The costs and consequences of violence are plain: more than 5,000 American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (and tens of thousands of civilians), bloodied protesters on the streets of Tehran, innocents massacred in the "safe zone" between government forces and rebels in Sri Lanka, rockets fired into Israeli schools and the resulting invasion of Gaza. But less clear and more ominous are the origins of conflict--the quiet, often unreported injustices, deprivations, and scarcities that callously rob so many millions of opportunity, drive families to flee their homes, and wrench nations from hospitality to hostility. And all this, too frequently, before a single bullet is fired.
A host of global efforts are helping us to understand the roots and mitigate the tragic outcomes of disease, famine, oppression, unemployment, demographic pressures, and climate change--a collection of threats now known collectively as "human security." There is a widely held theory that if we can satisfy these basic needs and desires, then the most fertile breeding grounds for military conflict will be neutered at the source. We have seen the rise of a global humanitarian aid industry, scientific studies to parse the causes of failed states, and a commitment by the United Nations under the Millennium Development Goals to stamp out poverty and bring millions of people back from the brink of disaster. Even the Pentagon is attuned to the reality that tanks and jet fighters alone cannot rid the world of its ills. Among a broad spectrum of threats, the National Intelligence Council's report "Mapping the Global Future" also notes the potential dangers of biotechnology, the status of women, global aging and migration, organized crime, corruption, and increasing globalization. It is time we heed the warnings.
Today, we stand on a precipice. Never before has humanity faced such an assortment of severe and emerging hazards. Likewise, never before has humanity possessed the capability to mitigate, even remedy, so many perils. Though we...