A three-person panel discussed global poverty and recommended American foreign policy responses to world humanitarian crises and security concerns Monday evening at the Williamsburg Regional Library Theater.
The panel included U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA 1), ONE Senior Manager for Field Training and Development Matthew Bartlett and College of William and Mary student Christian Peratsakis ’09.
ONE, a grassroots organization focused on lobbying and fundraising to fight poverty, hunger, AIDS and other humanitarian crises worldwide, hosted the event. International relations professor Michael Tierney ’87 moderated the discussion.
Wittman connected these issues to his work in the House of Representatives by explaining that the prevention of poverty, hunger, AIDS and other humanitarian crises is a security issue integrally related to issues he faces on both the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Natural Resources.
“We need to help maintain a situation where they have food, water and shelter,” Wittman said. “And then the other aspects of the government of that country can take place in a very orderly fashion.”
This can also inhibit the development of international terrorism, Wittman added.
“If you [create strong economies], you create much less of an atmosphere for instability for groups that profess extreme viewpoints about how to deal with today’s world,” Wittman said.
The congressman said America’s approach to international security needs to utilize not only military presence, but also development and diplomacy efforts.
“There has to be an element of what’s called smart power, or soft power, and that is making sure that not only do we have a military unit there, [but also] somebody there from the Department of State working on the diplomacy side, and somebody there from USAID working on the development side,” Wittman said. “The three-legged stool of defense, diplomacy and development is critical in today’s world. You can’t have one without the others.”
Congress needs to make some tough decisions about how to fund these humanitarian efforts practically,
Wittman said. With a growing national debt (currently about $11 trillion), the United States should not spend carelessly, but should instead set priorities and act on them.
Bartlett brought up the money-saving potential of spending on diplomacy and development.
“We’re helping to prevent fires as opposed to putting them out,” Bartlett said. “That is foreign policy that is cheap as well.”
To prevent anti-American sentiment, Wittman emphasized that the United States must not behave as an occupying force.
“We have to work hand-in-hand with countries to develop stable infrastructure and stable economy,” Wittman said. “We should be there to help sand up those efforts and then back off.”
After Wittman’s speech, Bartlett outlined ONE’s mission and its recent efforts, including the ONE Vote ’08
initiative and ONE’s lobbying efforts in Congress.
Bartlett was optimistic about ONE’s efforts to promote global humanitarian efforts, applauding the willingness of politicians on both sides of the aisle to get involved. When it comes to humanitarian aid, Bartlett said people can “forget the ideologies.”
Peratsakis brought a student’s perspective to the dialogue, pointing out that the student body at the College is very active in promoting humanitarian causes.
“Last year 323,000 hours of community service were done by William and Mary students in the Williamsburg area,” Peratsakis said.
Student involvement is crucial to the long-term viability of humanitarian efforts, he added.
“We dictate how the future will be addressed, [and] how we will address it,” Peratsakis said.