Is world hunger a national security issue?

by Chuck Woolery

May 28, 2016

By Chuck Woolery

The most important thing for the public to learn about on World Hunger Day on May 28 is that world hunger is increasingly a national security issue.   And it was even before the creation of The Hunger Project (THP).  Shortly after THP’s creation, President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 Presidential Commission on World Hunger concluded, “In the final analysis, unless Americans — as citizens of an increasingly interdependent world — place far higher priority on overcoming world hunger, its effects will no longer remain remote or unfamiliar.  Nor can we wait until we reach the brink of the precipice; the major actions required do not lend themselves to crisis planning, patchwork management, or emergency financing… The hour is late.  Age-old forces of poverty, disease, inequity, and hunger continue to challenge the world.  Our humanity demands that we act upon these challenges now...”

Elsewhere in the bipartisan commission report, the links between national security and world hunger were mentioned fourteen times.  These commissioners unanimously warned about the future consequences if we ignored such a gross violation of human rights.  They stated: “The most potentially explosive force in the world today is the frustrated desire of poor people to attain a decent standard of living. The anger, despair and often hatred that result represent real and persistent threats to international order…  Neither the cost to national security of allowing malnutrition to spread nor the gain to be derived by a genuine effort to resolve the problem can be predicted or measured in any precise, mathematical way. Nor can monetary value be placed on avoiding the chaos that will ensue unless the United States and the rest of the world begin to develop a common institutional framework for meeting such other critical global threats as the growing scarcity of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources, environmental hazards, pollution of the seas, and international terrorism. Calculable or not, however, this combination of problems now threatens the national security of all countries just as surely as advancing armies or nuclear arsenals.”

They also stated: “The Commission believes that promoting economic development in general, and overcoming hunger in particular, are tasks far more critical to the U.S. national security than most policymakers acknowledge or even believe. Since the advent of nuclear weapons most Americans have been conditioned to equate national security with the strength of strategic military forces. The Commission considers this prevailing belief to be a simplistic illusion. Armed might represents merely the physical aspect of national security. Military force is ultimately useless in the absence of the global security that only coordinated international progress toward social justice can bring.”

There should be no doubt that the world we have today is a result of our lack of taking this Commission seriously.  There have been other Commissions since that have detailed the threats of infectious diseases, terrorism, climate change and the cost and horrific consequences of ignoring global prevention and rapid response efforts.

One of the root causes of the war in Syria was the hunger of farmers driven off their land by three years of draught…possibly linked to climate change.  The ultimate human cost and consequences of this festering conflict is now threatening the structural and political stability of the EU itself, and increasing disharmony in many other Western democracies because of the fear of refugees linked to extremists.

Even the most recent reports of Syrians starving in their own cities because of Syrian government forces blocking humanitarian relief efforts is met with limited action.

We cannot expect this and other forms of human suffering due to lack of good nutrition, clean water, sanitation and basic health services to continue without global consequences.

Few people remember that World War I both aided the spread of the “Spanish flu” and was finally ended by it, because more soldiers had died from it than from the war fighting.  The hyper Globalization we have today could spread any new or re-emerging infectious disease as fast as an airline flight from Beijing to Los Angeles or Paris to New York.

A new book titled “Eleven” by Paul Hanley asks and answers an urgent question:  Can we feed the projected 11 billion people by 2100 without destroying the earth’s ecosystem?  He says “yes” but with major shifts required in current human values and priorities.  Failing that, it’s hard to imagine our nation, or any American, being healthy and secure with a dysfunctional global ecosystem.

Ending hunger isn’t just the moral or right thing to do.  It is a wise and urgent thing to do.  The world is changing fast.  Can we?

Author Biography: Chuck Woolery is a past Chair of the United Nations Association Council of Organizations

(The views expressed above are the author’s and not necessarily the views of the UNACO or World Hunger Education Service.)



  • World Hunger Education
    P.O. Box 29015
    Washington, D.C. 20017
  • For the past 40 years, since its founding in 1976, the mission of World Hunger Education Service is to undertake programs, including Hunger Notes, that
    • Educate the general public and target groups about the extent and causes of hunger and malnutrition in the United States and the world
    • Advance comprehension which integrates ethical, religious, social, economic, political, and scientific perspectives on the world food problem
    • Facilitate communication and networking among those who are working for solutions
    • Promote individual and collective commitments to sustainable hunger solutions.