National Security Threats = Economic Viability Threats
A fundamental economic development challenge facing the Caribbean region is the problem of crime and security. In size, scope, growth and impact, crime has risen to become perhaps public policy issue #1 across the region’s major economies. Our public safety and national security agencies desperately need better resourcing as they grapple with the various threats including drugs, weapons, human trafficking, cyber crime and the implications of CARICOM citizen involvement with ISIS.
As these threats are common to the region, each country is highly vulnerable to fallout from the failings of other countries in this regard. And the price of failure is higher than it has ever been – our populations, economies and physical and electronic infrastructure are bigger now in aggregate than ever before. We simply have to do more to preserve our way of life and insure our safety.
But in what scenario does a national security threat become an economic development threat? In every scenario. The impact of (measurable) crime and violence on economic growth is well-studied and in the case of the Caribbean, UN/IBRD1 estimates regional growth could be boosted 2-5% (i.e.,$1 – 2 $billion) if crime levels were reduced to those of Costa Rica. And a terrorist strike against a Caribbean tourism economy would be rapid and it would be devastating. Similarly, a coordinated cyber attack. The region’s economic viability rests entirely on its reputation as a safe destination for tourists and foreign investment capital. Yet we are not well-enough prepared as a region to protect our way of life.
Traditional Solutions and Initiatives
Emphasis on solutions have historically been placed largely on Youth-at-Risk, training and other educational programs aimed at reducing the inflow of youth into the crime system. Justice reform is also critical and has rightly received attention.
These initiatives are important and must be pursued to try to help re-direct what has become a societal shift toward crime and a “numbness” in accepting it and its negative impacts. But if we are honest with ourselves, reversing this course will require a generational time span and must encompass a wider range of policy initiatives, in particular to better resource public safety agencies.
Rapidly Expanding Crime and Security Threats
First and foremost, we believe that urgent efforts need to be made to properly resource our law enforcement agencies to reduce the impact of crime. Genuine capacity-building initiatives are urgently needed.
Because crime and fear of crime have such a devastating impact on us (much of which we never even feel or measure because it simply and quietly suppresses all sorts of economic, social and financial decisions year by year, denying us the benefit of any positive impact arising from those decisions), regional policy makers must take decisive action to change the crime equation.
The crime reduction mandate is expanding much faster than our ability to respond with existing law enforcement capabilities and legal systems. The budgets which regional Governments allocate to deal with crime and security represent a small fraction of what is required – ask anyone who plays a role in maintaining law and order. The reality is we have managed so far by luck and the support of donor countries to hold the situation together as we have. The bigger societies are buckling under the crime trend, however – Jamaica, Trinidad, Bahamas and Police Commissioners are literally crying out for help. Snapshots at http://www.thenassauguardian.com/news/59342- greenslade-begs-for-help and https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=16263.
More worrying are the crime trends and the regional perception of crime as a societal issue. And we have yet to treat the terrorism, cyber crime and other, man-made disaster threats which are modern-day show-stoppers for fragile, tourism economies. So far, tourism centers in Bali, Tunisia, Egypt, Paris and Brussels have been hit. We have not enabled and empowered the region’s security forces to address these threats effectively and it is not sustainable to try to continue to outsource that function to donor countries. They have their own priorities (http://caribbeannewsnow.com/headline-US-Navy-pulling-out- of-the-Caribbean-25270.html) and region must show itself committed to the problem by investing heavily in our own capacity to deal with crime and security.
So what is to be done when Governments literally cannot afford to do fund this traditional function of nation states? They must engage the private sector in locally sourced, technically driven and partner-supported initiatives in order to drive long-term change.
It does no good to borrow funds and simply purchase one-off items (fast boats, finger print systems, training programs) because these initiatives (a) do not create lasting capacity (b) they impact crime in a sporadic, unsystematic way (c) don’t reinforce one another and build on a long-lived, extendable plan. One-off grant funding for this type of “kit” is even worse since there is no assurance/urgency of operationalizing the “kit” since it is not part of a self-sustaining capacity-building crime reduction system. It effectively “fiddles on the margins” rather than taking control and ownership of crime problems and it is no wonder donor fatigue has set in on the “kit” issue.
Technical capability enhancements are required as a first order priority. There is nothing so powerful in this regard as a resilient mobile broadband public safety network such as Neptune Mobile has proposed because it better enables/empowers all the other initiatives and assets and makes them more productive and capable. It doesn’t fail from upsurges in consumer traffic during emergencies (only public safety officials get network access, ensuring availability); it delivers live mobile video for optimal and rapid resource allocation and builds organizational capability – daily – in those primary agencies (law enforcement, fire, military, national security etc) who so urgently need it. It is “hardened” to withstand nature and human attempts to destroy it. It is trusted because public safety leadership are involved with Neptune in designing/building it. It is developed and operated jointly with the public safety community, giving them insight and experience as part of the technology and skills transfer plan.
Such a network also serves as a centre of gravity to make better use all the other one-off grants and donations which trickle in. It is the only investment which Governments have at their fingertips which increases in value over time (as more agencies connect to the network and exploit its capabilities). Unlike a network that will remain useable over a long period, every other “one-off” purchase will depreciate in economic and operational value.
As a driver of ICT and technical development, regional the impact of the network extends into those areas which hold out a better economic growth prospects for the region. Regional networking, software and cybersecurity talent have fewer and fewer career opportunities in the Caribbean, ask UWI’s leadership.
Historically, it has been difficult to make the case for more funding for public safety in part because policy makers do not appear to perceive crime and security as a genuine threat to the Caribbean way of life. That is now changing and the private sector is ready to help lead the way forward.
By Julian Jordan and Danny Stroud