The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Re-examining the ‘Rise of the South:’ The Need for a Paradigm Shift

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on April 18, 2013
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Summary: The 2013 Human Development Report highlights the complex and often contradicting dynamics of paths to human development and offers a critical note into the ‘rise of the South’ and how novel exclusive regional institutions may not work in an interdependent world.

The Human Development Reports (HDR), published since 1990 are critical updates on the progress of human development across regions and the country rankings, and at the same time, active endorsement of the human-centred development paradigm that the UN imbibes. Entitled ‘The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World,’ the 2013 HDR came out more as a surprise and evoked a sense of both optimism and confusion. The exercise of using the notion of the North-South divide seems contradictory to the UN paradigm of human development. Such conflicting messages highlight the complexity of issues in achieving human development.

One issue is equality. The Report boasts of the accelerated rate of progress in low and medium HDI countries. However, this simply cannot be the basis of less inequality contrary to the report’s assessment that ‘the world is becoming less unequal,’ since it also noted the ‘wide disparities’ and rising ‘income inequality’ within and between countries. This highlights how country-based assessments can be impractical tools for measuring human development, more so, equality.

Another issue is the generalisation of the ‘South.’ The Report notes that not all developing countries are on the ‘rise’. This paints a picture that, given those countries that the Report highlighted that are rising and the least developed countries (LDCs) not ‘participating fully in the rise of the South’, the Report may have misused the term ‘South.’ Which ‘South’ is it referring to then? The use of binary terms to denote the developed and developing status of countries may not be useful for a paradigm of human development (which differs more so within countries). Dividing the world into the North and South has been wilfully debunked by the UN in the 1990s when it came up with the first Human Development Report. In the report, the use of the ‘South’ as a term comes heavily loaded with interpretations that used to be in the purview of those focused on economic development and growth indicators.

Finally, the HDR highlights that institutions such as a new ‘South Commission,’ are necessary to ‘facilitate regional integration and South-South relationships.’ The existing institutions at the international and regional level already make the system complex and some may already be outdated. However, new institutions may not be necessary.  New institutions may unfurl the ties that already bind countries together and reverse the trend of current trends of multilateral cooperation and collaboration, for example, any progress made by ASEAN and its offspring extra-regional institutions. Reinventing the wheel and promoting the exclusivity for ‘South-South’ relations may not be the best path to pursue. However, a long sought-after shift in paradigm about development frameworks and norms to address the challenges of ‘enhancing equity, enabling participation, confronting environmental change and managing demographic change’ is definitely in order.

This blog post was written by Gianna Gayle Amul. She is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

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Unveiling the Cloak of Secrecy in the Defence Sector

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on March 22, 2013
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On January 2013, Transparency International (TI) released the first ever global analysis of corruption in the defence sector. Known as the Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index, it analyses what 82 countries do to reduce corruption risks. The analysis reveals that 70 per cent of countries lack the tools to prevent corruption in the defence sector; 45 per cent has little or no oversight of defence policy; half of the countries assessed have minimal evidence of scrutiny of defence procurement and lacks transparency in their defence budgets. In all, the global cost of corruption in the defence sector is estimated to be a minimum of USD20 billion per year.
India, which was ranked by TI in the High Risk category, offers an interesting case study of how, in a fully functioning democratic country, the defence sector remained the domain of a handful of political and military elites and how corruption in arms procurement eroded people’s faith in them and the country’s military preparedness. India is now the world’s largest importer of conventional weapons. Its share of global arms imports reached 10 per cent during 2007-2011 and it increased to 12 per cent during 2008-2012. However, increasing imports of weapon systems has not been matched by institutional oversight allowing individuals to benefit from it. The scandal over the purchase of 400 artillery from Sweden in the 1980s was considered a watershed moment as it involve those from India’s highest political office and it led to the electoral defeat of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress Party in 1989. In March 2001, news portal Tehelka’s“Operation West End” exposed corruption’s pervasiveness among India’s military and political elites and the nexus that existed between them and arms dealers known as ‘middlemen’.

India will continue to spend huge amount of money on arms acquisition. Indeed, as part of its modernisation plans, the country is expected to spend more than USD100 billion on weapon systems over the next 15 years. By 2015, India would have spent USD43 billion on “one of the largest procurement cycles in the world.” The scale of defense spending makes the scope for kickbacks considerable, and increases the need for vigilance against corruption.This calls for more transparency and accountability through, for example, improving public access to information about defence budgets and procurement. Also, law-makers should have stronger controls and oversight, and the tools with which to cut down corruption. Putting stronger measures in place would not only improve India’s security but it will also save the country billions of dollars.

Tightening the Noose on Wildlife Trafficking

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on February 13, 2013
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Wild living resources, under appropriate governance and management, can provide livelihoods for many, in particular rural people. If done well, the sustainable use of wildlife also provides an incentive to conserve natural ecosystems. However, the problem arises when the level of exploitation is capable of heavily depleting wildlife populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Indeed, the world is dealing with an unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade, threatening to overturn decades of conservation gains and driving extinction of animal species faster than they can adapt. Rhino poaching and illegal horn trade, for example, were reportedly at their highest levels in 2011. By the beginning of that year, there were an estimated 20,165 White Rhinoceros and 4,880 Black Rhinoceros in Africa. At least 1,997 rhinos were poached between 2006 and 2012 and over 4,000 rhino horns have been illegally exported from Africa since 2009. Elephant poaching also reached its highest levelsin a decade in 2011 with an average of 100 elephants per day was killed for ivory. Tiger population has also declined from more than 100,000 in the 1900s to 40,000 in the 1970s to 3,200 now.

