25 January 2009

Condemned by governmental structures

From the Atomic Bazaar:
The construction of a [fission] bomb is not a casual project. The required machinery, the noise and especially the presence of team members who are unlikely to be locals provides the West with the last practical chance of self-defence.... In even the most chaotic neighborhoods... it would be difficult to keep the neighbors from asking inconvenient questions. [In Istanbul], Mombasa, Karachi, and every other city where a bomb could conceivably be built ... are urban collectives, ungovernable perhaps, but not necessarily uncontrolled. Western agencies that could find a way to lay traplines in their slums would have a better chance of stopping a terrorist attack than any port-inspection program, bureaucratic reshuffling, or military maneuvering can provide. Here again, though, there is little evidence that Western agencies are capable of emerging from their rigidly governmental frameworks. 'The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor', by William Langewiesche ((pp68-9) [My emphasis]
Precisely. People who work for government are, in my experience, well-meaning and hard-working. But they have no incentive to investigate untried solutions to problems - however serious those problems are. Like all organizations, government agencies have one single, over-arching goal, and that is self-perpetuation. Achieving social or environmental outcomes may or may not be consistent with that goal. Are we to be condemned to a future of nuclear warfare because government bodies are incapable of giving nuclear peace a higher priority than their own structures and procedures?

Here is my suggestion: a group comprising philanthropists, non-governmental organizations and other interested parties (public or private sector) back a particular application of the Social Policy Bond principle: Disaster Prevention Bonds. These would redeemable for a fixed sum once a sustained period of absence of a humanitarian disaster had passed. The type of disaster need not be specified: it could be natural as well as man made. The redemption terms would stipulate that they would become worthless the moment an unspecified calamity killed, say 20 000 of the world’s citizens by a single catastrophic event in any 48-hour period. Such a bond issue would provide incentives for people to investigate and explore ways of avoiding a nuclear exchange, as well as mitigating the effects of natural disasters. Their priority would transcend those of organizations currently working on those problems. Their over-riding criterion for the mix of projects they would initiate will be efficiency: the maximum reduction in the probability of a humanitarian disaster per dollar spent. That's in stark contrast to the existing bodies charged with safeguarding humanity's future who, despite the best of intentions, find it impossible to explore ways of doing things other than those that are tried, tested and failed.

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