The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for the U.S. to think globally about the issues that threaten our domestic security. Considering the unprecedented economic upheaval American industries, small businesses, and families are facing today, in addition to the longstanding threats confronting our armed forces abroad, the international scope of targeted U.S. policymaking has never been more important.

One such policy area that presents perhaps unexpected benefits to our national security is international conservation, efforts funded by the U.S. that support the security of our troops abroad and, more generally, make our world a safer place.

With growing threats from those who seek to exploit vulnerable communities to advance violent and criminal goals in opposition to U.S. interests, it is important for our government to invest in forward-thinking programs abroad that support the long-term stability of local communities.

Building wells, promoting sustainable agricultural practices, and other conservation-focused efforts abroad that ensure communities are supported not only promote peace and quell social unrest, but prevent criminal organizations from capitalizing on strife through recruitment efforts and other exploitative practices proven to undermine U.S. national security interests in strategic regions.

During my service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, I saw firsthand the value of U.S. programs that go beyond providing immediate aid and invest in the long-term future of communities who we want to remain stable long after a military presence is pulled back. Conservation and sustainability work abroad must be viewed as complimentary efforts to the work done by the U.S. military to keep the peace.

International conservation also encompasses wildlife protection efforts, yet another suite of programs with unexpected value for U.S. national security interests. Many criminal and terrorist organizations gain funding from the poaching and trafficking of endangered species and sale of endangered wildlife products – like tiger pelts, rhino horns, and shark fins. Through international conservation, the U.S. has an opportunity to support local wildlife law enforcement and stamp out a source of funding for those that seek to harm Americans.

We all, of course, recognize the need for diplomacy and other non-military strategies to avoid conflict and stabilize strategic regions. Any work that prevents the need for military intervention and saves the lives of our young men and women in the armed forces should not only be explored but supported.

Given the global, interconnected society we live in today, U.S. investments in international conservation efforts – which account for a fraction of 1% of the federal budget – must be viewed as a strategic imperative for the safety of our armed forces and our nation.

As a former Noncommissioned Officer and Purple Heart Veteran of the United States Army, I believe it is essential that we have leadership in Washington which understands the need to legislate through an international lens with the security of our armed forces – and our nation – top of mind. With fellow veterans like Congressman Mike Gallagher representing Wisconsin in Congress, we should count on their continued support of these programs as they navigate other crucial and time-sensitive issues.

— Johns is a U.S. Army veteran and serves as the current State Commander for Veterans of Foreign Wars Wisconsin.

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