Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Poverty and Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:59 pm on 27th February 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bhatia Lord Bhatia Crossbench 6:59 pm, 27th February 2002

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, for initiating this debate. In a few words, such as "third world", "poverty" and "terrorism", he has captured the essence and headlines of much of today's malaise around the world. Poverty and terrorism are not necessarily confined to the third world. They exist in the West, too. At times, poverty breeds terrorism; at other times, terrorism creates poverty.

Apart from the usual forms of terrorism, I wish to draw attention to state terrorism when governments behave as terrorists, with a veil of democracy in some cases, or sheer gun power in others. The irony is that when the populations under such regimes rise to defend themselves or to oppose the state, they are called terrorists by that state. On the other hand, the populations that rise up to oppose the state call themselves freedom fighters. Who is right? Who are the terrorists? We look at the same conflict from two different windows and see a different picture.

I want to talk about poverty in the third world and touch on some of the root causes of terrorism. In the third world, in many cases, there is constant tension and conflict between people and the state. In many cases, the state has a thin veneer of democracy to legitimise its control, but is not truly democratic. In some cases, democratically elected government has turned into dictatorship. Avoiding, delaying or rigging elections to stay in power becomes the norm. The example of Zimbabwe is right in front of us.

As we examine the links between poverty and terrorism in the third world, we need to examine also the links between lack of democracy and poverty which lead to terrorism. Who are those who support the regimes that deny the human rights of their own people? We in the West must accept some blame. In our national interest, we continue to support and prop up undemocratic regimes—and the population of such countries pays the price for it. We allow arms exports to such countries and allow the arms brokers to sell arms to the people who want to fight their government. There is a spiral of violence and conflict fuelled by arms. The product of such processes is that poverty grows and breeds terrorism, not only within a country against the government, but against those who have supported that evil government. Why are we surprised when we see those products of poverty become terrorists?

What are the solutions, and what is the possible way forward to deal with third world poverty and reduce terrorism? Here is a menu—fixed or à la carte, as you will. First, we must increase and support the process of democracy. Secondly, we must promote and ensure human rights globally. Thirdly, we must forgive third world debts. Fourthly, we must deal with corruption everywhere, whether in the West or in third world countries. Lastly, we need to establish a type of Marshall Plan—it could be called a "Clare Short Plan" or a "Tony Blair Plan", but such a plan must be established to help in these processes.

In the global economy, the rich and the poor countries—North and South, first world and third world countries—are intractably linked. What happens to the poor will affect the rich. If we wish to deal with the root causes of terrorism, we need to address the causes of poverty, not only for our security and peace but because it is the right and moral thing to do.

We need to remind ourselves of some of the statistics of poverty. Half the world's people live on less than two dollars a day. About 1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. One in five children never go to school. One billion adults cannot read or write. Malaria and TB kill 7 million children annually in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana. That is abject poverty. Unless there is a will to deal with these issues and a will to provide actual cash resources, the poor will become poorer and many will become easy prey to terrorism.

Let us remind ourselves about the Marshall Plan. In 1945, the US Secretary of State, George Marshall, transferred 1 per cent of the USA's national income for four years to Europe. In today's money it would be about 75 billion dollars. This was not an act of charity but an investment to create peace and prosperity for both the USA and Europe.

Just as the Marshall Plan brought peace and prosperity to the USA and Europe, investment in a type of Marshall Plan for the developing world, particularly for Africa, could also eliminate poverty and terrorism in the world. It is estimated that there is a need for 50 billion dollars over the coming years for that purpose. That is a massive sum of money to be transferred to the developing world—but the issues of poverty and terrorism are massive.

Before concluding my remarks, I must raise the question of free trade and the opening up of markets for the third world. The Doha round can be successful only if it is fully implemented and can play as important a part as the Marshall Plan did for Europe. With three-quarters of the world's poor living in rural areas, market access for their agricultural products could make a colossal difference in the eradication of poverty. It is estimated that agricultural subsidies in the West run at the rate of 1 billion dollars a day—six times the amount spent on development assistance. I submit that the single act of removing agricultural subsidies—which are an abrasion on the landscape of free trade—could save lives, reduce poverty and deal with one of the root causes of terrorism.

I end by quoting President Bush and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. In July 2001, President Bush said:

"Our goal is to ignite a new era of global economic growth through a world trading system that is dramatically more open and more free. We must reject a protectionism that blocks the path of prosperity for developing countries. We must reject policies that would condemn them to permanent poverty".

The Prime Minister said in October 2001:

"If globalisation works only for the benefit of the few, then it will fail and deserves to fail. But if we follow the principle that power, wealth and opportunity should be in the hands of the many not the few—if we make that our guiding light for the global economy—then it will be a force for good".

I hope that your Lordships will join me in saying to President Bush and to the Prime Minister, "Well said. Now deliver it. The hungry and the poor of the third world wait for your words to be translated into reality".