Saturday, November 26, 2011

Article: U.S. Military Undermined By Environmental Change (Huffington Post)

By Cleo Paskal
Across the US, critical military installations are being put at risk by environmental change. According to the US Department of Defense's (DoD) 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report:
In 2008, the National Intelligence Council [NIC] judged that more than 30 US military installations were already facing elevated levels of risk from rising sea levels. DoD's operational readiness hinges on continued access to land, air, and sea training and test space. Consequently, the Department must complete a comprehensive assessment of all installations to assess the potential impacts of climate change on its missions and adapt as required.
Sounds logical, and forward thinking, and the US military certainly has the expertise to do a proper job of it. However, there are multiple systemic barriers standing in the way 'climate proofing' those critical installations.
The first issue is technical. The new variability caused by environmental change is making risk calculations more complicated. Does one plan coastal infrastructure for a 15cm or 50cm total sea level rise by 2050? 2050 may seem far in the future, but it is well within the lifetime of new infrastructure builds. (Stimulus package funding that went for new infrastructure should have included a rider necessitating that an 'environmental change proof' assessment be made).
Also, we tend to look at environmental factors in silos. The NIC's 2008 focus was primarily sea level rise. However, considering flooding threats alone, coastal sites may be affected by sea level rise, but also subsidence, river flooding, unusually heavy rainfall, and dam bursts. As seen with the recent Mississippi floods, affected areas may be hundreds of miles for the initial impact site, making the catchment area of a true risk assessment much larger than normally used.
This highly focused approach is endemic, and often a result of the limited scope of the orders given. For example, after 9/11, expert teams were sent around US nuclear installations to assess their vulnerability to terrorist threats. That would have been an ideal opportunity to also assess their vulnerability to environmental threats. An opportunity missed, not because the experts weren't qualified to do the assessment, but because it wasn't the remit of the operation.
However, assuming all variables have been taken in to account, and a true assessment of risk is made, adaptation may still be blocked for purely political reasons.
This is not hypothetical. In 1992 Florida's Homestead Air Force Base was virtually destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. In 2005, Mississippi's Keesler Air Force Base was hit by Katrina, smashing around 95 percent of the base, and triggering an evacuation of equipment and people that one would have hoped would have been available to help a region in peril.
Destruction caused by Katrina at Keesler Air For Base, 2005 

What has since happened to those bases is instructive. Over 100 million dollars (in 1993 dollars) was poured into the reconstruction of Homestead, in the politically important state of Florida. And that was in spite of a 1995 recommendation by the Base Realignment and Closure Committee to close the base. However, state and federal level politicians fought for the base, and it stayed open. Keesler suffered 950 million dollars in damages, and was quickly rebuilt, in the same location.
Homestead and Keesler demonstrate why it will be extremely difficult for the US military to engage in real adaptation. Bases are key regional economic anchors, bringing in jobs, infrastructure and investment. No elected official will let one move out of their district without an enormous fight. Even nearly destroyed bases in known vulnerable locations are being rebuilt. It would be difficult to muster the political will necessary to move bases preemptively. The result is narrow regional (the revenue from the bases won't be lost, just moved) political and economic interests are potentially undermining national security.
Another issue is potential government liability. If somehow the military managed to move a base due to concerns over flooding causing by environmental change factors, would that give neighbouring communities the right to ask for similar relocation funds?
Similarly, say a base moves, yet the federal government still provides flood insurance to the region through the National Flood Insurance Program. Then a flood hits and there is loss of life. Would the government be liable for the deaths because one branch, the military, has said this location is too dangerous to stay in, while another branch is subsidizing people through federally backed insurance to stay there? Dismantling, or even limiting, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) would be even more politically difficult than moving a base because it is a key generator of political funding through property taxes and developers.
Ultimately, when it comes to moving US bases out of harm's way, the very real risk to national security caused by the potential loss of critical installations is likely to be repeatedly outweighed by the seemingly more immediate political and economic risk of losing a key regional economic driver.
All throughout the systems, real risk is being distorted, discounted and disguised. If even the well funded, and trained, US military can't get it right at home, imagine the level of the challenge globally. Potential market-based safety mechanisms, like insurance, are being subverted by politically motivated initiatives like the bankrupt NFIP, and caps on liability, which essentially offset the risk from the individual region or sector on to the population as a whole.
The problem is, those costs are adding up, and the public purse is increasingly light. As the environment changes, it will seem like we are building, and rebuilding, and rerebuilding, sandcastles below the high tide mark.
This was adapted from Cleo Paskal's 'Rebuilding Sandcastles' feature for Chatham House's The World Today.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Article: Weeding Out Corruption in India (Huffington Post)