Demands for wildlife products have risen in step with economic growth in consumer countries. Rhino horns for example are seen as highly desirable status symbols in parts of Asia, notably Vietnam, but also increasingly in China. It is also seen as the new delicacy of choice among Vietnam’s high-rollers. When the young, fashionable and rich gather to party, they spice up their drink with rhino horn powder. These status-conscious hedonists include men who believe that rhino horn can enhance their sexual performance. It is also believed to serve as hangover-curing tonic and to cure cancer and high fever and is used for expensive gifts to curry favour with elites. Tiger skins and bones are also in great demand for decorative or medicinal use. As a result of these, illegal tradein wildlife products has reached an estimated USD 7.8 to USD 10 billion per year.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) observed in its 2012 report observed that illicit wildlife trafficking compromises the security of countries as much of the trade in illegal wildlife products is run by criminal groups and the profits can be used to finance civil conflicts and terrorist-related activities. Illicit wildlife trafficking also destroys natural wealth by depleting species and in some cases leading to their extinction. In light of these, the report urges governments to acknowledge that the current global approach to fighting illicit wildlife trafficking is failing because governments do not give the issue high enough priority and have not succeeded in implementing an effective response – at either a national or an international level. The absence of an effective response hindered social and economic development, including potential economic loss for governments, and has consequences on the environment as well as national and international security. Protecting wildlife, especially the endangered ones,required governments to increase law enforcement, deterrence and reduce demand for endangered species products.

Human Trafficking: The Threat of Numbers

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on October 3, 2012
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According to US government statistics, there are 27 million victims of human trafficking in the world today, with 1.5 million more victims added every year. Despite the extent of the problem, people tend to turn a blind eye on the issue because it does not directly affect their lives. Civil society organizations have recognized how a transnational organized crime such as human trafficking is invisible to much of society. Organisations like Free the Slaves based in Washington and Emancipasia, a newly established organization based in Singapore, argue that human trafficking has become the crux of ‘modern slavery’ that extends from the sex and entertainment industry, agriculture, fishery, domestic service to construction and factory work.

Sylvia Lee, founder of Emancipasia, pointed out in a Brown Bag Seminar at the National Institute of Education on 19 September 2012, that on the supply side, the high incidence of poverty in many countries in Southeast Asia contributes to the main factor for the increase in the victims of human trafficking- men, women and children who are thrown into prostitution, forced labor and exploitation through deception and threats on their lives. On the demand side, Lee highlighted that the high consumer demand for commercial sex pushes the demand for human trafficked prostitutes while the demand for cheap products pushes the demand for cheap and even unpaid labor in the worst working conditions. Profits from exploitation of trafficked persons generated in Asia and the Pacific alone is estimated at USD 9.7 billion.

Lee highlighted that human trafficking has become an industry that maximizes profits with almost no risks involved. She noted that the lack of risk stems from the pitfalls of socio-cultural and legal frameworks that defy a consistent legal definition for human trafficking which has focused more on the movement rather than the exploitation. The lack of cooperation between countries to address human trafficking (whether origin, transit or destination country) adds to this lack of risk for the USD 32 billion industry. The corruption endemic in many societies also provides a loophole for the industry to stretch its web of influence over persons of authority including law enforcement personnel who are in many cases the perpetrators of human trafficking.

There is still lack of effective international cooperation and consensus on collecting reliable data or even a common legal definition of human trafficked persons. Difficulties in criminalizing or persecuting human traffickers and protecting and reintegrating the victims back in society confront policymakers and policy implementers in different countries (origin, transit, and destination). In a February 2012 report, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that it has globally provided assistance to individual trafficked persons on 5,498 occasions in 2011, 860 were in East Asia and the Pacific. Compare this statistic to the number of people being trafficked annually and it paints a dismal picture. There is always an opportunity for governments to cooperate more to act on human trafficking through encouraging transparency and accountability in the law enforcement sector; promoting awareness and vigilance in society about the modus operandi of traffickers and; sharing best practices in protecting and reintegrating trafficked victims.

Trafficking in Persons: Importance of identifying what is and what is not

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on June 19, 2012
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Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is one of the most serious transnational crimes. An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are believed to be trafficked across international borders each year and annual profits generated by TIP are estimated at USD32 billion. This makes it the second most profitable transnational crime in the world after drug trafficking.

Singapore has long argued that it does not have a serious TIP problem. However, it has developed renewed interests on the issue in recent years. According to Mr S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry, Singapore is “an attractive hub of economic activity with high people flows……and would be seen as an attractive destination country by human trafficking syndicates”. Although it is difficult to estimate the scope and scale of TIP in Singapore, it is probable that an unspecified number of the estimated 200,000 to 250,000 women and children who are trafficked from Southeast Asia each year could potentially have been destined for Singapore or could have transited through it. This probability is supported by US Department of State and ECPAT International reports that have identified Singapore as a destination and transit country for both sex and labour trafficking. Finally, Singapore has always taken pride in maintaining a reputation as a highly competitive, uncorrupt location with an excellent business environment. In contrast, its performance in reports that ranked countries based on their efforts to combat TIP is far from stellar. TIP is thus seen as detrimental to Singapore’s global image and reputation. As a result of these factors, Singapore established an Inter-Agency Taskforce on TIP in 2010 and has also launched a National Plan of Action (NPA) on 21 March 2012 to guide the Taskforce in combating TIP.

Singapore’s efforts to combat TIP however risked becoming mired in confusion and its effectiveness compromised. This is because distinctions have not been made between exploitation in general and the exploitation outcome of trafficking. The failure to make this distinction could lead to TIP becoming a byword for exploitation in general. For example, one prominent advocate believes that confiscation of passports, intimidation and threat, non-payment of salaries, and wrongful confinement equals trafficking. Most importantly, she also asserts that exploited domestic workers are victims of trafficking. However, according to the UN Trafficking Protocol, trafficked victims are those who are recruited and transported by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception or of the abuse of power for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery, and removal of organs. Thus, not all forms of exploitation and not everyone who endured exploitation are cases of TIP.

