If you want to help Haiti, open the border

The unfortunate nation of Haiti has still not recovered from the earthquake it suffered six months ago today. It has the marginal good luck of remaining in the news, albeit somewhere between stories of cats getting caught up trees. Many people have pledged their twenty dollars or what have you. However, if we are serious about helping Haitian people, we should let them leave.

Beside the over 200,000 dead and 300,000 injured in the quake, some one million people were left homeless. Haiti’s president Rene Preval said in the aftermath, “wipe away your tears to rebuild Haiti”; and the world said, Yes, we shall rebuild Haiti. Governments who have pledged aid to Haiti are behind in their commitments. The US government has delivered 2% of the aid it promised. Rebuilding, apparently, is not at the top of Barack’s priorities.

But perhaps rebuilding is not the solution for a failed state. Should we rebuild it so the same corrupt people can remain in power? So that deforestation can continue–if there are, indeed, any trees left? So that structural poverty and rampant crime are allowed to flourish? Surely “rebuilding” should mean “recreating”.

One easier and cheaper way to solve Haiti’s problems is to let its people come to the rich world. There are two compelling reasons to think this solution is worth considering. First, for the self-interested, immigration is a great way to increase wealth and economic power wherever it is introduced. According to estimates cited in the book Let Their People Come by Lant Pritchett and the Center for Global Development, full liberalisation of global labour markets, enabling all the world’s workers to migrate to where they can be most efficiently employed, would result in an incredible $40t in world GDP gains. The money is available to whichever country is willing to let people through. It is also a huge boon to the developing world. Remittances, money sent home by migrant workers, totaled some $300b in 2006. Manuel Orozco, an expert on remittances, estimates that 30% of Haiti’s economic wealth comes in the form of remittances. Given that the money is sent to individuals to spend as they see fit, the benefits of remittances far outweigh those of development aid and loans to corrupt governments.

Second, criminalising immigration has proven extremely problematic in the short term. Turning away asylum seekers and economic refugees could lead to more disastrous and widespread conflict, which would, if it grew along with barriers to immigration, spill over into the anti-immigrant rich world. Never mind the Culture Wars; trying to prevent all immigration would mean more of the real kind.

The merciful, logical and even self-interested course for the rich world to take for Haiti or any disaster-struck zone is not to restack the rubble but to let people, rich and poor, come to their countries and begin new lives.

The unbeatable logic against the War on Drugs

How is the War on Drugs still not over? Why are drugs still illegal? The testimonies, the moral arguments, the numbers: all point with inescapable logic to the fact that drug prohibition and its enforcement is more costly than its alternatives. More and more people are speaking out against it: see here, here, here and here for news articles written just in the past two days by mainstream media outlets concerned that the War on Drugs is unwinnable, unnecessary, an attack on our freedoms and an assault on the lives and livelihoods of millions. I will let their words explain the arguments further. Suffice it to say, nearly every country in the world, every major city, is feeling the pain of organised crime and state violence.

More violence is being employed in the fight against the “scourge” of drug trafficking. I was under the impression that the targeting of poppy farms in Afghanistan would be terminated, and I approved. It turned out, however, that we were misled. The violence against Afghan poppy farmers has just taken a dangerous and probably illegal twist.

We need a shift in mindset. Very few problems are permanently solved with laws, police, violence, repression, incarceration or war. We treat the mentally and physically ill like patients, smokers as victims and drug users as criminals. We ignore the quiet but powerful special interests that perpetuate the War on Drugs. And democrats need to believe in and use the power of their political system to change failed and foolish policies. I suggest writing to your congresspeople or members of parliament to legalise all drugs, to help make the world safer and smarter.

As logical as the arguments against the War on Drugs are, they may require an infusion of pathos, the other element in a persuasive argument. I would like to see more articles like this one prominently displayed in newspapers. The photo that greets is of a body, freshly bathed in blood from Jamaica’s drug war, and the article title is “Jamaica bleeds for our ‘war on drugs'”. Let mainstream media show more of the victims of this wrongheaded policy and ask more of the questions that need to be asked: when will American politicians rebuff the special interests and do what is right; when will foreign state representatives reject American pressure to fight their war; when will the people on the fence start paying attention and acting; when will more media join in the chorus.

At the moment, entrenched interests are blocking chances at reform. But there is hope. As even in the notoriously conservative United States a rising number of people is in favour of legalising marijuana, there are ever more signs that the War on Drugs is coming to an end. Those of you who agree with me, keep pushing: soon the scales will tip.

