We’re pleased to announce the winners of The Nation‘s sixth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing what they think is the most important issue facing their generation. We received hundreds of submissions from high school and college students in forty-one states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Bryan Wilson Stucki of Virginia Tech University and Hannah Moon of Brooklyn College Academy in Brooklyn, New York. The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists, $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. The Editors

In George Washington’s farewell address, he explained how entanglement in foreign affairs is counterproductive to constituents’ interests in the midst of crucial domestic problems. This may have been true centuries ago, but with today’s weapons technology, danger can proliferate with much greater destructive force than Washington could have ever anticipated. Dealing with these threats requires tremendous international cooperation, and this effort is supported by the United Nations, an assembly representing every sovereign country in the world. Unfortunately, there have been instances where the organization has failed to accomplish its mediating duty among countries in conflict. These failures have prompted some to call for abandonment of the institution altogether, a scary proposition considering that diplomatic cooperation is the most pressing necessity and issue to the survival of the human race.

One should understand, however, that universal collaboration can do more than temper contentious powers. Fighting dangerous climate change requires standards for all countries; making drastic cutbacks on greenhouse gas emissions in one country won’t protect our planet from flooding and species extinction without help from other nations. This truth escapes some nations who don’t want to conform to accountability benchmarks, including the United States, one of the world’s most influential powers. We as human beings need to overlook our nationalities and understand that the essence of humanity is not based on political borders, but the shared necessity of a stable planet.

Still, there most certainly will be human-caused conflict in the near future that will require international intervention. Past international conflicts and the paucity of developed countries’ aid to developing countries shows that sovereign states are primarily concerned with their own well-being. They have the right to consider their people first, but if the past is any indication, persuading foreign powers to avoid conflict and oppression is beneficial to everybody. Concentrated oversight on Iran’s nuclear program was a global effort, even while some countries didn’t participate. This lack of cooperation is likely because the threat seemed less tangible and immediate, but not taking part in these procedures can have fatal results. With declining international participation, the potential consequences are more realistic than ever before.

This important objective is under threat because of fiscal irresponsibility, financial crisis, and differing economic priorities around the globe. Many American politicians, for example, argue that it’s unjustifiable to aid other countries when the United States is in tremendous debt and lacks jobs. While these issues are not to be ignored, they must be overcome to assume the responsibility of international diplomacy. Resources distributed to those fiscal problems make international relations harder to deal with than ever before, but sometimes the most deadly hazards are the ones without boundaries.

Still, advancing with an agenda that recognizes this fact is difficult, as the desire to spend money abroad is not always popular. According to The Economist, in the United States, 71% of Americans think that the United States should cut its spending on foreign aid. In reality, less than 1% of federal money promotes such causes, a figure which not only shouldn’t be cut, but should be increased. These international efforts protect the country by dismantling terrorist organizations, directly and on a more fundamental level: education. Other funds help fight AIDs in impoverished countries. This helps slow the worldwide epidemic and soothes relations between Africa and the US, something that may come in handy if an unyielding ruler developed a hatred of the United States.

If more governments around the world supported some of these causes, violence and disease around the world could largely dissolve, and make the world a better place for everyone to live. Therein lies the problem: not only will there not be more governmental work for this problem in the future, but there will likely be less work. Turning that tide around will be one of the most important challenges of the coming years.