When coronavirus burst onto the scene earlier this year, we had no idea how this health crisis would affect every aspect of American life, infecting almost 8 million people nationwide and devastating communities across Illinois. 

As a former Navy intelligence officer, I learned how to analyze different scenarios from top to bottom, paying particular attention to weaknesses, as they provide entry points for danger and disruption. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic straining many of America’s established systems— particularly the economy, healthcare, and agriculture— we’re opening ourselves to vulnerabilities that threaten our health, safety, and security.

As our country’s leaders deliberate how to address COVID-19 here at home, they should consider this: in the face of these growing threats, fighting COVID-19 overseas is critical to the success of any U.S. domestic response. COVID-19 is only getting worse globally, and America will never be safe from COVID-19 if it continues to rapidly spread beyond our borders. 

To defeat this deadly disease, we need dedicated resources for the State Department, CDC, USAID, and other development agencies who are on the frontlines of the global fight against COVID-19. Their efforts also decrease the likelihood of COVID-19 returning to our shores and minimize future threats to our families and communities in Illinois.

Without international resources, there will be gaps in our domestic response, which could spell trouble for our economic recovery and national security, as well as the lives of millions worldwide.

Because of COVID-19, we are experiencing an economic fallout that will likely continue for years, if not decades. In Illinois, the agricultural industry has been especially impacted, with many farmers and ranchers unable to sell their crops, cattle, and other goods. Delays and disruptions in global supply chains have amplified these issues, leading to higher instances of food waste alongside spikes in global hunger and food insecurity. Without reliable access to food, the World Food Program estimates 300,000 people could die daily from hunger. 

Reviving international trade and global supply chains will require the assistance of the United States and our allies— especially in developing countries, which have been hit hard by the pandemic and humanitarian crises that worsen each day. These countries accounted for over 50% of U.S. exports before COVID-19, and as some of our biggest trading partners, their economic recovery will only drive our own.

Our investments in global health and humanitarian assistance can help these countries get back on their feet and save countless lives, while also helping preserve progress they’ve made against poverty, hunger, and other development challenges.

With COVID-19 distracting much of the world, there are prime opportunities for bad actors to wreak havoc. That’s exactly what’s happening in fragile regions around the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, violence has risen over 35% since the outbreak of COVID-19 as Boko Haram and extremist groups attempt to sway civilian support and destabilize country governments. Our military leaders warn that the spread of the virus and accompanying instability could also lead to a resurgence of ISIS in Syria and neighboring refugee camps— many of which are already overburdened and ill-prepared to deal with COVID-19.  

A dedicated U.S. international response would help defuse these regional tensions, provide resources for communities to fight COVID-19, and address the motivating factors behind violence and fragility. By using the power of development and diplomacy, we prevent our country’s military men and women from unnecessarily going into harm’s way. 

Beyond our own interests, stepping up America’s international response is essential for asserting our global leadership and reassuring other countries that we’re a trusted partner in times of crisis. If the U.S. doesn’t take action, other countries like China are more than willing to stand in our stead— a troubling possibility, as China has demonstrated repeatedly that they don’t hold the same respect for democracy and human rights as the United States. 

While conversations on emergency COVID-19 funding may be stalled on Capitol Hill, these issues aren’t going away. To date, Congress has devoted just 0.1% of emergency funding to fight the pandemic internationally— a number that isn’t enough to tackle the threats that COVID-19 poses to our country’s health and security. As bipartisan negotiations continue, I urge Illinois’ congressional leaders to support more robust funding for an international response to COVID-19.

We have the power to act, to prevent these weaknesses from threatening the health and well-being of communities here and around the world. By taking action, we can help turn the tide of this pandemic and ensure the coronavirus is a global threat no more.

Craig Ratajczyk was most recently CEO for the Illinois Soybean Association. He retired from the U.S. Navy after serving more than 29 years, in both active and in a reserve capacity, with the U.S. Navy Intelligence Community. He is currently a member of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Illinois Advisory Committee.

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