Commentary, 9/10, 2003

Published Dec 11, 2003
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Security and Liberty?
Security may be the most significant issue currently on the public’s mind. This is not surprising considering the events of the last two years. Issues of security have been cited for removing the Taliban from Afghanistan and as justification for "regime change" in Iraq. Security is a broad term, and these examples show that the word has been politicised and internationalised. Yet the desire for security does permeate the human psyche. Parents have always wanted their children to be secure – healthy and safe in the present and as they grow. Environmentalists have struggled to preserve the security of the natural world. Bankers and brokers help us to secure our financial security. And naturally, when our security is threatened, our reaction is intense. We must be careful not to let our gut-reaction overwhelm our reason, as oft-quoted America statesman Benjamin Franklin maintained, "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security."

Achieving and maintaining the security of trans-national business investments is not easy, and international cross-culture business can be awkward. Beyond the obvious problems of food, time zones and language, lie foggy, grey areas that sometimes obscure dangerous pit-falls. Businesses must tread carefully – one false step can mean disaster, whether at home or abroad. Often, the answer is to hire a consultant – someone who knows the terrain and who can cut through the fog. But engaging a consultant can raise important ethical considerations: Where is the money going? – Is the way being paved with gold?

The recent and on-going scandal relating to Statoil’s business practices in Iran is a perfect case in point. Whether the consulting fees paid were used as bribes has yet to be determined, but the matter is tainted with the appearance of impropriety. Resignations of Statoil’s board chairman, CEO and director for international operations are the result of perceived cover-up and deception on the home front, and concerns about the damage done to Statoil’s standing in Iran remain.

At this point, the object-lesson should be that the pursuit of security in the market must not be taken lightly. Some suggestion has been made that the reaction to Statoil’s business dealings may have been too severe, that in other western businesses, resignations would not have been the result. This is yet another grey area that emphasises the complexity of dealing with ethical issues in the global marketplace.

As we go to press, OPEC has concluded another meeting. One aspect that made this meeting especially note-worthy is that for the first time since Sadam Hussein’s fall, Iraq has resumed its seat as a full member. This may be a turning point for this struggling nation as they work to establish a new government. Re-entering OPEC can provide the Iraqis with a heightened feeling of security, as they begin to feel that they themselves are setting the course for their future. There’s no doubt that Iraq’s involvement in OPEC will be a positive thing, a stabilizing influence in a region where philosophical differences all too often affect all levels of interaction.

Benjamin Franklin also said, "No nation was ever ruined by trade." Hopefully trade can also serve to make international relations more positive.

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