“Global inequality is expanding at an insidious rate. If staggering levels of poverty are ignored, future inhabitants of the earth may never know peace and democracy,” said Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Costa Rica’s president from 1986-1990.
Arias was at Wake Forest to deliver the university’s Opening Convocation address and mark the beginning of the Year of Globalization and Diversity, Wake Forest’s yearlong look at the world’s development into a global community.
Arias said an “unrecognized war” was hurting the poor and he pointed to military spending as part of the problem.
“For there is a war going on right now that has gone unrecognized; yet it is as gruesome as any through the course of human history. Called poverty, disease, ignorance and injustice, it is the equivalent of a full-scale siege upon the disadvantaged of our planet,” Arias said.
“Let us recall for only a moment the horror of Hiroshima: hundreds of thousands of lives, wiped indiscriminately off the face of the earth in one terrible instant. Yet we would need 236 such bombs to equal today’s annual infant mortality rate due to malnutrition.”
Arias said globalization has helped reduce poverty in larger and stronger economies, such as China, but has also hurt nations, especially those in developing countries.
“As students, you have only to look at the label on your clothes, and wonder if foreign garment workers labored for a just wage, to see how globalization has touched your lives,” he said to the audience comprised largely of students.
Arias, whose country abolished its army in 1948, suggested the United States and other countries reallocate their military spending to help relieve global poverty.
“Unfortunately, half of the world’s governments dedicate more resources to defense than to health programs. Such distortions in national budgets contribute to poverty and retard human development. War, and the preparation for war, is one of the greatest obstacles to human progress, fostering a vicious cycle or arms buildups, violence, and poverty.”
Restricted arm sales are also necessary, according to Arias. “The poor of the world are crying out for schools and doctors, not guns and generals,” he said.
Arias’ final challenge was to mobilize in a fight to for human security.
“Unlike many previous generations, you will not be sent onto some ethically dubious battlefield with orders to kills. Instead, you are called into moral combat against greed and corruption, poverty and injustice. Your orders are to give life.”
Sign up for weekly news highlights.Subscribe