Arms for Taiwan, finger for China

The US and Taiwan have good relations. Though the US does not officially recognise Taiwan as independent from China, like the rest of the world it treats Taiwan as what it is: a de facto independent state. And now it is apparently time for a new arms deal between the US and Taiwan. The US sells arms to just about everyone, so why not to a little island in the Pacific? What could China possibly be angry about?

If you answered “a lot”, you not alone. Since the government of China considers Taiwan a renegade province which will, inevitably, one day be reunited with its true owners, and since a huge number of people in China fervently agree, American arms sales to Taiwan are a kind of provocation. If the Chinese government sold weapons to al Qaeda, Americans would feel approximately the same as the Chinese do at present.

I believe that any group of people that wishes to be independent should be, regardless of what some militant nationalists say. Therefore, I am all in favour of Taiwan’s continued independence from China. However, there is no reason to provoke China by selling Taiwan another $6.4b in arms. As I said, I support independence, and the US government has already made it clear that it does too. It established the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979 and updated it with the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act in 2000. The Acts both authorise arms sales but the central clauses state in clear terms that the United States guarantees Taiwan’s security and independence. Even though it has always denounced it, China’s government grudgingly accepts the security pact. Why antagonise China further?

The United States needs China. Its government, in particular, through decades (or at least one decade) of myopic policies, is financially dependent on China like a teenager with a credit card is dependent on his father to bail him out. The two countries are, of course, economically interdependent; witness the Chinese government’s understandable threat of sanctions on American arms manufacturers. They should be cooperating more on political and military levels–in the Security Council; on East and Central Asian security matters, where their interests coincide; on Iran, which for some reason Barack has a desire to punish but which China is wisely declining to rush into a decision on; the list continues. Their divergent attitudes on the Dalai Lama are another source of Chinese anger, but the US government accepts Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, and can leverage this acceptance to extract other concessions. Neither has an interest in war with the other.

The problem is, at root, one of ego. China and the US both see themselves, at a cultural level, as the rightful superpowers of the world. Each needs to be the best in the world, the biggest, the richest, the fastest, the strongest. Over the next generation, we will see this playground need for supremacy play out everywhere from the oceans to the Olympics. But why do we need to be number one? Surely, we should be working to be better than our former selves, not better than others. But instead of setting our own goals and working with others to achieve them, we treat others as competitors and train to beat them, even cheating or holding them down if necessary.

Only through recognising their common interests and cooperating on them will the US and China avoid violent collision. Billions of dollars in arms sales to Taiwan is not the way to build a partnership that affects the entire world.

I should mention one other point, however. China’s government (unlike its people) do not actually want Taiwan to be “reunited” with the mainland. Claiming unwavering and fully legitimate sovereignty over Taiwan serves two functions. It is a kind of bone thrown to the Chinese people that whips up anger at foreigners for their support for Taiwanese independence, which in practice means more support for the CCP. And it can be a blunt foreign policy instrument to use against foreign governments, to extract concessions: you owe us for your support of Taiwan. Though I still think the US should not antagonise China unnecessarily, there is every reason to regard China’s claims about Taiwan skeptically.

Sanctions on Iran? Let’s be Daoist about it

The Menso Guide to War’s good friend President Barack is proposing sanctions on Iran. Actually, he is proposing further sanctions on Iran. The history of US sanctions on Iran goes back to the deposing of the shah and the hostage crisis of 1979. Barack thinks more sanctions would be a good way to get what he wants in the Middle East, and many Americans support him. I am afraid, however, he is wading in over his head.

The proposed bill targets Iran’s dependence on imports for gasoline. The UN Security Council has passed several resolutions condemning Iran’s enrichment of uranium, because it could use uranium to make a nuclear weapon. In fact, it may already have a nuclear weapon. More resolutions express more accepted condemnation and as such give measures like sanctions (or military action, depending what the resolutions say) more legitimacy. Iran has violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty. So sanctions are justified to make it stop enriching uranium, right?

Not so fast. Why does Barack want sanctions on Iran? Is it a punishment? My homegirl Hillary has said that, if the sanctions could just target the “relatively small group of decision makers inside Iran”, they could serve the US’s goals. True, it may weaken the regime financially but it would also hurt the people, as sanctions often do–think of the deepening of poverty in Iraq during the 1990s. For instance, the $2b in Citibank belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that the US government froze in 2008 will likely be made up from other assets the Guard own in Iran. Someone always ends up paying, and it is rarely the elites. The people would be pushed into the hands of the hardliners, as I argue they already have been for years since the demonisation of Iran began under Bill Clinton and got no better under George Bush. This outside push on Iran is why a fool like Ahmadinejad can get elected there in the first place. If history is any guide, the people will not turn on their government if threatened or impoverished but run to it for protection.

