African Aids epidemic 'could cause revolution and war'

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The Independent Online

The ravaging of southern Africa by Aids, and the prospect that the disease could soon bring social and economic disaster on a similar scale to southern Asia and areas of the former Soviet Union, has prompted the White House to designate the disease a national security threat.

The ravaging of southern Africa by Aids, and the prospect that the disease could soon bring social and economic disaster on a similar scale to southern Asia and areas of the former Soviet Union, has prompted the White House to designate the disease a national security threat.

The epidemic it warns "could topple foreign governments, touch off ethnic wars and undo decades of work in building free-market democracies abroad".

Alarms were sounded in part by an internal report, called a National Intelligence Estimate which calculates that a quarter of southern Africa's population will die of Aids. It is the first time that an infectious disease has earned the attentions of the American security apparatus.

Some of the countries worst affected "will face demographic catastrophe," report said. It warned that dramatic declines in life expectancy are a prime factor for "revolutionary wars, ethnic wars, genocides and disruptive regime transitions". The social consequences of Aids, it added, appear to have "a particularly strong correlation with the likelihood of state failure in partial democracies".

The report also warned that by 2010, parts of Asia, and India particularly, could be suffering even higher levels of infection than is seen in sub-Saharan Africa now. It added that rapidly rising infection levels in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union could "challenge democratic development and transitions and possibly contribute to humanitarian emergencies and military conflicts to which the US may need to respond".

The White House move may also lead to an increase in the amount of money Washington is willing to spend to curb the spread of Aids overseas. The National Security Council is spearheading a reassessment of US involvement in anti-Aids campaigns worldwide, the Washington Post reported yesterday. A working group is due to report back to the council on options for action this month.

The Clinton administration is seeking a budget of $254m (£163m) to combat Aids worldwide in 2001. While this would be double this year's allocation, the figure is still small alongside many of Washington's foreign military programmes.

Meanwhile, South Asia is set to replace the Middle East as the hub of terrorism in the world, according to a new report to be published by the US State Department this morning.

In its annual assessment of terrorist risks, the US foreign service specifically chides Pakistan and Afghanistan for providing assistance and safe haven to terrorist groups. It stops short, however, of adding either of those countries to the list of nations considered to sponsor terrorism.

Countries cited in that list face automatic US sanctions, including the withholding of aid and loans. As in every year since 1993, the state department names Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Sudan and North Korea. It argues that some of those countries may soon qualify to be removed from the list, however, including Syria and North Korea.

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