Tag: transparency

Either DA-RT Works, or It Does Not

This is a guest post by Theo McLauchin (@TheoMcLauchlin), Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Université de Montréal

When is a norm not a norm? I ask this question when I read Colin Elman and Arthur Lupia’s vigorous defense of the Data Access & Research Transparency (DA-RT) initiative in APSA’s Comparative Politics section newsletter. I think Elman and Lupia try to have it both ways. Their piece argues, first, that journals need to adopt norms of openness. It then argues, in defense of DA-RT against a series of concerns that it will bring the editorial hammer down on many different forms of work, that DA-RT doesn’t change anything. Editors always could implement whatever policies they wanted to. But of course if the norms change, then the content of that editorial discretion – what decisions are actually made where the submission meets the desk – changes with it. Either DA-RT has an effect or it doesn’t; either the norms change or they don’t; either some articles become newly unpublishable at some journals or they don’t. If they don’t, then DA-RT cannot have the effect its creators hope for it.

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Will Transparency Save the World Bank?

I confess that I am a World Bank junkie. There is nothing (well, very little) that perks my intellectual interest more than an in-depth discussion on the internal and external politics of the Bank. Over the past two weeks in DC, I have mercilessly subjected my graduate students to numerous conversations about the challenges facing the organization with experts within the Bank, US Senate, and the world of NGOs and think tanks. To my fabulous students, I want to say thanks for letting me nerd-out. To faithful Duck readers, I’d like to pose a few questions about the future of the Bank that arose from these conversations.

Fellow Bank-junkies will undoubtedly have caught the big story about the World Bank’s Open Data Revolution in the New York Times on July 3. The story aptly captures the Bank’s current crisis:

“…while the I.M.F. is busy with scandal and the debt crisis now shaking Europe, officials at the World Bank’s headquarters here are confronting some existential questions, including the big one: What exactly are we doing here?”

Indeed, for well over a decade the Bank has been struggling with a tripartite challenge of waning relevance, questioned effectiveness, and challenged legitimacy. In response, the Bank has sought to redefine its identity from a lending Bank to a Knowledge Bank. In so doing, the Bank hopes to redefine its comparative advantage and raison d’etre in an increasingly crowded and competitive field of development funders, generating influence and authority as much from its expertise as the (waning) power of its purse.

And I have to say that in the last year, the Bank’s transformation has been remarkable. A few months ago, the Bank finally passed its revised information disclosure policy, moving from a highly restrictive policy that listed what could be disclosed to a much more liberal policy that presumes everything is open unless explicitly exempted (hallelujah!). It also created free public access to a wealth of development data, including the World Development Indicators. Moreover, it is now possible to quickly find extensive information on the World Bank’s projects and programs, complete with links to project documents on its project portal page. The World Bank has even starting geomapping its aid programs (thanks in large part to the groundbreaking work of AidData and Development Gateway). Not surprisingly, the World Bank has in turned earned high marks for its efforts, including top scores in Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Assessment and the Center for Global Development’s Quality of Official Development Assistance (QuODA).

But for the moment I have a few questions regarding the impact of this Transparency Revolution on the future of the World Bank (and I’m sure I’ll have more questions later):

First, how can transparency be effectively turned into an accountability tool? We have yet to see how the opening of the data floodgates at the Bank will (in development parlance) “empower stakeholders.” This will depend not so much on the accessibility of data as the usability of data, as noted by the Aleem Walji, the Bank’s guru for Open Data. To paraphrase the words of one close observer, open data could be like the race car that no one can drive. How will we know the real impact of the open data revolution? Hint: it won’t be through the number of hits to the website or the download count.

Second, will the Bank’s new and improved transparency, as well as its efforts to “democratize” its governance, solicit sustained political support, particularly from its biggest donor? We’re in the midst of the FY2012 Budget Request and it includes a big call for a General Capital Increase for the World Bank and other multilateral development banks. But the general sentiment in DC is that this is going to be a hard sell. The World Bank (in contrast to some of the other MDBs and bilateral aid agencies) is held in high esteem, but there is little political support on the Hill for development aid and multilateralism in general.

Third, will the Bank’s progress in reestablishing its legitimacy via its transparency revolution translate into a revival of its relevance? I ask this because there is a deeper underlying problem regarding the need for the Bank today. Global financial crisis notwithstanding, the demand for the Bank’s (and other aid agencies’) loans and services is quickly waning in most areas of the world, with the exception of Sub-Saharan Africa. Many middle income countries are now graduating from the International Development Agency (IDA), the Bank’s soft loan window. Their need (and desire) for funds to help support infrastructure and other development projects can be easily met by private capital markets, which offer rates similar to the IBRD (the Bank’s hard-loan window) without all the conditions and safeguard requirements. More critically, new non-OECD DAC donors – most notably China, as well as large foundations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – provide would-be borrowers with many other options besides the traditional multilateral and bilateral lenders. Knowledge Bank aside, can the Bank continue to exist with its current mandate, staff and structure without demand for its core lending business?

