Risk - Lurking in the Shadows

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suresh kanesan's picture

Risk - Lurking in the Shadows

Risk-taking is an integral part of our everyday life. While the concept of risk-taking has a slightly pessimistic connotation to it – it entails the threat of a negative occurrence that is caused by external or internal weaknesses, it could still lead to positive outcomes, if managed properly. The essence of risk management is not shunning away or eliminating risk, but deciding which risks to exploit or at times neutralize through pre-emptive action and which ones to elude or prevaricate. It is accepted that actions and activities that involve risks expose us to possible losses. However, risks also present us with opportunities.

There is a plethora of risks facing the global community today. Governments, organizations and the people are not entirely aware of the potential political and socio-economic consequences risk-taking entails. However, it is crucial for these various institutions to understand and pre-empt risks in order to make sound decisions that prevent negative consequences from materializing in our ever-changing globalized society. This essay would further explore into the exigent risks that have been emerging at a global scale, which requires immediate attention from our generation of decision makers, so as to prevent and reduce grave consequences that our global community is likely to face in the near future. The essay will focus particularly on the socio-political risks that are expected to impact our global community and the possible ways these risks can be avoided or hedged, to bring about positive outcomes.

Globalization, the global progression towards economic, financial, trade and communications integration has been impacting the world in many different ways. It has improved economic growth worldwide, bridged trade relations between countries, increased literacy rates, eased travelling around the globe and most importantly, raised awareness amongst people on what others around the world are experiencing. This increased ‘global awareness’ has indirectly led to political earthquakes in some countries observing conservative forms of government rule.

In late 2010, a wave of revolutions swept across the Middle East and North Africa. A combination of factors such as the global financial crisis, high unemployment rates, increasing living costs, frustration with autocratic, corrupt and unresponsive political systems fueled the protests. This revolution, commonly termed “Arab Spring”, bears a striking resemblance to other political turmoil in history – protests in Europe in late 1840s due to rising standards of living and high unemployment rates, toppling of traditional monarchies of Soviet Union in 1848 and communist governments of Tunisia and Egypt in 1989 due to frustration with closed and corrupt political institutions. It is no coincidence that these protests have achieved success far quicker than other revolutions in history because of the heightened awareness amongst the people and their improved connection with communities outside their countries.

These revolutions should serve as a stark reminder to all governments observing conservative form of rule. As the next generation of leaders assumes power in various governments, this represents a great opportunity for these leaders to open up their country and give more freedom to their people. The next generation of decision makers must exercise discretion in making decisions taking into account the interest of its various ethnic and socioeconomic classes of people. Governments must not appear to be unjust or inept, as this would be an impetus for political unrest which would eventually lead to economic regression and possible isolation from the rest of the world.

Emerging Risk to Human Rights due to the Global “War against Terrorism” Secondly, human rights advocates from across the world share a sense of apprehension towards the risks to the protection of human rights in an environment of heightened concern over the threats posed by terrorism. Conflicts in many parts of the world have been prolonged and intensified on the basis of global “War against Terrorism”, suggesting that governments avail themselves of greater autonomy to ignore the limitations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Statistics show that approximately 110,000 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives since the beginning of the Iraq war in2003. In the case of state-sponsored mass atrocities against non-combatants in Darfur, an estimated 300,000 have lost their lives since 2003. The number of internally displaced persons across the globe has also increased by more than 10 million between 1997 and 2009. Scholars contend that the War on Terror has caused nations to turn a deaf ear towards humanitarian issues and intervention in the face of human rights infringements, so as to pursue their interests without any hindrance. So determined are the US and its allies to gain the support of other countries for the War on Terror and the pursuit of counter-terrorist strategies worldwide, that they are willing to abandon their human rights agendas for this purpose. The US, in particular, has been guilty of negotiating counterterrorismpolicies in South and Central Asian and Middle Eastern states, such as Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan despite international criticism of their governments for serious human rights abuses.

The post 9/11 War on Terror has allowed both stronger and weaker governments to bury social risks in the form of human rights under the much-hyped agenda of counterterrorism. One lucid example is the ties between the US and Uzbekistan. The Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan and subsequent human rights abuses and expulsion of human rights activists, independent journalists, refugees and asylum seekers from the country resulted in an EU imposed trade and travel sanctions against its government. The US however, lacked the political will to sever all ties with Uzbekistan. Although fully aware of the human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, the US was very selective on its criticisms about the Uzbek government and chose not to impose strict sanctions or cut its bilateral ties with them. They continued on to maintain a good relationship with Uzbekistan, in order to pursue their counter-terrorismagenda without hindrance. In contrast, when Burma’s government faced similar allegations on gross human rights violations, President Bush placed new bans on exports of financial services and investments to Burma from the US, all imports from Burma, an arms embargo, suspended all bilateral aid to the Burmese government and maintained all previous restrictions as well. The disparity between the reactions to human rights issues in Uzbekistan and Burma is a clear reflection of how social risks have been discounted over counter-terrorism policies.

As reforms to address this social risk remain minimal, it is imperative that key political actors probe further into the relationship between this contemporary phenomenon and human rights to develop new strategies to overcome the current setbacks and hedge any future ones. This is essential to ensure that human rights remains a top priority on the international political agenda and people, especially in developing countries, are given an equal opportunity for survival in this era in which countries are more engrossed in protecting their borders from terrorist threats than the rights of people.

In conclusion, there are potential socio-political risks facing the global community and people, which people, especially decision makers are unaware of or have yet to address. These risks require urgent attention from our generation of decision makers, so as to avoid or get around the severe consequences that our global community is expected to face in the near future and to be able to turn them into positive opportunities. In context of the global political environment, it is necessary for decision makers to understand that in today’s globalized society, people are more aware of what is happening in their country and around the world. Political leaders have to exercise more transparency in their governance. With respect to human rights, decision makers need to acknowledge thatthe emphasis on counter-terrorism policies has seriously undermined the protection of human rights. Following that, decision makers will need to balance the interests of counter terrorism policies as well as humanitarianism. As responsible leaders, it is our duty to save the world today for our future generations.

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