Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Profit, Loss, and Proliferation

Khodorkovsky: Corruption Is Going To Stop the Development of Humanity

by Molly Cernicek and Cheryl Rofer

Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, former chairman of Yukos Oil who has been in a Russian prison since 2000, writes in an op-ed for the Washington Post that “it is incumbent upon world leaders to address a root cause of new risks of nuclear proliferation: the corruption that has spread across the globe.” He highlights the risks of civilian and military officials selling nuclear secrets to whoever is willing to buy, including terrorist groups that “seek bloodshed for the sake of bloodshed.”

Khodorkovsky lists some examples of corruption in Russia and rightly states that one of Russia’s exports is “corruption, fueled by a host of eager importers, most notably developed countries in the West.” And ends his piece urging that the Group of 20 make battling corruption as important as nuclear disarmament, otherwise “corruption is going to stop the development of humanity.”

That’s a big claim – corruption is going to stop the development of humanity. From one perspective, one can argue that corruption has always been part of micro and macro economies from the beginning of human time as the rich or those intent on being rich are driven to make money any way they can and either make or break the rules to ensure their expectations become reality. Economies adjust and accept some level of corruption as a natural part of operation.

Rules and regulations set up to go after certain types of corruption and ebb and flow over time. In the United States currently, the testimonies and actions of Wall Street bankers and US government officials bear close similarities to the 1930s following the Great Depression.

Russia has always had corruption even when isolated from the global economy, though some Russians believe differently. Certainly in the Soviet barter economy, some people had access to products while most did not. In those days the risks were high; any Russian citizen could be an informant, which limited the ability (outside of the Politburo) to create too big a business and network. The Soviet black market was a bunch of young men operating in ones and twos selling western goods and shaking down tourists for currency conversion.

Today corruption is common practice inside and outside the government. Russia is home to some of the biggest global crime syndicates in the world. Some have referred to it as the “verticalization of corruption” since the corruption is not about manipulating the state but instead about the state capturing business. Those in power during Communism got top governmental positions in new Russia and continued to control the money. The young had market ideas, but no capital. That started governmental-controlled business alliances, illegal and legal alike, that benefitted individuals but not the country.

From a perspective of a Russian, that corruption can stopp the development of humanity is not far-fetched. Russia has little economic development to show despite two decades of prosperous oil sales. Their men are dying at an average age of 57. They are not reproducing enough to maintain their population. Outside the business and tourist attractions of Moscow and St. Petersburg, infrastructure and living standards drop substantially. Their environment has suffered dramatically. What has been dumped into streams, buried, and burned continues to impact health and nature. And the list goes on.

Khordorkovsky is right that every country should be worried about corruption and how it impacts nuclear proliferation. He could have taken it a step further though and asked who in their right mind would produce and maintain nuclear weapons knowing that the risks of corruption within the ranks hired to develop, maintain and protect these weapons will increase? One of the reasons that a nuclear war never started between 1948 and 1991 is that scientists, engineers and government officials overseeing both the US and Russian stockpiles were devoted to protecting not just their own countries from nuclear attack, but protecting the world as well. Most Russian and American nuclear weapons stewards spent their entire careers working to make the world a safer place in spite of nuclear weapons – many with the objective of massive reduction. They advised their government officials in tense and difficult situations. They were patriotic and they knew why and how to keep secrets. To them, this responsibility was about country, flag and apple pie/piroshky.

The world has changed substantially since 1991. Endemic and increasing corruption within the nuclear complexes and its potential for proliferation can be met only by decreasing the numbers of nuclear weapons.

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