Effectively addressing TIP requires a clear distinction between exploitation and the exploitation outcome of trafficking. The failure to make such distinctions could compromise the effectiveness of the highly essential targeted responses and will lead to the wastage of valuable resources.

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Transboundary Waters: Triggers of Conflict or Cooperation?

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on May 6, 2012
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A recent report by the National Intelligence Council of the US State Department released on 22 March 2012 offered grim assessment on the state of future water security. The report “Global Water Security” predicted that as water becomes scarcer, shared river basins will increasingly be used as leverage, a weapon or even as a means to further terrorist objectives in the next 10 years.

Such observation however is not new. Scholars such as Gleick (1993), Homer-Dixon (1994) and Chellaney (2007) have long argued that transboundary rivers could act as potential triggers for inter-state conflicts in the 21st century. This is due, in large part, to the complicated nature of shared river basins. As of 2002, the UN identified 263 major international river basins. These basins accounted for 40 per cent of the world’s population and 60 per cent of global freshwater flows. Most importantly, a total of 145 countries are riparian states to one or more of these basins making transboundary rivers notoriously difficult to manage.

Despite this, scholars such as Libiszewski (1995) and Wolf (1998) argued for the possibilities (and historic evidence) of cooperation between co-riparian states. Wolf et al (2003) noted that the only recorded incident of an outright war over water occurred more than 4000 years ago between two Mesopotamian city-states, Lagash and Umma, in modern-day Iraq. Historically, water tensions have led to more water-sharing agreements than violent conflicts. This was evidenced in the more than 3600 water-related treaties that were signed between 805 and 1984.

Signing of water treaties, however, does not necessarily translate into greater cooperation. What matters is the quality and scope of the treaties. For example, countries in South Asia managed their shared waters primarily through bilateral agreements which focussed almost exclusively on issues such as water quality, water quantity, navigation, hydropower, border issues, economic development etc. Although bilateral treaties help reduce chances of conflict between riparian states, its narrow focus did little to help manage water sustainably and prevent conflicts in the long run. In eastern Africa, despite the formation of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), member countries are still locked in a dispute over water sharing. Similar trends can also be observed in Central Asia where talks on water sharing among countries of the Aral Sea basin have come to a grinding halt.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) in Southeast Asia and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) in Europe are one of the few existing examples of successful regional cooperation over shared waters. Both river basin organizations are established through legally binding treaties which embraces not only the socio-economic needs of riparian states but also the entire river ecosystems through the adoption of an approach known as the Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM). High degree of institutionalisation and engagement among riparian states makes the MRC and the ICPDR shining models of cooperation on transboundary rivers. The experiences of these river basin organizations showed that strong regional institutions are prerequisites for successful transboundary water cooperation. Most importantly, it demonstrated that sustainable management of water requires efforts that balances socio-economic needs of riparian states with river ecosystems.

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From Singapore: A Lesson in Water Management

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on September 19, 2011
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Singapore is an interesting example of a water scarce country that has overcomed the odds and emerged as one of the recognised global leaders in water management. The city state has long relied on Malaysia for 40 per cent of its fresh water needs under two water agreements namely the agreements of 1961 (expired in April 2011) and 1962 (to be expired in 2062). These two agreements are seen as fundamental to Singapore’s existence so much so that the city state is prepared to go to war with Malaysia if it ever dishonours the agreements. However, the general mood following the expiration of the 1961 treaty on 31 August 2011 is one of optimism rather than angst. What accounts for this optimism? It is Singapore’s growing confidence in its ability to meet its freshwater needs through local sources such as rain water capture, recycled water, and desalinisation that fuelled this optimism. We will consider them in turn.

Although Singapore enjoys heavy rainfall, it lacks sufficient watersheds and natural rivers from which to draw water. The country compensates this limitation by constructing a series of reservoirs all over the island. There are currently 17 such reservoirs covering two-thirds of the island’s landmass. Then there is NEWater which is essentially purified wastewater. There are currently five NEWater plants in operation and they provide 30 per cent of Singapore’s total demand for freshwater. This share is expected to increase to 50 per cent by 2060. Finally, desalinised sea water supplied 10 per cent of Singapore’s water needs. Singapore currently has one such plant in operation. With the completion of a second plant in 2013, desalination will account for 30 per cent of Singapore’s freshwater needs. In addition to improving water supply sources, Singapore has also introduced water conservation and efficient-use initiatives. The 10-Litre Challenge, for example, encourages households to reduce their daily water consumption by 10 litres. The 10% Challenge, on the other hand, encourages the business sector to reduce their water consumption by up to 10 per cent if not more. These initiatives allow Singapore to reduce its domestic water consumption from 172 litres per capita per day in 1995 to 154 litres today.

What are the lessons for other parts of the world? Water is the only resource that has no substitute. As such, scholars have increasingly identified the growing freshwater scarcity as a source of acute conflict or even war in the 21st century. Such link is most pronounced in regions such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). According to the Water Stress Index 2011, the 16 nations suffering extreme water stress all hails from the MENA region. MENA is not only the world’s most water-stressed region but also one of the most politically volatile. Growing water scarcity will further worsen the already dire socio-economic and political conditions of the region. Water stressed countries may well learn those aspects of Singapore’s water management practices that best suited them in order to turn weakness into strategic strengths as Singapore did.

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Problems with measuring economic costs of crimes

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on August 15, 2011
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In the Asia-Pacific, Police Forces have recently expressed a desire to academically measure the economic cost of crime as this would reportedly “provide valuable insights into operational policy-making resource reallocation and police’s strategies to deliver the mission.”  At first glance, efforts to inform the public, rationalize spending and offer a better measurement of policing efficiency seem worthy of public support and gratitude. After all, crime is often seen as one of the most serious non-traditional security issues. Yet, a closer look at the proposition to measure how much crime cost, reveals several problems that it may present.

