AIDS: Clinton Declares Disease a Security Threat
Worried that the AIDS epidemic could "topple foreign governments, touch off ethnic wars and undo decades of work in building free- market democracies abroad," the Clinton administration has formally declared the disease a threat to U.S. national security, the Washington Post reports. The declaration is part of a new U.S. effort to fight the disease abroad, sparked by intelligence reports last year predicting that "[d]ramatic declines in life expectancy" among those in African and other impoverished nations due to AIDS would provide a strong risk factor for "revolutionary wars, ethnic wars, genocides and disruptive regime transitions" (Gellman, Washington Post, 4/30). According to ABC's Martha Raddatz, the administration has declared that the "global death rate from HIV/AIDS is so overwhelming, the spread of infection so rapid and the consequences to national security so dire ... that the United States must in effect declare war on the disease" (ABC, "World News," 4/30). Sandy Thurman, director for the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, said, "We have to respond to this because we've never seen a crisis like HIV and AIDS globally. We're beginning to understand that this epidemic not only has health implications, but has implications as a fundamental development issue, an economic issue and a stability and security issue." She added, "With the logistical expertise that the national security community brings, with the diplomatic expertise that is necessary to sort of pave the road for leaders around the world to respond to this epidemic, this gives us a whole new ability to respond to AIDS like we would respond to any other international threat" ( AP/Nando Times, 4/30). But efforts to coordinate AIDS programs with national security forces may face some problems, as "[t]here is no recent precedent for treating disease as a security threat," the Washington Post reports. Hoping to get up to speed on the issue, the National Security Council is conducting a "rapid reassessment" of the government's anti-AIDS activities. Meanwhile, the White House has asked Congress to double overseas spending against the epidemic to $254 million and formed an interagency working group to "develop a series of expanded initiatives to drive the international efforts."
Too Little, Too Late?
Some have criticized the U.S. government for taking too long to act. UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot said: "[T]he good news is that the U.S. government is mobilizing. The bad news is that it took so long. This is not a catastrophe that came out of the blue. It has been clearly coming for at least 10 years." Dr. Helen Gayle, the CDC's AIDS prevention director, echoed the sentiment, noting, "We saw it coming, and we didn't act as quickly as we could have. I'm not sure what that says about how seriously we took it, how seriously we took lives in Africa." Other advocates argue that even with the proposed increase in anti-AIDS spending abroad, U.S. funding is not anywhere near the $2 billion the United Nations estimates it would take to pay for adequate HIV prevention in Africa. Leon Fuerth, national security adviser to Vice President Gore agreed, but maintained that the White House task force is engaged in "'an iterative process' aimed at slowing the plague's rate of increase and alleviating some of its effects." According to Fuerth, the multi-agency panel should finish drafting its proposals this month. They will recommend "the kind of focus and coordination on this issue that [the United States] normally strive[s] for on national security issues." Meanwhile, the Clinton administration has agreed to relax "hard-line positions that protect U.S. drugmakers' intellectual property," and Assistant Trade Representative Joseph Papovich has written the South African and Thai governments in the hopes of resolving intellectual property disputes regarding AIDS drugs. The Post reports that a test of the efforts will come this month, when U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky decides whether to lift South Africa from its "watch list" of countries that could face trade sanctions (Washington Post, 4/30).
Too Much, Too Soon?
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said that he believes AIDS does not rise to the level of a national security threat, arguing that the declaration "is just the president trying to make an appeal to ... certain groups" (AP/Nando Times, 4/30). But Fuerth disagreed. He said: "The numbers of people who are dying, the impact on elites -- like the army, the educated people, the teachers -- is quite severe. In the end, it ... [will] affect the stability of the region. ... In the world that we're facing, the destiny of the continent of Africa matters. And it isn't as if this disease is going to stay put in sub-Saharan Africa" (Washington Post, 4/30).