HIV/AIDS and Security

Tasneem Jamal Defence & Human Security

Kristiana Powell

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2003 Volume 24 Issue 2

Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), has noted that HIV/AIDS “is devastating the ranks of the most productive members of society with an efficacy history has reserved for great armed conflicts.” The HIV/AIDS pandemic is not only a public health crisis; it’s also a security issue. Where HIV/AIDS is prevalent in epidemic proportions, its effects on personal, communal, economic, national, regional, and international security can be as devastating as violent conflict. But this is only half of the equation. Instability and conflict can actually exacerbate the spread of HIV/AIDS, generating a cycle of disease and insecurity that threatens to become more severe and uncontrollable if not addressed immediately and conscientiously by the world’s most powerful states.

The human security complex

The link between HIV/AIDS and personal and communal security has become increasingly obvious in recent years. The pandemic wages its most direct affront to human security by lowering life expectancy. It is estimated that AIDS will soon reduce the average life expectancy of people in 11 African countries to little more than 30 years (Boseley 2002). The death of adult family members often leads to the dissolution of the family structure and frequently results in drastic declines in household income. The US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) notes that “[i]n sub-Saharan Africa, when one family member becomes infected with HIV/AIDS, the family’s income tends to fall between 40 and 60 percent.” Children orphaned by AIDS are more likely to drop out of school due to an inability to pay school fees or because of the social stigma attached to being an AIDS orphan. Without an education or a well-developed set of skills, these children are more likely to resort to crime to support themselves and are at higher risk of being recruited or abducted by militias or other armed groups (Pharaoh and Schonteich 2003, p. 9).

Large-scale loss of life from AIDS also undermines family and community cohesion and can serve to exacerbate divisions between ethnic, political, and social groups. This social tension can make societies more vulnerable to internal conflicts that can take on regional or international dimensions. In addition, as politicians, teachers, police, and health care professionals die or are unable to work as a result of HIV/AIDS, governance and social service structures are weakened. Consequently, public confidence diminishes and the population’s interests are not addressed, creating a climate of social unrest and disorder. As the International Crisis Group (2001, p. 19) notes, “It has long been clear that every successful society needs institutions that bind its members together; that make and adjudicate laws and norms for resolving conflicts peacefully; and that help people meet their human needs and educate their children for a better tomorrow. The burden HIV/AIDS places on human and financial resources puts institutions of governance under threat just as they are needed most.”

HIV/AIDS is an economic security issue. In countries where many members of the labour force are dying from AIDS or are too ill to work, there is a reduction in national income. Agriculture and mining, key sources of foreign exchange, are directly affected by such labour shortages. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has concluded that: “HIV/AIDS is major threat to the world of work: it is affecting the most productive segment of the labour force and reducing earnings, and it is imposing huge costs on enterprises in all sectors through declining productivity, increasing labour costs and loss of skills and experience” (ILO 2003).

The devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on human capital can also serve to discourage foreign investment in some countries. A study conducted by a British House of Commons Committee suggested that companies are increasingly reluctant to invest in Africa because they are concerned that HIV/AIDS will cause instability in the workforce and the markets. Even conservative estimates from the World Bank anticipate that when national infection levels are higher than 5 per cent, economic growth slows considerably. Growth halts completely at infection rates of 10 per cent (CSIS 2002).

The poverty and widespread unemployment that characterize declines in national income can make societies more susceptible to extremist tendencies and violent revolutionary movements. Moreover, economic insecurity can create conditions that encourage the spread of the disease. If people have less money for food and suffer from malnutrition, they become more susceptible to disease. Women and girls can be driven to engage in commercialized sex to make a living or to supplement meager wages, thereby increasing their risks of contracting HIV/AIDS (IRIN 2002).

HIV/AIDS is linked to national, regional, and international security. In Sub-Saharan Africa, security institutions, including the police and military, are being weakened by the pandemic. A weakened police force is less capable of keeping crime under control and addressing social tension in peaceful ways. In addition, a high HIV infection rate in its military leaves a country more vulnerable to external aggression by opportunistic states (Sarin 2003). The infiltration of HIV/AIDS into military ranks can undermine a country’s capacity to contribute to peacekeeping operations and other forms of international conflict management and resolution. At present a significant portion of UN peacekeeping troops comes from those countries hardest hit by high HIV/AIDS infection rates; illness among these troops may have dire consequences for UN peacekeeping missions.

But there is another point to be made here. Just as HIV/AIDS likely creates conditions conducive to instability and conflict, evidence suggests that such instability and conflict may accelerate infection rates. This relationship is well documented in studies relating combatants and peacekeeping personnel in conflict zones to the spread of the disease. By engaging in sexual relationships with prostitutes and local women while on mission, peacekeepers and combatants often contract and spread the virus. They then infect their sexual partners when they return home. Rape also transmits the disease among both combatants and civilians. In camps for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP), women and children are likely to be victims of sexual violence and exploitation as well as to engage in prostitution in the absence of other income-generating opportunities. Some researchers speculate that soldiers faced with the prospect of dying from AIDS may participate in riskier behaviour both on and off the battlefield, and may be less motivated to support longer-term efforts to secure an end to the conflict.
The first step

In recent years, HIV/AIDS has been recognized as a security issue by international organizations and world leaders. The reframing of the HIV/AIDS crisis as a security issue has served to raise its profile and has helped attract the attention and support of international organizations and powerful world leaders. In July 2000, the United Nations Security Council made history by passing a critical resolution acknowledging the role HIV/AIDS could play in undermining international peace and security, marking the first time the Security Council has deliberated on a health issue. Resolution 1308 stresses that “the HIV/AIDS pandemic, if unchecked, may pose a risk to stability and security.” The resolution further recognizes the symbiotic relationship between HIV/AIDS and security and notes that the pandemic “is also exacerbated by conditions of violence and instability, which increase the risk of exposure to the disease through large movements of people, widespread uncertainty over conditions, and reduced access to medical care.” While a step in the right direction, the Security Council’s Resolution does not go far enough; indeed, rather than calling on its member states to adopt a broad-based approach to the pandemic and its human, national, and international security implications, the resolution focuses on preventing infection among peacekeeping personnel.