Generally speaking, crimes fall into two categories: non-profit and profit driven ones. The former includes all acts driven by emotions, urges and ideas. The problem is that, by definition, these crimes are not committed for the purpose of acquiring any type of wealth and as such their potential economic “costs” can only be indirect. And indeed, some academics argue that it is possible to estimate the cost of these crimes in terms of the victim costs (medical expenses, counseling), criminal justice system costs, lost productivity estimates for both the victim and the criminal, and estimates on the public’s resulting willingness to pay to prevent future violence. In reality, such an estimate could be rough at best and in most cases rather absurd or controversial. While crude economic calculations can perhaps be helpful in measuring the scale and consequences of the security-related expenditures, they can also lead to a conclusion that some people (richer) are more “valuable” than others.

The problems with measuring the indirect costs of crimes apply also to the profit-driven offences. Yet, the very economic dimension of these crimes might suggest to some, that it could be possible and indeed desirable to measure their direct costs. However, this might turn out to be quite problematic. In order to understand why, it is important to note that there three basic types of profit-driven crimes: predatory, market-based and commercial. The first category involves crimes based on involuntary transfer of wealth. In this case, empirically speaking, the economic losses to victims are probably in a reverse relationship to the likelihood of violence:  a well-planned burglary is likely to bring in more “profit” and less violence than a mugging in a back-alley. Hence, economic cost logic would suggest that it would be more rational to protect rich institutions at the expense of all but the richest individuals, even if the latter were to experience more violence. A similar rationale could hint that nearly all police efforts should be aimed at fighting commercial crimes that involve serious (and hence costly) business frauds or breaches of trust. In the case of some market-based crimes, such as trade in pornography or drugs, it could create confusion since the mere act of prohibition might be seen as more costly than the crimes themselves.

This brings me to the main point. As it was observed by a prominent economist, in crime fighting moral considerations should always take precedence over crude economic calculations. After all, not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.

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Human Trafficking in Singapore? The Perils of Sensationalist Crusades

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on June 24, 2011
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On Saturday, 11th June 2011 the Straits Times published a special report on human trafficking in Singapore. According to its authors, ruthless criminals lure and trick innocent women and children from around Southeast Asia to be enslaved as prostitutes across the island. What is more, even the ones (less innocent?) who arrive in Singapore consenting to work in the sex industry, can easily become abused and cheated by evil traffickers. This gloomy vision is illustrated by a few terrifying (and almost pornographic) anecdotes about “lucky” survivors of the horrors and by descriptions of the brave and noble NGO anti-trafficking/rescue organizations.

Fortunately, at least according to ST and rescue NGOs, Singapore has decided to act in order to end this “nightmare” The country is now working towards signing a United Nations treaty to prevent human trafficking. It has also decided to create an anti-trafficking task force and generally treat the problem more seriously. It seems that this new approach was largely motivated by Singapore’s desire not to be seen as a “bad” country in the annual U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report. Last yearSingapore was downgraded following its lack of serious efforts to comply with the only right standards promoted by the American administration. Whatever the motivation behind the new strategy, the problem is that focusing efforts and attention on “human trafficking” is not likely to resolve the real problems faced by migrants.

In my last NTS Alert I highlighted major problems with the very concept of “human trafficking”. The main issue is that the human trafficking discourse obscures the complexities of illegal migration and employment. It assumes that people especially women from poor countries are naïve, pathetic and helpless and that they need to be “rescued”. It ignores the fact that illegal migration is a risky business. With the exception of extreme cases of actual kidnappings, it always contains some element of consent and potential risks of abuse. However, the anti-traffickers assume that poor people do not have free will and could not possibly decide to take these risks. They also believe that no one would choose to work in some “bad” industries or under some “bad” conditions. Hence, it is argued that the reason why very few migrant sex workers claim to have been trafficked is that they were forced to lie with no evidence for that other than one anecdote. As a result, those fighting human-trafficking often end up fighting migration and employment of those they deem “vulnerable”. The ST story actually praises the efforts of the Philippine government to identify “potential victims” and to arbitrarily deny them the right to travel.

If one was serious about protecting migrants from abuse, deception or violence, he or she should think more about making their work and residence legitimate. It is because these are illegitimate that so many migrants experience deception and abuse. The government of Singapore already recognizes such crimes as kidnapping, rape or theft. What is needed now is not a new crime, but appropriate provisions that would protect everyone from the above.

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War on drugs kills

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on June 10, 2011
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At the beginning of June an international group of high level politicians (or ex-politicians), businessmen and intellectuals called the Global Commission on Drug Policy published its report on the worldwide “war on drugs”. Both the findings and the recommendations of the report might come as shocking to many of its readers. The authors of this publication argue that the global war on drugs has been a large failure that has brought devestating consequences for individuals and communities across the globe. In their opionion, the massive spendings on criminalization and strict repressive measures that have been undertaken for the last decades have “failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption.”(p.2) What the repressive measures have resulted in so far is incarceration of millions of people (predominantly casual drug users) that has resulted in destroyed lives and families without any fundamental reduction of the “availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations.” (p.3).

According to the Commission, this new gloomy reality is not only condemnable, but also in stark contrast with the initial goals of all anti-drugs measures. The authors of the report try to highlight the fact that the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs “made it clear that the ultimate objective of the system was the improvement of the ‘health and welfare of mankind’”. In other words the intention behind all anti-drug measures was to have less crime, better health and more development. Yet, the authors of the report find that it is obvious now that none of these goals has been achieved by the war on drugs.

But these findings are in fact hardly new or surprising. For decades countless, journalists,criminologists, economists, scientists and officials have been informing the public that the war on drugs has been little more than a complete disaster. Even the fact that that the Commission calling for (at least partial) legalization of drugs is formed by some of the most prominent political, business and intellectual figures of the globe (such as Kofi Annan, Javier Solana, Paul Volvker, Richard Branson, Thorvald Stoltenberg and many others) is not any kind of revolution. Nearly 200 years ago Abraham Lincoln himself stated that:

“Prohibition [in that case of alcohol] will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species  of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”

What is truly shocking is how come the war on drugs has not been abandoned despite all the evidence and arguments against it. War on drugs (or any other prohibition on personal moral choices) has always been questionable. What needs to be questioned today is who and why sustains its existence.