Finally, for your amusement, a completely unrelated observation offered by one of our speakers about the contrasting cultures and internal debate within the IMF and World Bank:

“The Fund is arrogant, superior, and like the Borg. If you put five Fund staffers in a room, only one will speak. The Bank, on the other hand, is unfocused, undisciplined, squishy. If you put five Bank staffers in a room, they will all speak at once.”

(And no, that flattering comparison did not come from our NGO speaker. It came from from someone who worked within both of the institutions….)

Will transparency take a hit?

I really like the posts from Vikash and from Chris and at the risk of a bit of overkill on the topic (and upsetting Bill’s stomach further), I’ll add one more angle. This is from my monthly column at Current Intelligence:

…aside from a small cadre of foreign policy scholars, a few foreign national intelligence services, and Jon Stewart, I’m not sure who benefits from this release. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s stated intent for the disclosure was to reveal “the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors – and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.”

…First, to the dismay of many of us who teach American foreign policy, we have plenty of data demonstrating that overwhelming majorities of the American public are not interested in foreign policy in general – let alone what happens “behind the scenes.”

… and… second, even if the country was interested in knowing what’s going on behind the scenes, it turns out that we already have a pretty good system of disclosure and transparency. We don’t need WikiLeaks to know what’s going on.

For elaboration on these points and why I think Wikileaks may end up harming the cause of transparency, you can read the rest of the column here. All right, I’ve said enough. I’ll take a break from the topic for a while.

Nuclear transparency

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration has fully disclosed decades worth of data about the size of America’s nuclear arsenal:

America’s official nuclear silence ended Monday when the Obama administration not only disclosed the number of U.S. nuclear weapons available for use in wartime — 5,113 as of Sept. 30 — but surprised many by also publishing weapons totals for each year dating to 1962. (Data from before 1962 were released in 1993.)

Apparently, administration officials believe that this might put pressure on Russia to likewise disclose information about its arsenal. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told Reuters on May 12 that his country may well follow suit:

“After the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which was signed by the Russian and U.S. presidents in Prague on April 8, comes into force, we will likewise be able to consider disclosing the total number of Russia’s deployed strategic delivery vehicles and the warheads they can carry,” he said.

If these disclosures had happened 25 years ago, they would have been truly remarkable:

“This figure is one of the crown jewels of the Cold War when it comes to state secrets,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists in New York.

In 1967, the U.S. had over 31,000 nuclear weapons. The 85% reduction in the size of the U.S. arsenal reflects the remarkable changes that have occurred in the past twenty years. The latest disclosures likewise reflect ongoing efforts to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations.

That said, however, the stockpile numbers are not at all a surprise as Robert S. (Stan) Norris and various colleagues have been publishing very detailed estimates about nuclear stockpiles since the mid-1980s. In defense policy circles, even the cold war numbers were closer to “known knowns” than “known unknowns.”

Incidentally, I still have an early copy of Norris’s Nuclear Weapons Databook on my shelf. I met Norris as a grad student intern at Center for Defense Information in summer 1985; Norris left CDI for NRDC just the year before and sometimes stopped by the old stomping grounds. In summer 2008, loyal readers may recall, I noted that the Obama and Clinton campaigns included several prominent CDI alums — and hoped that their presence might have a desirable affect on U.S. security policy. Maybe Stan called in some debts!

Apparently, the Obama administration is disclosing this data now in hopes that it will promote its “global zero” efforts. In the interim, the goal is to sell that latest arms control deal in the Senate.

Information

In every episode of the classic 1960s television series “The Prisoner,” Number 6 and Number 2 had this exchange:

Number 6: Where am I?
Number 2: In the Village.
Number 6: What do you want?
Number 2: We want information.
Number 6: Whose side are you on?
Number 2: That would be telling. We want information… information… information.
Number 6: You won’t get it.

The lack of information is a problem widely recognized by international relations scholars.

Face it, we study a field marked by secrecy and imprecision. The central unit of analysis is the state, with interests (or motives) that are virtually impossible to discern. Even capabilities are often ambiguous. As one scholar put it recently, “The force of uncertainty is absolutely central to every major research tradition in the study of international relations.”

The world was reminded of the certainty of uncertainty last week when the BBC and other media reported the following in regards to a mysterious recent incident in Asia:

An “external explosion” probably sank the South Korean naval vessel which went down near North Korean waters last month, an investigator says.

“The possibility of an external explosion is far higher than that of an internal explosion,” Yoon Duk-yong told a news conference in Seoul.

North Korea denies that it sank the boat.

Duck readers might be reminded of the mystery surrounding the destruction of something in Syria in 2007. Did Israel strike? Was the target a nuclear facility?

Indeed, it is not difficult to generate a short but nonetheless impressive list of important things we do not know about contemporary international politics:

What is the status of Iran’s nuclear program?

Is Osama bin Laden still alive? If so, where is he hiding?

(For Earth Day) What is the carrying capacity of the planet?

Actually, before I attempt to continue this list, I’ll just close with Donald Rumsfeld’s famous words on this subject:

“…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

Some days, I feel like someone who tries to read tea leaves or divine the present from a crystal ball.

