For the world's poor, climate change is terrorism
As part of the pivot to Asia, the United States government has ramped up its counterterrorism cooperation with the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere. But the bigger question from the perspective of the Filipinos, beyond the disaster at hand, is this: Why is it that the US still doesn't have a domestic consensus that there is such a thing as climate change?
When we talk about a global community, we at least ought to be able to start with that item at the top of the agenda.
For Filipinos and many poor people around the world, climate change, in effect, is terrorism conducted against them. It is a far bigger threat to people's livelihood and physical safety than all the things the US is trying to sell them in order to have its troops' forward positioned in the Philippines.
The US, notwithstanding its recent rescue missions in the disaster area, hasn't put enough emphasis on fighting climate change, despite its extensive security implications. The US may have the world's largest military, but it is this question that it will be faced with time and again. Is the world's mightiest country going after the right issue at the top of the global pecking order?
The typhoon in the Philippines is a useful reminder that we need to think more about what can be done, both on climate mitigation and on disaster preparation.
The US reaction to the situation in the Philippines was curious. A lot of room was given to asking why the Philippines was so unprepared. Why indeed? It is a very poor country.
Americans starting to lecture about disaster relief leaves a sour taste in other peoples' mouths. Few outside the US have forgotten the lack of preparedness in New Orleans.
Another instinctive reaction is to point to China. Sure, it hasn't helped enough _ and, yes, China has higher CO2 emissions than the United States, but it is the US that is supposed to be the advanced and responsible power.
China also comes in for quick criticism that, if and when it engages, it acts in quite a self-interested manner in global infrastructure projects in places like sub-Saharan Africa.
True, but it also gets the job done. The Chinese bring in their workers and get it done quickly. Too often, when one looks at those areas, Western powers for centuries have promised to work on infrastructure and they haven't exactly delivered. So the Chinese can hold that in their favour.
But the more important point in the global context is that we need a very real debate about the constant militarisation of US foreign policy. That taking this approach simply "sells" better in Congress compared to more soft-power infrastructure projects certainly isn't a good enough reason. Neither is the fact that this approach allows some folks in Washington DC to pay for ever-larger villas in the suburbs.
What needs to be addressed in this context is that there are many people in the Washington establishment who have strong incentives to ensure the US takes a more aggressive posture in the Pacific, whether through lobbying fees or pricey defence appropriations.
The return on these "investments" is actually much lower than on building better highways and seawalls. While it would be a positive step for the US to invest more in long-term development projects to aid emergency preparedness, there are also other means to achieve the same ends.
In Asia, for example, there is the Asian Development Bank (ADB), suitably enough based in Manila. What better tool is there to take out long-term loans _ on behalf of all the poor countries backed by the credit rating of the ADB _ so that these countries can invest in being better prepared for the next climate event?
Clearly, the West can't do it all. We need to have more of a regionalisation of these efforts. And these countries _ independent of the discussion about who's at fault for climate change _ need to be prepared for their own sake.
Either way, the investment in infrastructure also makes commerce easier, allowing countries to grow their national economies and promote tourism. So it's an investment in their own future and they need to do that.
Individual countries can't shoulder that burden alone. The Philippines remains very poor. President Benigno Aquino has been doing quite well on fighting corruption and the economy has been growing a little bit faster than in the past.
But the Philippines probably still needs to have 20 years of solid economic growth before it can be adequately prepared on key emergency preparedness infrastructure in its own right.
Stephan Richter is publisher and editor-in-chief of theglobalist.com, and president of the Globalist Research Centre. Twitter: @theglobalist.