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Some basic thoughts on the nature of organized crime PART 1

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on April 15, 2011
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Organized crime (both in the national and transnational forms) has long been seen as a great challenge to the prosperity and security of ASEAN as a whole and its individual member states. Criminal activities in the region are seen as more and more alarming as they are perceived to be increasingly powerful, “organized” and “transnational”. Indeed, in order to tackle these issues, the global police club, Interpol, has begun construction of its regional headquarters in Singapore.

On the surface it appears that the public might share the governments’ concerns, as surveys indicate that crime is generally perceived to be one of the major social problems. One should note however, that what the public regard as criminal might have much more to do with ordinary (“visible”) crime rather than with some organized transnational crime so much feared by governments.  In any case, it appears that the general understanding of the nature of the latter and the difference between the two has been quite limited. In this blog entry, I want to highlight some of the main differences between ordinary and organized crime.

The first thing that comes to mind when talking about organized crime is that it must involve some degree of organization. In other words, it cannot simply be a pub brawl (no matter how brutal). While this is true, the mere fact that some criminal activity may require some organization does not necessarily make it a part of organized crime. For instance, if two robbers decide to snatch purses using a scooter, they must be organized enough to buy (or rent) the scooter, but it does not mean that their actions are anything other than ordinary criminality. Even sophisticatedly planned bank robberies fall under the category of ordinary “project crimes” and not organized crime. At the same time, as it was rightly observed by Naylor, “(…)not all underground entrepreneurs who peddle dope or kiddy porn belong to hierarchical and durable organizations. What makes organized crime different is that its participants organize not just to participate in the market for criminal goods and services but also to dominate that market.”

Indeed, what really characterizes organized crime is not that it sometimes might involve forced redistribution of wealth (which is the crucial component of all profit-driven ordinary crimes), but rather that it attempts to dominate a market for specific illicit goods and/or services (such as sex services, gambling, drugs, etc.). Operating in a market for “forbidden consumption desires” (as labeled by Naylor) usually involves a whole range of illegal activities, such as smuggling and trafficking, bribing, forging, money-laundering, etc. While many of the above require crossing borders, the bottom line is that the main driver for organized crime is the local demand for illegal commodities. Hence it comes as no surprise that many see organized crime as a type of “enterprise” resembling legal businesses. In my next blog entry I will try to show this notion must be taken with a grain of salt.

Migration Analysis – A Progressive Anti-Trafficking Measure

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on April 6, 2011
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A significant barrier to curbing human trafficking is the inability to verify its nature. Inaccurate data collection is linked to difficulties in defining human trafficking. Identifying ‘exploitation’ existing within the illegal trafficking process cannot be clearly distinguished from that existing in formal or legal migratory processes. Feminist studies note that anti-trafficking efforts, presently concentrated within a criminal justice framework, ought to be strengthened by analysing the links between migration and ‘exploitation’ in clandestine industries. This is an effective approach to make visible and mitigate the subjection of migrants to illegal ‘exploitation’.

While theoretically accepted, it is important that policy-makers recognise that human trafficking should be assessed subject to wider migration pressures. This is essential for the effective protection of victims of trafficking. For example, the dominant effect of anti-trafficking measures within the sex industry is the termination of the sex worker’s employment and consequently repatriates her to her country of origin. This approach is becoming untenable as it is emerging that the approach does not reconcile with the choices of many presumed victims of sex trafficking. Therefore, a migration analysis would allow a better understanding of the ‘agency’ of trafficked persons caught in the processes. This would question the effectiveness of criminalising those in the sex trade and may suggest that it is more effective to encourage efforts towards addressing the ‘exploitation’ or work conditions within the sex industry.

Encouragingly, the Asia-Pacific region is inching towards this approach in policy-making. The 4th Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and related Transnational Crime was held recently in Bali between 29 – 30 March 2011. A significant outcome of the negotiations was its emphasis on ‘managing migration’ to effectively address the varying problems and needs of persons subjected to the spectrum of irregular migration: economic migrants, human trafficking, people smuggling and asylum seekers.

Incorporating ‘managed migration’ into the Bali grouping’s efforts to curb human trafficking is a progressive anti-trafficking measure. The effectiveness of anti-trafficking measures dominated by law enforcement measures is widely debated. The inability of destination states to distinguish between political asylum seekers or persons smuggled such as in the case of the Rohingya from Myanmar, led to perilous living conditions for these people. These persons, experiencing an intermingled state of political and economic migration, are effectively ‘re-victimised’ by being subjected to criminal inquiry by law enforcement agencies.

The aim of the Bali grouping is formal recognition of the varying migrant categories and consequently promoting and supporting opportunities for orderly migration. Analysing the trends of human trafficking and smuggling from a migration lens will develop targeted knowledge of and sensitivity towards the varying categories of migrants, amongst states. This is to be achieved through greater engagement between countries in the region and relevant international organisations. The intention that this should inform infrastructure dealing with irregular migration is reflected in its Regional Cooperation Framework 2011.  The framework requires the establishment of consistent assessment processes for asylum seekers and to develop anti-trafficking measures with greater sensitivity to economic, social and political root causes. Essentially, if acted upon, this could be a substantial step towards reducing the number of migrants succumbing to illegal or ‘underground’ means of migration.

Human Trafficking or Digits Smuggling?

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on February 28, 2011
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Recent developments in the Arab world have attracted tremendous attention from international media. While an army of experts and journalists seem very puzzled about the basic reasons, nature and meaning of the revolts, they all express a striking confidence in describing the events using numbers (concerning anything from the size of Cairo crowd to the numbers of Libyan refugees). This reminds us that the world today is obsessed with, and dependent on, quantification. As Peter Andreas observes, “In practical political terms, if something is not measured it does not exist, if it is not counted it does not count.” Indeed, many people seem to unconsciously assume that the numbers on TV and in newspapers are a product of omniscient experts and even the most fantastic figures generate more credibility than lack of any.