Will tougher sanctions force a change in policy? Do Iranians even have a right to nuclear technology? For years now, the Iranian government has made it quite clear that it will enrich uranium whether the outside world likes it or not. And why should it? It has become part of the status quo that India, Israel and Pakistan all have nuclear weapons, and though they (along with North Korea) are the only four states not party to the non proliferation treaty, they are allies of the US. Israel gets into wars all the time: in the 62 years since 1948, Israel has fought 7 wars and 2 intifadas. India and Pakistan are continually at odds with one another, and though I disagree with him on Iran, Christopher Hitchens believes the India-Pakistan conflict is the most likely of the world to turn nuclear. Meanwhile, the US is trying to isolate Iran in the kind of double standard that makes international politics the confusing mess it is. If anyone tries to force Iran to give up nuclear capability of any kind, they will look like bullies and hypocrites.

Barack is using a sizeable amount of his political capital in the Security Council drumming up support for sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Meanwhile, the US government talks about how much it would like to talk to Iran and gently persuade it to do the right thing, but the ayatollahs just won’t cooperate. American politicians claim to be wide open to talking to Iran but wide open to bombing it to rubble as well. These arguments play well to the same voters as believe the mindless cliche that our enemies only understand the language of force. Aside from the fact that the claim that the US government is trying to engage Iran is doubtful, how do Hillary and Barack expect the Iranians to open up when they have been pushed away for two decades? You cannot push others away with one hand and expect them to shake your other one.

There seems to be surprisingly little discussion in Washington at the moment about the consequences of putting away all sanctions on Iran. If only American political culture were less impulsive and more Daoist. Daoism considers peace first. It favours non-action, which would be a propitious innovation for a culture that feels the need to move quickly forward in any direction. Daoists remain open minded and flexible, not committed to a single way of thinking, especially after that way has failed. And it believes in relativism, that what path might be right for one may not be right for all.

Perhaps that is why the Chinese government has said that more sanctions on Iran may not be necessary right now, and that it may be prudent to wait. (In truth, I believe Chinese government ideology is pragmatism, not Daoism, but Daoism is a good way to contrast the foreign affairs of the US and China.) It has declared its preference for dialogue over punishment. The Chinese government makes a habit of stating that it is not Chinese policy to interfere in other states’ affairs. It has backed sanctions in the past because like all nuclear powers it does not want anyone new in the club. But perhaps Chinese officials have realised that there are other ways to deal with adamant people.

Why are we so afraid of a nuclear Iran? It is not as if possession of nuclear weapons makes it likely or even possible to use them. The proliferation of nuclear weapons has made them all but useless. Yet Barack has made disarmament a major part of his foreign policy.

I am looking forward to a day when Daoists run the US State Department and liberals run the Revolutionary Guard. Perhaps then we will be able to talk to each other.

Climate Change, Migration, War: the chain of future conflict

The changing of local environmental conditions has affected groups around the world. For instance, in some cases, there are more floods; in other places, more drought. Climate change has become a major political issue but it is still difficult to know what problems it will cause in the longer term. My question is, how might climate change lead to conflict?

At the moment, environmental change is indeed causing and exacerbating conflict. The Sahel Belt of the Sahara Desert has been prone to intense violence, with little sign of improvement. Global warming may be a major cause. Reports (such as this one) are emerging that show that, even when economies improve and states democratise, the consequences of an increase in temperature, such as less water to go round, are having disastrous consequences. I believe things will get worse before they get better.

Future conflict is likely to take the following pattern.

  • Climate change and other environmental damage will put pressure on and destroy local environments in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
  • People will be forced to move to other countries to survive.
  • Barriers to immigration will rise.
  • Those who are kept out will fight with the elites over scarce resources.
  • Those who make it into other countries will be looked upon as wretched and unable to integrate.
  • The incidence of war among those whose environments are threatened, whether or not they migrate, will increase.
  • A new kind of refugee, the Environmental Refugee, will emerge.

Most of these things are already happening, which is why we must take drastic measures. The obvious one, the one which most people seem to espouse, is to end climate change. However, there are still many political barriers to taking the steps that need to be taken to make the cuts in greenhouse gases necessary and besides, it may be too late to halt and reverse climate change before it halts and reverses us.

