There is no greater tragedy on the planet today than the deadly AIDS epidemic sweeping Africa and south Asia, but is this disease that's killing millions really a threat to U.S. national security as the Clinton administration claims?
The threat, based on a National Intelligence Council estimate, is that AIDS will wipe out developing countries' middle classes, causing revolutions, ethnic wars and dangerously radical regimes. Moreover, the loss of millions of lives would dry up markets for U.S. products and services.
While taking little issue with the NIC findings, congressional critics claim national security, at least in the conventional military sense, is not at stake and that the administration is using the report to scare up more AIDS relief for Africa -- to $254 million, double what we're spending now.
Perhaps the critics are right, but so what? Broadening the definition of national security to include deadly infectious plagues and viruses is a good administration strategy. Most Americans are not usually moved by talk of more foreign aid. Mention a national security threat and they'll want Congress to turn on the money spigot.
But even putting national security aside, there's still a strong case to be made to boost aid to Africa -- a humanitarian case -- and not just to combat AIDS, either. The continent is being ravaged by famine, drought and other fatal diseases.
The minimum estimate needed to put Africans' health care on track is about $4 billion. The U.S., based on gross national product, is spending less than any other industrialized nation. We can and should do better -- not just because of national security, but because it's the right thing to do.