There are however two major problems with our reliance on numbers. First of all, when figures in themselves gain importance, it is easy to forget about their relevance, usefulness and context in which they should be placed. Second of all, we can become easily manipulated by inflated, deflated, or plainly false statistics. This is especially true in the case of phenomena that are particularly difficult to quantify. One such phenomenon is human trafficking.

Journalists, politicians, activists and members of respectable international organizations constantly tell us about the thousands (or even millions) of people that each year become victims of evil traffickers. For instance, both in 2006 and 2010 claims were made that 40,000 women would be trafficked to the World Cups in order to satisfy the desires of profligate football fans.

What these numbers have in common is that they rarely have identifiable sources or transparent methodologies behind them. Indeed, studies conducted after the World Cups revealed that the numbers of trafficked women were pulled out of thin air and had no reflection in the reality. Similarly, the NGOs’ estimates on the numbers of trafficking victims in places like Britain seem to be made up. Even the figures presented by such bodies as the UN are questioned and called “dubious”.

So why do the large figures continue to be produced? First of all, NGO activists, law enforcement officials and politicians understand the best way to secure more power and resources is to present scary, huge numbers. Second of all, no constituency exists for keeping the numbers accurate. Finally, it is because big numbers sell well in the media.

One could argue, that since we will never be able to get any accurate numbers of human trafficking victims, we shouldn’t focus too much on the specific figures, but instead just try to tackle the problem. But I believe that when we ignore the ambiguity of statistics on human trafficking, we also choose to ignore the more and more apparent ambiguity of the very concept of human trafficking.  Let’s not forget that by uncritically accepting various figures, we also uncritically accept the very existence of the problem in the form described by their authors.

Managing Transboundary Rivers

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on January 11, 2011
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ON 3 December 2010, the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies co-hosted a one day workshop with the Strategic Foresight Group titled the’Benefits of Cooperation in the Himalayan River Basin Countries’. This workshop underlines the need to move beyond bilateral cooperation and towards inter-regional cooperation.

The Hindu-Kush Himalaya (HKH) or simply the Himalayan region extends from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar and China in the east, and runs through Pakistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. This region has the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar ice caps and is therefore aptly referred to as the “third pole” or Asia’s “water tower”. Ten huge Asian river systems – Tarim, Amu Darya, Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze, and the Yellow – originate from the Himalayan region. Most of these rivers are transboundary rivers and are imporatant sources of livelihood for an estimated 1.3 billion people or around 20 per cent of the world’s population. A good gauge of the transboundary significance of Himalayan rivers is the dependency ratio. Dependency ratio is the amount of water resources originating outside a country. The dependency ratio of selected Himalayan basin countries are Afghanistan-15 per cent; Bangladesh-91 per cent; China-1 per cent; India-34 per cent; Kazakhstan-31 per cent; Myanmar-16 per cent; Nepal-6 per cent; Pakistan-77 per cent; and Vietnam-59 per cent. Despite the transboundary significance of Himalayan rivers, there is currently no institution that manages them. What exists is an assemblage of bilateral agreements or treaties among riparian states which are seen as an end in themselves. These treaties however are limited in scope as they address only water sharing, flood control/management, hydrological information sharing, cooperation on multipurpose hydel projects etc. There is an urgent need for countries of the Himalayan region to move beyond the current sectoral approach to managing shared rivers and initiate cooperation at the basin and watershed level. This is because Himalayan rivers are highly vulnerable to climate change as they are fed by melting ice from glaciers atop the Himalayan mountain range and the Tibetan Plateau. Climate scientists and geologists warned that 70 per cent of glaciers in the Himalayas will disappear by the end of this century.

An integrated management of not just rivers but also the entire hydrological features is thus the only way to sustainably manage Himalayan rivers. Here, the Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) approach could prove useful. IWRM implies not just the management of water but also the management of co-dependent natural resources namely soil, forests, air, and biota. At present, implementation of IWRM at the basin level in the Himalayan region is hindered by the lack of trust and confidence among riparian states. Trust and confidence can be established by first strengthening existing bilateral treaties. Bilateral treaties therefore must be seen not as an end but rather the means towards inter-regional cooperation.

International Labour Conference 2011 – To Be or Not to Be A Significant Milestone for Domestic Workers

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on January 5, 2011
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Human rights violations experienced by female migrant domestic workers are well-documented in news reports. A significant contributory factor is the lack of labour protections, as reflected in concerns expressed by domestic workers – unregulated work hours and conditions, non-payment of wages and the work place as a place of residence. The nature of live-in domestic work excludes female domestic workers’ their reproductive rights. Strict conditions on mobility and personal space impact on the ability of domestic workers to maintain ties with their trans-national families. The lack of labour protection sustains unequal power-relations between employer and employee, underpinning increased instances of physical conflict. This year offers an opportunity to assess if the Southeast Asian region is committed to protecting the rights of domestic workers. At the International Labour Conference in June 2011, an International Convention and, or Supplementary Recommendations to extend labour standards and social protection to domestic workers all around the world may be adopted. It will be seen through the role regional countries play in furthering international standard – setting on the regulation of domestic work, their commitment to addressing the rights concerns of domestic workers.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), domestic work is an important sector of employment in East and Southeast Asia. Worryingly, child exploitation in this sector is gaining prominence (pp. 28).  It appears that Brunei Darussalam, Singapore and Malaysia are destination countries, while the other Southeast Asian countries are mainly sending nations with internal and international migration of mostly women. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) reports that domestic workers from Indonesia and Philippines make up 96 percent of the population in Hong Kong and 90 percent of the population in Singapore. Hence, the role of migrant domestic workers in sustaining the region’s economy should not be under-estimated.