My preferred solution is to remove barriers to migration. Though also politically unpalatable, it is the most realistic way to help people without abandoning them to their fate. If this latter idea appeals, it may help to ask oneself if creating a fortress to keep immigrants out has actually worked anywhere. Majorities in Europe and the United States are against lowering the barriers to immigration but they have no good ideas on preventing immigration. It is not a question of whether we want to keep them out, but whether we can. Either we could throw money down a bottomless pit to prevent immigration or we could work out better policies that fit the chain of future conflict.

Because immigration often causes conflict between locals and newcomers, we also need smart integration policies. Everyone should be educated together, learning each other’s ideas, learning to work together, learning to respect each other. I go into details on this subject in my book, Why Interculturalism Will Work.

By being aware of a possible dark future, we can make it brighter. Ending climate change is a worthy goal, and more realistic immigration and integration policies can help us break the chain of avoidable violence.

“Prohibiting a market does not mean destroying it”

It is an industry worth 15 to 20% of the world’s GDP. It boasts among the most global of operations. We see its results all around us, even in our own homes, without realising it. In these difficult economic times, this sector of the economy is thriving. We are supporting it with many of our purchases and people are dying for it on the streets. The industry in question is organised crime.

Misha Glenny’s book McMafia: a Journey through the Global Criminal Underworld is a fascinating thrill ride that traces the roots of the scourge of modern organised crime. He paints a clear picture of the origins, rapid international spread and possible solutions to the enormous problem of the illegal multinational. He begins in Eastern Europe.

As the communist world was imploding, law enforcement was going with it. In the USSR, state companies, the commanding heights of the economy, were being sold at firesale prices. The new oligarchs, as they were soon to be known, needed protection, and they found it in the ranks of the newly unemployed. (For more on the relation between unemployment and violence, see here.) Mob wars became the defining characteristic of Russia in the 1990s. The oligarchs ran complex corporations where the legal and the illegal were indistinguishable. Thousands of criminal organisations arose to work with them and kill for them. Then, they spread.

Glenny details how organised crime went everywhere in search of black markets to exploit. In Yugoslavia, a war that appeared to be tearing people apart was uniting the mafia across the new borders. Bulgarian gangsters tricked and then pimped prostitutes in Europe, Israel and beyond. He describes it as not only a lucrative business but one that pays consistent dividends. The trade in caviar from the Caspian Sea has enriched gang leaders, corrupted officials (further) and nearly depleted the sea of sturgeon. Dubai’s gleaming buildings belie its status as a hub for money laundering. Sanctions on trade with North Korea have pushed all its dealings under the table, and now a nuclear state is selling weapons to the Taliban. (See here.) British Columbia’s marijuana cultivation brings in 6% of its GDP and ecstasy production is rising and bringing Hell’s Angels with it. Sanctions and criminalisation did not end the trade in these things. This lesson, in fact, is central to Glenny’s thesis.

Innumerable women are exploited as prostitutes. They have no protection from violence or disease. Legalised prostitution would mean they have the law on their side. I have been writing for some time about why legalising drugs is the only sensible answer to the billions of dollars and no end of lives lost to fighting a problem that grows nonetheless. An estimated 70% of the global “shadow economy” is in narcotics.

Lev Timofeev, a former Soviet mathematician and analyst of the shadow economy, put it well in an interview with Glenny when he said the following.

“Prohibiting a market does not mean destroying it. Prohibiting a market means placing a prohibited but dynamically developing market under the total control of criminal corporations. Moreover, prohibiting a market means enriching the criminal world with hundreds of billions of dollars by giving criminals a wide access to public goods which will be routed by addicts into the drug traders’ pockets. Prohibiting a market means giving the criminal corporations opportunities and resources for exerting a guiding and controlling influence over whole societies and nations.” (Glenny, 225)

The idea that something is bad, therefore we must make it illegal means trying to end the economic law of supply and demand. Only market based policies will work. Everything else is doomed to fail. But public pressure is mostly conservative on the issue. (See, for instance, here.) I wrote to my member of parliament, Gary Lunn, to end drug prohibition, and he responded by assuring me that he was adhering to more of the same inept, wasteful policies.

