The United Nations has declared September 21 the International Day of Peace. This year the theme of the day is “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace.” This highlights the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda with 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon has said that “sustainable development is essential for lasting peace,” and called the Sustainable Development Goals “a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success.”
Yesterday, President Obama made his 8th and final address to the annual opening of the UN General Assembly. In the broad ranging speech, he noted this:
We can only eliminate extreme poverty if the sustainable development goals that we have set are more than words on paper. Human ingenuity now gives us the capacity to feed the hungry and give all of our children -- including our girls -- the education that is the foundation for opportunity in our world. But we have to put our money where our mouths are.
The President is correct about the need to “put our money where our mouths are.” Unfortunately, the U.S. federal budget shows that our money is going elsewhere. More than $600 billion will go to Pentagon spending including wars and nuclear weapons this year and that is slated to rise in the coming years.
The President mentioned several times in his speech that we are (by his account) twenty-five years past the Cold War-era and he stated that “the end of the Cold War lifted the shadow of nuclear Armageddon.” In fact, right now the United States is planning to invest a trillion dollars over the next thirty years on rebuilding the next generation of nuclear weapons. I’m not so sure we really are out from under that shadow.
Of course the rising Pentagon budget would likely go up even higher under a President Trump, and Mr. Trump has been cavalier about expanding the role of nuclear weapons, asking repeatedly “why can’t they be used?”. That allegedly “lifted shadow” could become a perilous storm cloud very quickly.
And when it comes to investing in development and diplomacy strategies for things like safe zones or support for refugees, Trump has made it clear we don’t need to prioritize U.S. dollars there. Instead we’ll utilize a great new revenue channel that he has used “all the time in business” to evade personal expenditures called, “Other People’s Money – OPM.” How reassuring to those of us who have worried that there is not enough money in the budget for the State Department, or USAID.
The fact of the matter is that if our current federal budget was rebalanced to match the priorities and values of most Americans, we would invest more in education, first responders, safe roads, rails, bridges, and water – the things that make us safer and build our communities here at home.
We could also focus resources and provide leadership to the Sustainable Development Goals blueprint highlighted for this International Peace Day. We could address global problems that threaten peace and security like the human trafficking, the spread of nuclear weapons, or climate change. We could invest in diplomacy and development efforts that prevent conflict and thwart terrorism. We could invest in the next generation of humans instead of the next generation of nuclear weapons.
If however, we continue to put our money into the machinery of war, we will fuel the cycle of violence, extremism, and terror and spark a new nuclear arms race. Then, there will never be enough money, ours or “OPM,” to restore peace and security.
It reminds me of this legend often attributed to the Cherokee nation:
An old man is teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me, he said to the boy. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil ─ he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good ─ he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you ─ and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old man simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Our survival depends on choosing to put our money into feeding peace.