The economic importance of migrant domestic workers to the region is witnessed through remittances obtained by sending countries. Remittances attributable to migrant labour was the region’s saving grace during the recent financial crisis. According to the World Bank, labour exporting economies – the Philippines and Indonesia – were amongst the top 20 recipients of remittance in 2009. Post-financial crisis data reveals remittances from those employed abroad offered better security than official development aid linked to the MDGs.

The leap forward this June, to adopting regulations for domestic workers can be a milestone. This progression will bring regulation of the precarious nature of domestic work into the public sphere, within the auspices of State responsibility. It appears from current consultations that governments of Southeast Asian destination states are apprehensive of the binding-nature of regulations, preferring the prospective instrument to be a Recommendation rather than a Convention. However, it is the substance rather than the effect of regulations that matters. Regulations by the ILO would be a result of the most inclusive international decision-making process – tripartite decision-making – and instrumental as models and targets for national labour laws. They can provide a framework for trade unions, civil society and non-governmental organisations to support changes in policy, law and practice. Therefore, it is more important that inclusive debates on the issues are undertaken by all sides, within sending and receiving countries.

Malaysia: A Test Case for Water Reform

ON 5 November 2010, the opposition alliance party of Malaysia, Pakatan Rakyat, organised a protest rally over the long-standing issue of water privatisation in the state of Selangor. This event underscores the growing resentment against private sector management of water in Selangor (and elsewhere in Malaysia) where it is seen as benefiting cronies of the ruling federal Barisan Nasional party. The protest also highlights the need to de-politicise water resources in order to sustainably manage it.

Selangor, while under the Barisan Nasional party, gave concessions (ranging up to 30 years) to private companies like the Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (SYABAS) to supply water to Selangor and the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya under the Concession Agreement of 15 December 2004. The agreement also granted private companies the right to hike water tariffs by 37 per cent in 2009, 25 per cent in 2012, and 20 per cent in 2015.

In the 2008 election campaign, Pakatan Rakyat promised households in Selangor 20 cubic metres of free water each month. Upon winning majority votes, Pakatan Rakyat immediately sought to nullify the Concession Agreement and demanded the takeover of water resource  management in Selangor from private operators and the Federal Government headed by the Barisan Nasional party. Also, in carrying out its election promises, the Pakatan Rakyat administration spent RM13 million each month on water subsidies in Selangor .

An estimated 93 per cent of the Malaysian population has access to water, much of which is subsidised. This is in line with Malaysia’s overall policy of subsidy on items ranging from fuel to food to water. In 2009, subsidy accounts for 15.3 per cent of the Federal Government’s spending budget. This makes Malaysia one of the most subsidised countries in the world and indeed one of the countries with the lowest water rates. Penang, for example, has the cheapest rate in the country at 31 sen (13 Singapore cents) per cubic metre. Singapore’s tariffs in comparison are seven times higher. Household water usage in Penang amounted to 286 litres a day, much more than the United Nation’s 165-litre benchmark. Singapore’s daily domestic usage on the other hand is 158 litres.

Subsidy however has exacted a huge toll on the Federal Government’s budget with deficit hitting a 20-year high of seven per cent of GDP in 2009. At the same time, it also led to poor water conservation owing to its cheap price. It is therefore no wonder that the Federal Government sought to increase the price of water both as a way to reduce water subsidy and also to improve water conservation. Water pricing, if implemented properly, can be an effective water conservation tool as it can reduce water use per unit of output. However, like the elimination of any subsidy, it can be politically complicated.

In Malaysia’s case, it appears that water pricing is driven less by scientific assessment but by politics. The first step to sustainably manage water resources is therefore to delink water from politics.

Child Trafficking in Southeast Asia’s Fishing Industries

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on November 22, 2010
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In this blog, I discuss the predicament of child labour in the fishing industry. This is another reflection on the conference on Human Trafficking in Asia-Pacific held in October, where thematically the prevalent biases in research produced on human trafficking were examined. Amongst these was the uneven focus on certain industries and actors: Southeast Asian women and girls forced into the sex industry. Due to the popular connection between human trafficking and sexual exploitation, the International Organisation for Migration pointed out that child exploitation in the fisheries industry in Southeast Asia was an area suffering from a lack of attention.

Globally, the fisheries industry is highly profitable, with pirate fishing accounting for US$10 – 23.5 billion each year. The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations has recorded 132 million children in the agricultural industry, a subset of which is the fisheries industry, whose numbers cannot be ascertained because the labour is “widely dispersed in small-scale and family enterprises — or is actively hidden by employers,” in a predominantly non-industrialised sector.

In Southeast Asia, the fisheries industry is an essential trading sector for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. At the conference, it was suggested that 80 percent of the global fishermen are in East Asia, with Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam producing a large proportion of fisheries’ production. Thailand is a significant destination country for many migrant workers into its fisheries industry and the conditions of the labour have been likened to situations of human trafficking; mainly of men from Cambodia, Lao PDR or Myanmar. In an interview with Cambodian trafficked workers aboard a Thai fishing vessel in 2009, the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking found that eighteen percent of those interviewed were under the age of 18. The factors underpinning entry of children into this form of labour and the activities children may be engaged in are elaborated in the links provided. It has been documented that Thai fishing vessels tend to stay at sea for years at a time. The resulting malnutrition due to neglect and precarious working conditions was a contributory cause of the deaths of 39 Burmese fishermen aboard a Thai vessel in 2006.

Enforcement plans need specific research on the prevalence of child labour in the fisheries industry, including research on the actors and operational nature of the trade-value chain of fishing products. The plans ought to advocate observance of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child; Articles 32, 34 and 35, its Additional Protocol on the Sale of Children and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, whilst not exhaustive; Conventions No. 182 and 188. Recognising the connection between child labour practices and parental poverty, brings the viability of legislative bans into circumspection.