Cheney: The Most Dangerous Veep Ever?

In the June 15 dead-tree version of The Nation (online since May 27), Jonathan Schell writes that the Iraq war was produced by torture. Everyone knows that the “war on terror” and the Iraq war produced torture, but few have focused on the reversed causal arrow. And we are still learning details of the prominent and apparently unprecedented role Vice President Dick Cheney played in approving torture and promoting war.

To document his charge, Schell references a remarkable blog post at The Washington Note penned by Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell:

what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to [Vice President Dick] Cheney’s office that their detainee “was compliant” (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, “revealed” such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

There in fact were no such contacts.

Wilkerson says that the intelligence agencies stopped all forms of torture after the Abu Ghraib photos. “No torture or harsh techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator. Period. People were too frightened by what might happen to them if they continued.”

Transparency works!

Schell also quotes Major Paul Burney, a former Army psychiatrist with the Army’s 85th Medical Detachment Behavioral Science Consultation team, whose April 2006 testimony appears in the Final Report of the Senate Armed Services Committee (p. 41), declassified this past April:

“[T]his is my opinion, even though they [captives] were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful in establishing a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

The full title of that report is Inquiry Into The Treatment of Detainees In U.S. Custody,” dated November 20, 2008.

I know much of this information has appeared previously in the blogosphere, often in response to Dick Cheney’s outrageous claims about the successes of harsh techniques during the Bush years, but I wanted to note the key quotes here with original sources noted.

That same issue of The Nation includes a lengthy and disturbing review of reporter Barton Gellman’s book on Cheney (The Angler) written by NYU law professor Stephen Holmes. According to Holmes, “Gellman lavishes most of his attention on the fabrications Cheney used to enable the executive branch to circumvent constitutional checks and balances.” Again, however, it is clear that Cheney was pushing very hard to justify war against Iraq regardless of the costs or consequences. Here’s an example of how he fabricated truth to the House Majority leader in 2002:

Cheney’s “major role in bringing war to Iraq” likewise required a strategic twisting of the truth. Gellman details a private briefing in late September 2002 that Cheney provided to Republican Congressman Dick Armey, then majority leader of the House. Armey opposed an invasion of Iraq on the reasonable grounds that the United States should not attack a country that had not attacked it. Usually hawkish, Armey presented an embarrassing hurdle to the war party in the administration. As Gellman says, “If Armey could oppose the war, he gave cover to every doubter in waiting,” making him “the center of gravity of the political opposition.” Something had to be done, and Cheney did it. According to Gellman, Cheney, brandishing top-secret satellite photos, made statements about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear arsenal and ties to Al Qaeda that he knew to be erroneous: “In the privacy of his office, for this one crucial vote, Cheney leveled claims he had not made before and did not make again.” Some of these claims “crossed so far beyond the known universe of fact that they were simply without foundation.” Gellman concludes that Cheney deliberately told Armey “things he knew to be untrue,” bamboozling a Congressional leader of his own party just long enough to extract a go-ahead vote. Having been preapproved on false pretenses by a gullible or complicit Congress, the misbegotten invasion was launched six months later.

Read the entire review.

Publicity

Much of my academic scholarship is concerned with the idea of deliberative democracy. Nayef Samhat and I have argued, for instance, that norms of transparency (or openness) and participation (or inclusion) promote public deliberation.

By contrast, secrecy and exclusion distort public debate.

Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists, together with the Government Accountability Project, told a House Committee about their survey of nearly 300 government climate scientists. The results, as reported by AP, are far from ideal for those interested in deliberation:

At the House hearing, two private advocacy groups produced a survey of 279 government climate scientists showing that many of them say they have been subjected to political pressure aimed at downplaying the climate threat. Their complaints ranged from a challenge to using the phrase “global warming” to raising uncertainty on issues on which most scientists basically agree, to keeping scientists from talking to the media.

The survey and separate interviews with scientists “has brought to light numerous ways in which U.S. federal climate science has been filtered, suppressed and manipulated in the last five years,” Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the committee.

Apparently, at least one scientist testified about his experience:

Drew Shindell, a climate scientist with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that climate scientists frequently have been dissuaded from talking to the media about their research, though NASA’s restrictions have been eased.

Prior to the change, interview requests of climate scientists frequently were “routed through the White House” and then turned away or delayed, said Shindell. He described how a news release on his study forecasting a significant warming in Antarctica was “repeatedly delayed, altered and watered down” at the insistence of the White House.

Representative Henry Waxman pointed out that this isn’t exactly a question of traditional “high politics,” which is sometimes offered as a reason for keeping secrets:

`We know that the White House possesses documents that contain evidence of an attempt by senior administration officials to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming and minimize the potential danger,” said Waxman, adding that he is “not trying to obtain state secrets.

Nope. This appears to be a clear case of the executive branch trying to limit the public (and perhaps even scientific) debate for their partisan political advantage.

The hearing itself demonstrates the value of checks and balances, which Dan welcomed back after the November elections.

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