The US has also acknowledged the link between HIV/AIDS and security. In 2000, the US Central Intelligence Agency produced a National Intelligence Estimate that classified HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases as a national security issue. The report states: “New and emerging infectious diseases [including HIV/AIDS] will pose a rising global health threat and will complicate US and global security over the next 20 years. These diseases will endanger US citizens at home and abroad, threaten US armed forces deployed overseas, and exacerbate social and political instability in key countries and regions in which the United States has significant interests” (The National Intelligence Council 2000). Recognizing that HIV/AIDS can have disastrous implications for US national security as well as international peace and stability, the Bush administration has strengthened its commitment to halting the spread of the disease in those countries hardest hit. In addition, the 2003 US Global AIDS Bill identifies HIV/AIDS as a potential threat not only to national and international stability but also to personal, economic, and communal security, thereby placing the pandemic within the parlance of human security. The Bill allows Washington to provide up to $500-million to the “Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria,” provided that the rest of the G8 countries, Canada included, give a total of US $1-billion.

Canada has articulated the relationship between HIV/AIDS and security. In September 2001, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service published a report by John Harker that acknowledged the potential threat HIV/AIDS poses to Canadian peacekeepers serving on missions in highly affected areas and working alongside peacekeepers, military, and civilian police from countries with high levels of infection. The report also notes that HIV/AIDS could undermine the effectiveness of the security sectors in a number of countries in Africa and could lead to widespread instability and insecurity throughout the continent.

Canada has also formally acknowledged that HIV/AIDS is a human security issue. When Canada was chair of the UN Security Council in 2000, Ambassador Michel Duval, Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations, conceded that “[t]he AIDS pandemic represents a formidable threat to the development of government institutions, economic growth, political stability and human security in many parts of the world.” However, while Canada has taken a number of steps towards combating AIDS, particularly in Africa, its support is inadequate. Canada has pledged $25-million a year to the Global Fund. According to an equitable funding arrangement based on gross domestic product that is used to determine dues to the United Nations, Canada should be contributing US $60-million (Nolen 2003a). Moreover, the Canadian government has not comprehensively integrated HIV/AIDS considerations into its human security agenda.

Canada must emphasize more strongly the threat that HIV/AIDS poses to human, as well as national and international, security. We should strive to apply HIV/AIDS considerations systematically to the development and evaluation of the human security policies of DFAIT, CIDA, and DND. In addition, Canada can play a leadership role by placing HIV/AIDS firmly on the international agenda as a human security issue in need of greater attention and funding. So far, as Stephen Lewis, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS, estimates, the Global Fund has received only a few hundred million of the US $5-billion required for 2003-2004 (Nolen 2003b). Most importantly, for Canada’s efforts to appear credible, we have an obligation to build on the momentum generated by the UN and US initiatives and step up our financial contributions to fight AIDS throughout the world.
Moving forward

The relationship between HIV/AIDS and security is complex. HIV/AIDS is a human security issue because the disease can jeopardize personal, communal, and economic security. It is also a national, regional, and international security issue because it can contribute to internal instability and external conflict. At the same time, human insecurity and internal or external instability and conflict can accelerate the spread of the disease.

While progress has been made, much remains to be done in acknowledging the link between HIV/AIDS and human security, and in generating the necessary support from the international community to combat the spread of the disease and to address comprehensively its security implications. Canadians, and all the world’s citizens, have a moral imperative to fight this disease that claimed over 3 million lives in 2002. Failure to act could result in widespread insecurity and the accelerated spread of HIV/AIDS throughout much of the world.

Boseley, Sarah 2002, “AIDS Cuts Life Expectancy to 27,” The Guardian International, July 8.

Center for Strategic and International Studies 2002, The Destabilizing Impacts of HIV/AIDS, May.

Harker, John 2001, “HIV/AIDS and the Security Sector in Africa: A Threat to Canada,” Commentary No. 80, September 26.

International Crisis Group 2001, HIV/AIDS as a Security Issue, June 19.

International Labour Organization 2003, “Preventing HIV/AIDS in the World of Work: A Tripartite Response,” May.

IRIN 2002, “Congo-DRC-Rwanda: Conflict Fuelling the Spread of HIV/AIDS,” July 10.

National Intelligence Council 2000, The Global Infectious Disease Threat and Its Implications for the US, January.

Nolen, Stephanie 2003a, “Canada’s global AIDS funding criticized,” The Globe and Mail, June 4.

—– 2003b, “G8 Retreating from Disease Commitments: Activists,” The Globe and Mail, May 30.

Pharaoh, Robyn and Martin Schonteich 2003, AIDS, Security and Governance in Southern Africa: Exploring the Impact, Paper 65, Institute for Security Studies, January.

Sarin, Radhika 2003, “A New Security Threat: HIV/AIDS in the Military,” World Watch, March/ April, pp. 17-22.

Spread the Word