Significantly related is sustainable development of children, particularly through ensuring they are encompassed in development achievements; Goal 2 of the Millennium Development Goals and ensuring through socio-economic support children complete their education. In addition, development measures should address the causal link between a lack in parental empowerment to a high probability of their children becoming enslaved again.

Hunger Reduction – An Under-Performing MDG target in Asia and the Pacific

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on October 26, 2010
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The UN MDG summit (20-22 September 2010) reviewed the progress achieved since the MDG project was initiated ten years ago. In 2000, world leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration which envisions eight benchmarks for human development, namely the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs include the eradication of poverty and hunger, provision of primary education, elimination of gender disparity, improvement in child and maternal health, etc. Achieving these would contribute to ensuring human security in all aspects.

Hunger eradication has been placed with poverty reduction as the first goal among others, which indicates that reducing hunger is a starting base for the advancement of other goals. It is pledged in the Declaration to halve the proportion of hungry people by 2015. So far, the overall progress in this respect is not sufficient to reduce the prevalence of hunger by half. Asia and the Pacific is progressing very slowly. Without extra efforts, it is probably unable to achieve the target. The under-performance of the region can be explained by the insufficient attention to hunger reduction in the MDG discourse and the prevalence of protracted conflicts in the region.

As noted in a report of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), hunger is often ignored in discussions of MDG1, just as it has been invisible on the development agenda. Furthermore, due to the close correlation between poverty and hunger, hunger is conflated into a general discussion of poverty. The lack of focus on hunger has resulted in negligence to the specific needs for hunger reduction in the MDGs solutions.

Traditionally, economic development, education, and gender equality have been considered critical in hunger reduction. However, the three variables are not sufficient for explaining what is happening in Asia and the Pacific. Despite the 2008 financial crisis, the region has been able to maintain robust economic development, registering a regional growth rate of over 6%. However, hunger eradication has not demonstrated corresponding momentum. It is still home to the largest number of hungry people among regions in the world, which amounts to 578 million.

One important factor which is missing in the explanation is protracted armed conflict. Many countries in this region have been in protracted armed conflicts. Since 2005, Asia has replaced Africa to become the region that has witnessed the highest number of armed conflicts. Protracted conflicts contribute to the prevalence of hunger by inflicting serious impacts on food availability, accessibility, and affordability. Firstly, armed conflicts disrupt food systems and thus result in acute food shortage. The negative impact of armed conflicts may last even after the end of conflicts, due to destroyed irrigation system and transportation infrastructure. Secondly, conflicts reduce people’s access to food. Hunger is also used a weapon to submits opponents. Land and water resources are contaminated to force people leave or discourage their return.

Furthermore, hunger can also cause violence and conflict. For instance, during the 2007-08 food crisis, violent protests were reported in Uzbekistan. Thus, the realization of the target for hunger reduction and conflict prevention and resolution are mutually reinforcing.

Obama in Asia: Has the U.S. Got It Right This Time?

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on November 16, 2009
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Obama in Asia:  Has the U.S. Got It Right This Time?

By Mely Caballero-Anthony

As Asia prepares to welcome US President Barack Obama to his first official visit to the region since coming into office, a key question that interests many security analysts is whether America has finally got the Asian story right? President Obama’s much anticipated attendance at the 2009 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting hosted by Singapore comes at a significant time when Asia is perhaps at its most exciting yet challenging period in history.

From the much hyped about idea of a resurging Asia, brought on by China and India’s impressive economic growth despite the recent global economic crisis, to the proliferation of Asian-centred multilateral institutions—the calls for Washington to be more engaged in the region is gaining more resonance.  In a recently released report by the US Council on Foreign Relations, entitled “ The United States in the New Asia”, the authors argued that the US needs to define a new role for itself in a changing Asia. A critical element in this broad agenda is for the US to make its presence clearly felt in the region’s key multilateral institutions like ASEAN, Asean plus Three (APT), the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

To its credit, the new US administration is already sending the right signals. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s attendance at this year’s ARF meeting significantly made up for US absences in the past. More important also is the US signing of ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) after several years of dithering which reflected a positively nuanced stance on ASEAN-led, albeit wider Asian multilateral frameworks like the East Asia Summit.

As Washington carefully calibrates its new role in a changing Asia, much can actually be learnt from the less celebrated but nonetheless important US contribution in responding to a series of devastating transnational threats facing the region. The visible role that US played in providing rapid assistance and relief to victims of the catastrophic 2005 tsunami and the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar have demonstrated a willingness by Washington to act when urgent multilateral aid is required. Equally critical is the US role in providing financial and much need technical assistance in Asia’s fight against public health threats brought on pandemics like the avian (H5n1) and the H1N1 virus.

As Asia copes with a range of complex non-traditional security threats which are transnational, including energy security and climate change, Washington can certainly do more to enhance international cooperation in this area if its policies and aid programmes are integrated within the regional framework of ASEAN, and wider ARF and the EAS arrangements.  Since most of U.S. assistance appears to be conducted at the bilateral level, hence the impression that the U.S. is not doing enough, it is now time for Washington to weave these engagements into the more open and inclusive multilateral settings that many Asian countries are more comfortable with. The intention is not necessarily to replace current bilateral security arrangements but to complement these with multilateral ones.

The NTS agenda can therefore be a good platform to enhance US-Asia security cooperation which cuts across other areas in building cooperation—political, economic, technological, etc. In the area of climate change, for instance, while negotiations for a post-Kyoto protocol are expected to be long and ardous and with no immediate breakthrough expected in the Copenhagen talks in December, the US can certainly do more by increasing investments and providing support in green technology.

As a preponderant power, the U.S. needs to be part of the solution to many global challenges which are not limited only to the war against terrorism and nuclear proliferation.  Climate change, energy security, pandemics—these are areas where the region, like the rest of the world, expects the U.S. to lead.