The same simple thinking believes that restrictions on immigration can be effective ways of keeping the barbarians outside the gates. The demand for cheap labour has been rising for years, while barriers to it have been following suit. Many Americans see their country as the destination of poor workers, and while illegal immigrants face various dangers to enter and stay in the US, their counterparts all over the world are doing the same. Millions of people are trafficked to jobs under terribly hazardous conditions to wherever cheap labour is in demand. The criminals running operations kidnap the people and then beat or rape them. The free movement of labour across borders would reduce the risks of being a migrant worker. But being unwilling to embrace cultural change, not understanding interculturalism and scared of losing their jobs, people in the rich world prefer to forget about the problem and watch TV. But more attention to the trade going on under the rug would make our world safer.

The fingers of crime are in every pie, everywhere. Organised crime does not only deal in drugs and prostitutes. It corrupts police forces and governments everywhere. It sells cigarettes. Because of high taxes on cigarettes, cigarette smuggling has cost the UK alone $8b in tax revenue and fueled the brutal conflict in Yugoslavia. It sells diamonds, as we know from the movie Blood Diamond, a gripping, fictional (but true to life) story of a diamond industry that has brought down states and sold millions into slavery. It sells weapons, labourers, DVDs, gold, tin and coltan. Do you know what coltan is? It is a black ore found in almost all cell phones, DVD players, video game systems and computers. Though it is found in many parts of the world, much of it comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The mafia from all around the world have cooperated to exploit the mineral resources of the Congo, and in doing so have been fueling the world’s deadliest war since 1945. (Read more here.)

Though we cannot know the origin of everything we buy, we can choose to stop taking drugs, visiting prostitutes and consuming so much. We can lobby our governments to legalise drugs and prostitution, and loosen restrictions on migration. We can set up regimes to verify the origins of things like diamonds, gold and coltan, like the Kimberley Process has done with some success. It is time to stop standing by and letting criminals corrupt our world when some unpleasant but necessary actions could end their party. I strongly recommend McMafia. You will never look at globalisation the same again.

Finally, an end to poppy eradication in Afghanistan

After years of wrongheaded “War on Drugs” policies in Afghanistan, the United States says it has changed. Richard Holbrooke, a highly experienced diplomat, now US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said “we’re going to phase out eradication” of heroin-producing poppies. This can only be good.

87% of the heroin bought in the world in 2004 was made from poppies grown in Afghanistan. (1) That number has climbed from 70% in the 1990s, a big drop in 2000 due to a ban on poppy farming by the Taliban (2), and a resurgence to as much as 90% today (3) (though figures vary).

Eradication efforts do indeed destroy some acreage of poppy farms, but they do not help reach any of the US’s goals. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime report that “the Taliban and other anti-government forces” earned between 50 and 70 million dollars from poppy production in 2008. (4) Antonio Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, says that the same people may also be hoarding poppy stocks, in order to decrease the amount available on the market and push up prices. (4) Moreover, spraying crops punishes the innocent farmers growing them. If Afghan farmers lose their crops to foreign invaders, who are they likely to turn to for protection? If more poppies are eradicated, the price of heroin goes up, the so-called insurgents make more money and gain more allies. Is it any wonder they are putting up such a fight?

In fact, President Barack’s focus is shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan precisely because it is becoming the more difficult of the two conflicts to win. Iraq has always been seen as the pointless, unnecessary war, the bad war, and the one most frequently designated a quagmire. The reality has changed as Iraq has become more stable and Afghanistan conflict has become to look intractable. Richard Holbrooke has been saying since he was sworn in as Special Representative that Afghanistan will be “much tougher than Iraq” (5), and since a year earlier that US counter-narcotic policy in Afghanistan “may be the single most ineffective program in the history of American foreign policy”. (6) He also said that “Nato’s future is on the line”. He is surely right. More importantly, a collapse of NATO’s operations in Afghanistan could mean more violence in Central Asia, more radical Islamism and more suicide terrorism in America and Europe.

For now, let’s get back to drugs. There are alternatives to destroying poppies (though Afghanistan’s Ministry of Counter Narcotics might disagree (7)). Growing poppies could be considered an advantage rather than a scourge. The Senlis Council suggests using them to manufacture opiate-based, legal painkillers such as morphine. (8) Other countries, such as Turkey, grow poppies legally and sell opiates to the United States. Giving farmers a rich market for their crops would mean giving them a livelihood and delivering them from the Taliban. Decriminalising poppy production in Afghanistan will help the cause of NATO forces.

Spokespeople have used the words “phasing out” to explain their shift in policy away from spraying poppy fields. These words make it sound like a slow process that will not end overnight. Nevertheless, policy is moving in the right direction. An end to the eradication of poppies could be the turning point in the war for a democratic and stable Afghanistan.