What’s wrong with the world today? A whole lot. War in Iraq, poverty in rural America, malaria in Africa, global warming…the list is endless. But the editors of Foreign Policy
think they have a way to solve these problems and more. The magazine’s new cover story, “21 Ways to Save the World
,” is a collection of short essays on a wide range of global issues by some of the world’s leading thinkers.
Besides the interesting topics and the authors’ engaging styles, I like this series because it forces journalists and scholars—both of whom usually write about problems—to write about solutions. This shift is important because policymakers often get stumped when they hear that issues like high fertility and pollution are concerns of national security—what can they do about these seemingly insurmountable problems?
Most of the dilemmas and solutions presented in the article will be familiar to the informed reader. Amy Myers Jaffe extols the virtues of electricity. Seth Berkeley is optimistic about an AIDS vaccine. Jeffrey Sachs calls for malaria intervention. But some of the proposed solutions will be a tough sell for the policy audience.
For example, as he does elsewhere, Nicholas Eberstadt draws attention to the astonishingly high mortality of Russians—males in particular. He argues that if the United States intervenes, the benefits would be two-fold: humanitarian gains through Russian lives saved, and also political dividends in the form of a strengthened Russian democracy. But increased foreign aid for Russia’s health crisis will likely be a bitter pill for American politicians to swallow for a couple of reasons: First, there are still too many people occupying important government posts who got their first taste of power during the Cold War. For these folks, Russia is still the big bad bear and they may not be too keen on taking action to strengthen the Russian state. And for policymakers who are more humanitarian-minded, Eberstadt’s argument is still a hard sell because there’s simply no room for another needy state. Thanks to relentless campaigning by celebrities like Bono and philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates, the U.S. government is finally attempting to gain traction in Africa and see the deplorable conditions there as both a humanitarian and security concern (AFRICOM is the most recent example of the United States trying to get ahead of the problem). Now they have to save Russia, too?
This gets at the larger issue with the collection of essays. While the editors of FP are noble in their aim to tackle all of the world’s troubles, I fear that policymakers will just continue to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of problems and the multitude of solutions—the deer-in-headlights response. Thomas Homer-Dixon is correct when he writes that problems are complex, systems are complex, and solutions must be complex. With so many problems of equal importance—in an environment where everyone has their issue—and so many solutions of equal viability, how are policymakers ever to choose?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, and a consultant to Policy Planning in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy at the U.S. Department of Defense.