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Food Insecurity is a Counterterrorism Problem Flickr

Food Insecurity is a Counterterrorism Problem

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By Victoria DeSimone / WiSe Fellow

Food insecurity continues to rise across the globe due to market disruptions, production, declining purchasing power, resource mismanagement, and poor government policies. The current U.S. administration has harshly criticized the use of foreign aid and advocated for large cuts in U.S. aid assistance to developing countries. These proposed cuts in foreign aid will result in stark consequences on global food security.

Food security has not been at the center of the conversation as to why terrorism exists. However, this matter will continue to be a critical issue for the United States as a national security concern. Although there is still much uncertainty regarding the current government’s policies toward terrorism, it is safe to assume that it will take a stronger approach to the issue. With that in mind, it is incredibly important to understand the correlation between food insecurity and terrorism.

Research conducted by the New England Complex Systems Institute contends that price spikes in food and civil unrest are correlated. Examples of this can be seen throughout history. Most recently in 2011, the Algerian and Tunisian Arab Spring came to fruition partially due to the dramatic price increases in sugar, oil, and flour. Terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and ISIL among others, have used food insecurity to recruit and promote their political objectives. Notably, ISIL was recently seen redistributing food aid in Iraq from several humanitarian organizations to gain trust from local populations.

Conflicts involving food insecurity provides a ripe opportunity for the emergence of extremist groups to arise in these vulnerable areas. In another study conducted by the World Food Program, they found that “food insecurity … heightens the risk of democratic breakdown, civil conflict, protest, rioting, and communal conflict.” The study does point out that food insecurity alone is never the sole cause of conflict. There are numerous other factors like the existence of insufficient political institutions, social safety nets, and a lack of economic development that are required to make the “perfect storm” for conflict. Additionally, violent conflict of any sort can result in higher food prices and food shortages for local populations; creating a domino effect.

As the food crisis worsens, countries such as Somalia, Pakistan, Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Egypt, and many others will become more at risk to terrorism and political instability. Many of these countries already suffer from terrorism and corrupt governance making them more vulnerable as the situation continues to deteriorate. More broadly, the lack of access to critical resources like food and water can lead to civil unrest not only in developing or unstable countries but countries that are of strategic importance to the U.S., such as China and Russia. The causes for food insecurity will continue to impact the U.S. government’s counter terrorism and national security efforts at home and abroad. If terrorism is a concern for the U.S. government, then they must address food insecurity in developing and unstable countries.