospect of a fundamental 'dislocation' between the world of the imagination created by the moving image, and the everyday lives of people around the globe".

It is not just cultural dislocation that I am talking about; many of the people in question end up in favelas and shantytowns within sight of the glittering city lights and far away from the homely misery of their origins. They are lost between roots that are cut and fruits that will remain distant hopes. This is where that cocktail of envy and hatred is brewed, which makes terrorism so vicious.

Nor is that just a failing of individuals. The seriousness of the predicament that I am describing lies in the fact that it is an almost inevitable stage on the path from poverty to prosperity. Modernisation initially means uprooting. Remember The Bleak Age of industrialising Britain—described so vividly by social historians and novelists—Gin Lane, the workhouses and the acts of Luddite destruction and of burning down prisons? For whatever reason, there is no straight path from poverty to prosperity. Things get worse before they get better. The process called "development" begins with a valley of tears, and many lose patience during the trek. They seek a shortcut to a better life by what the authors of The Bleak Age, the Hammonds, called "the remedy of the New World"—that is, by migration—or they express their frustration by committing crime, including terrorism. Many do both in a "runaway world".

That is the background and central thesis of my Motion. But of course for us, in Parliament, the key question is: what can we do to mitigate the process at which I have hinted? Let me leave no doubt. So far as terrorism is concerned, it must be fought. Nothing offered here by way of explanation should be misread as an excuse. I agree wholeheartedly with former President Clinton that,

"there is no excuse ever for the deliberate killing of innocent civilians for political, religious or economic reasons".

But once this battle has been won, the major task remains. As Mr Chris Patten put it in a recent speech, after the "smart bombs" we need a "smart development policy".

In order to indicate what that might mean, I want to make five points which are also five questions to the Government. The first is that a smart development policy is not only about money. To be sure, such a policy is bound to be costly, but neither debt relief nor financial aid transfers to governments will achieve what is needed. In particular, we should stop talking about a Marshall Plan for the developing world. In so far as the Marshall Plan after World War II was successful, it served to aid reconstruction in countries which had had a developed infrastructure and, above all, a population trained and motivated to go forward to a modern economy and society. The money needed for development today needs much more careful targeting.

Secondly, the major task of any smart development policy is institution-building. This is no longer a new idea; the World Bank and even the IMF know it. Certainly the Government are aware of it, and I commend the recent Strategic Defence Review paper, A New Chapter, for including sections headed "Tackling the Basis of Terrorism" and "Engaging the Causes". Action has not yet quite reached the level of such knowledge. Governments could do worse than take Professor Amartya Sen's book, Development as Freedom, as their guide. Without what Sen calls "political freedoms", "economic facilities", "social opportunities" and "transparency guarantees", there will be no sustainable development.

Translating such principles into action is not easy. In essence, it means giving more emphasis to the social infrastructure of third world countries than to their physical infrastructure. Establishing the rule of law is critical, and it has to do with creating an incorrupt judiciary. Teachers have to be trained, and nurses. One is obviously hesitant to recommend the creation of further international institutions; there are probably too many already. However, given the collapsing state structures in many third world countries, there is a case for charging particular international agencies with building a social infrastructure that lasts.

I have quoted Sen's "types of freedom", as he calls them, except for one, which brings me to my third point: protective security. In developing countries in particular, it is, in Sen's words, necessary,

"to provide a social safety net for preventing the affected population from being reduced to abject misery, and in some cases even starvation and death".

I would add the argument: for preventing those frustrated by the long trek through the valley of tears from turning to terrorism to express their frustration. "Fixed institutional arrangements", in Sen's words, for cushioning the difficult passage to relative prosperity are hard to create and costly to guarantee. But, without them, we shall all pay an even higher price.

My fourth point is simple. We need examples of success in order to gain support for the smart development policy. That means concentration on particular countries. Whoever aims at everything will probably achieve nothing. That is why I believe the work which my noble friend Lord Ashdown is going to do in the Balkans is so important, and it is why I believe that Europe would be well advised to concentrate on the critical country of Turkey as much as on any other.

My fifth and final point has to do with Europe. The record of the European Union in development policy is mixed. It is certainly not a model of the smartness which Commissioner Patten had in mind. Yet such a policy would be an important contribution to a true partnership with the United States of America. America's readiness to intervene in many parts of the world by military means is not coupled with a similar readiness to contribute to building sustainable liberal institutions in foreign parts. We Europeans, whose collective military capabilities are likely to remain weak for a long time to come, have a task here which is suited to our experience, our interest and our capacity. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.