In the News

The rest of the world is much closer to Kansas than it appears. That demands leadership.

Special to the Kansas City Star | Lynn Jenkins and Dan Glickman

Over the past year, we’ve seen just how interconnected our world really is. In a few short months, a virus that originated halfway around the globe went from a distant reality to a force that would upend our lives, disrupt our jobs and put our collective health and well-being at risk.

With 2020 in the rearview mirror, this much is clear: The rest of the world is much closer to Kansas than it appears.

So what can we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure that our world, country and state are prepared for the next global crisis? For us, the pandemic has been a clear and painful example of why America must actively engage in the world. When we work with global partners to tackle big problems that threaten global stability, we maximize benefits for American families while also representing the best of our values overseas.

The right investments in America’s diplomacy and development tools can help protect America’s interests around the world and prevent the next global crisis from spiraling out of control. And while we may hail from different sides of the political aisle, we have both seen firsthand over our years in public service that these investments pay dividends for families in Kansas and across the country.

At the national level, every $1 we spend on preventing conflict internationally is $16 dollars saved in conflict response costs. And when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, wealthy countries deciding not to share vaccines with poor countries could actually cost them between 10 to 100 times more than if they help with vaccinations, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

That’s all the more reason why the U.S. needs to step up and fill a leadership void in the global COVID-19 response as deadly variants surge. The virus is not going away anytime soon. In fact, the death toll in Africa recently spiked 43%, yet just over 1% of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated.

But what exactly are investments in diplomacy and development worth to Kansans? Strictly by the numbers: Nearly 400,000 jobs across our state were supported by international trade in 2018 — more than 20% of all jobs in Kansas. Last year, Kansas companies exported $10.4 billion in good to foreign markets, according to USGLC, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, and exports included $4.9 billion of agriculture goods in 2019.

Startling new estimates on global hunger and famine give even greater meaning to Kansas’ role as a global agriculture exporter. According to recent estimates from the United Nations, more than 800 million people around the world faced hunger in 2020 and close to 12% of the global population was “severely food insecure.”

The escalating hunger crisis exacerbated by the global pandemic is having destabilizing effects, driving both conflict and migration in multiple regions around the world.

But Kansans are working to change that.

Kansas State University is home to four labs partnering with USAID’s Feed the Future Program on innovations promoting agricultural sustainability and resiliency in countries from Ethiopia and Niger to India and Guatemala. This cutting-edge research on sorghum, millet and wheat brought more than $100 million in investment to K-State and inspired a new Global Food Systems initiative to extend research opportunities across the university. This work could not be timelier as supply chains are disrupted and more people are going hungry because of the impact of COVID.

Aerospace exports are another major driver of economic growth and innovation in our state. Known as the “Air Capital of the World,” Wichita’s manufacturing, research, and training supported nearly 80,000 aerospace and defense jobs across Kansas in 2019, according to the Aerospace Industries Association. But aerospace exports are dependent on global demand for new aircraft and travel, which has been severely undercut by the pandemic. It’s one of many stark reminders that ongoing COVID-19 surges overseas will continue to affect our own health and economic recovery here in Kansas until we can stamp out the virus and mitigate its disastrous effects around the world.

Throughout our time in public service, we’ve seen that when the United States engages in the world, we create and sustain valuable partnerships that benefit us at home. That’s what we heard from U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran at a USGLC event last week about the importance of U.S. global engagement. From driving efforts to enhance global food security to ensuring Kansas businesses can compete and win in new markets around the world, Moran has been a champion for the role of Kansas and America in the world.

A key lesson from COVID-19 is that we need to renew our commitment to strengthening economies and relationships with countries around the world — not just because it’s the right thing for our country to do, but because the evidence shows that it’s worth a whole lot for Kansas.

Dan Glickman represented Kansas’ 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977 to 1995 and served as Secretary of Agriculture from 1995-2001. He is currently a senior adviser to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. Lynn Jenkins represented Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2009 to 2019 and currently serves as co-chair of USGLC’s Kansas State Advisory Committee.