By Cleo Paskal
This is Part Two of a two part series on the roots of corruption in India, and some of what is being done to weed it out. This first part looked at causes of corruption in modern India. The second part looks at how the battle against corruption in India is being waged, and why winning that fight is critical not just for India, but also for global security.
Why Now?
Indians from all walks of life have been the real heroes of the modern anti-corruption movement in India. However, for a long time there was virtually no national-level civil society in India -- most activity was regional, language or religion-based. Much of the media, which could have acted as a national unifier, is owned by some of the same large companies that have benefitted from the existing system. As a result, there was no real challenge to the arbitrary misuse of power.
But several things have changed since the time of Nehru. And key among them are:
  1. Economic liberalization
  2. Positive effects of globalization (including a growing awareness of other ways of doing things)
  3. Increased use of English
  4. Social Media
Economic liberalization.
Until the end of the 1980s, most of the big companies in India were run by the public sector. This large economic turnover offered equally large opportunities for the misuse of funds by the 'corporate' sector and their political overseers. (As a side note, this is the current situation in Iran, where the Revolutionary Guard runs large sectors of the economy.)
Things began to change in 1992, with the economic liberalization policy of Indian Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao. Public control of the 'commanding heights' of the economy was diluted. At the beginning, those personally closer to key government officials developed faster.
During this period of 'influence-based capitalism', many well-connected companies expanded quickly. Naturally, they also used their influence to get changes in policy that favored their businesses. The result was that the growth was often based not on business efficiencies, but on favorable policies.
Devesh Kapur, director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, describes how that affects the Indian middle class by saying: "This middle class is less about 'what the state can do for me' than 'the state is preventing me from doing what I want to do.'"
In the mid-1990s, there was a growth breakthrough in sectors unconstrained by regulations. For example, the vast regulatory system was slow to catch on to the IT sector and service industries. As a result of this blind spot, both sectors grew exponentially, and quickly became global players.
This has resulted in the creation of a new class of business people who have succeeded not through corruption, but in spite of it. While previously, industry grew through influence/corruption, the new private sector finds corruption not an asset, but a hindrance.
Positive Effects of Globalization.
This new globally competitive business sector is largely fluent in English and social media savvy. They see how things are being done elsewhere and want the same efficiencies and freedom from corruption at home.
And it's not just the business sector. The number of people with a vested interest in an honest system has exploded. From the newly educated middle class to those in rural areas, people are becoming aware that the local corrupt officials are part of a larger system that is smothering the country and stealing the future from their children.
Through the common use of English and technological innovations like cheap mobile phones and Internet access, a truly national Indian civil society is coming of age. It has seen that corruption is not necessary. For example, not long ago, something as simple as booking a rail ticket or flight could require a bribe. Now it can be done cleanly online. Before, getting a phone line put into a home or office took months and a pay-off. Now you can get a mobile phone and SIM card at the corner shop.
Times have changed. And, when it comes to corruption, the Indian public isn't going to take it anymore.
What now?
As understanding grows that corruption isn't fixable in a one-off solution, those who have been tracking and analyzing these issues for decades are stepping forward. On October 14th, India's newly formed Action Committee Against Corruption in India (ACACI) held its first official meeting. The Committee's core team consists of many key members of the brain trust who have been guiding the movement since the early days, and is a who's who of the anti-corruption wars.
Some of the members:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Article: Roots of Corruption in India (Huffington Post)

By Cleo Paskal
There is a revolution in India.
Individual by individual, an anti-corruption wave is growing within Indian civil society. In recent months, people from all sectors of Indian society have said 'enough is enough' and, each in their own way, are doing something about it. Some are taking to the streets, others are online, some are using the courts, others have turned to the media. The swelling wave has already washed away one government minister and is lapping at the ankles of some of the country's biggest players.
The implications are global. As the West and India work more closely together, corruption in India risks spilling over into partner systems. By cleaning up India, Indians are not only reclaiming their own country, they are making the world a more stable place. For anyone interested in lasting global security, it's important to understand how India has ended up where it is today, and what Indian civil society is fighting for.
Origins of Corruption in Modern India include:
  1. Public sector pay and powers
  2. The tax collecting system
  3. Campaign financing
1. Public Sector Pay and Powers
When the British took over large sections of what is now India from the East India Company, the British government acknowledged that, given the vast discretionary powers of the administrators, there could be the temptation to skim from the booty. So, they put in place a system that ensured that British officials posted to India would be very well paid -- and punished for dishonesty -- in order to mitigate the urge to dip into the coffers.
When India gained Independence in 1947, Prime Minister Nehru retained the extensive powers of the British colonial administration -- including laws that gave officials the right to intervene in almost any aspect of daily life. However, at the same time, he also dramatically reduced salaries in the public sector.
The result was a system in which an enormous number of poorly paid public employees had wide-ranging opportunities to 'make a bit on the side' through administrative coercion. It was almost inevitable that corruption would start to infect the system.
For example, the average Indian policeman is paid so poorly that taking bribes is almost part of the salary structure. In 2009, the housing allowance for the head of a police station in Mumbai, one of the most expensive cities in the world, was $45 a month. To be able to afford to house themselves and their family, it is not surprising if some have resorted to taking bribes. Usually the informal 'income supplement' is limited to relatively minor cases, like a small pay-off to get out of a traffic stop, but once the rot sets in, it can spread fast and deep.
Similarly, the Indian legal system is staffed by underpaid law clerks, prosecutors and lawyers, and moves at the lethargic, erratic pace of a drunken slug. Wealthy accused can give bribes for bail or for stay orders that can last for decades or a lifetime, if necessary. As a result, the Indian legal system is a weak deterrent to crime.
The problems with the system were so obvious that when Lee Kwan Yew set up his administration in Singapore, he was careful not to replicate India's mistakes. He ensured that officials were well paid (and harshly punished for indiscretions). Currently, in Singapore, the Prime Minister earns over five times the salary of President Obama and top ministers are paid around $1million a year. Corruption is extremely low.
2. Taxation. 
In India, the situation grew even worse with Nehru's introduction of a tax scheme designed in large part by Hungarian Nicholas Kaldor. By the 1970s, the highest earners were required to pay 
93.5 percent in tax. And, in some cases, the combined wealth and income taxes exceeded actual income. In many cases, it was simply not possible to survive if you paid the tax that was legally required. Combine this with the enormous discretionary powers of the tax collectors and, again, it was inevitable that tax evasion through corruption began on a massive scale.
3. Campaign financing. 
Simultaneously, a range of profitable sectors were heavily restricted by the government, including some foreign trade and the sale of liquor. The result was that by the 1960s, as in the United States during prohibition, mafia elements took control of the sectors, generating huge amounts of black money.