At this writing, American and foreign leaders are engaging in an increasingly desperate search for ways, short of a military attack, to prevent Iran’s mullahs from getting the bomb. In the process, they are overlooking – even eschewing – what could become a powerful new force-multiplier for this campaign: Terror-free investing.
The irony is that there has arguably never been a greater need for this sort of free-market approach to intensifying pressure on the regime in Tehran. After all, official efforts keep coming up short.
Successive rounds of multilateral sanctions have been slowed and/or undermined by friends of Iran like Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Communist China. Unaccountable bureaucrats from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Union keep cutting deals that offer the false hope of negotiated solutions.
Thanks in part to such political cover for Iran, even U.S. actions that are robust by comparison – involving unilateral sanctions, pressure on international banks and companies doing business in Iran and, most recently, the blacklisting of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – have not had the desired effect on Tehran’s mullahocracy. To be sure, these initiatives have compounded economic difficulties engendered by the regime’s gross mismanagement, corruption and diversion of funds to its military, intelligence services, support for terror and covert nuclear program. Nonetheless, the last of these continues apace.
Clearly, it is time to bring to bear another instrument capable of dramatically curbing the cash flow to Iran and, for that matter, other terror-sponsoring regimes.
For decades, it has been possible for investors to ensure that their portfolios – public or personal – are not being used for purposes inconsistent with their values or priorities. Starting with the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa two decades ago, a cottage industry known as "socially responsible investing" has sprung up. Today, public pension funds, other institutions and individuals can avoid investments that involve, among other things, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, guns, gambling, Myanamar and environmental predation.
It has been difficult, however, to engage in the most socially responsible investment approach of all – ensuring the survival of our society, by keeping portfolio dollars from flowing to publicly traded companies that do business with states that sponsor terrorism. Until now.
On November 12, 2007, the FTSE Group, a leading global index, announced that it was partnering with the Conflict Securities Advisory Group (CSAG) to provide the world’s first series of terror-free screened indexes. CSAG’s filter that underpins these stock indexes will be the gold-standard in the burgeoning field of what the Securities and Exchange Commission calls "global security risk."
CSAG’s impartial Global Security Risk Monitor was the research tool utilized in 2004 by the Center for Security Policy to evaluate the portfolios of public pension funds across America. The stunning finding of the study that resulted, The Terrorism Investments of the Fifty States, was that on average 15-23% of the holdings of these funds involved companies doing business with countries on the State Department’s list of state-sponsors of terror. At the time, the value of these holdings was estimated to be roughly $188 billion, with more than $70 billion actually associated with activities in Iran, Syria, North Korea and other safe-havens for terror.
Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the director of the Center’s Divest Terror Project, Christopher Holton, Missouri State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, a leader of the 9/11 families, Debra Burlingame, and scores of other public policy groups and state legislators, this absurd situation is beginning to be corrected. More and more Americans are becoming aware of the need to invest terror-free and the possibility that, by so doing, our country can be spared further devastation in the future, whether from Iranian nuclear weapons or other forms of terrorism.
A turning point in this effort occurred last month when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill initiated by freshman Republican Assemblyman Joel Anderson. With a stroke of his pen, the Governator ordered the divestment of tens of billions of dollars previously invested by two of the country’s largest public pension funds, CALPERS and CALSTERS, in companies doing business in Iran.
Suddenly, it became clear to Wall Street that there is a rapidly growing market for terror-free investing. Now, thanks to the FTSE-CSAG indexes, it will be possible for every investor in America to ensure that their portfolios, be they those in the public or private sector, become a part of the effort to defeat our enemies on the financial front of this War for the Free World – rather than serving, however unintentionally, as resources for those who are helping them.
We all owe a special debt of gratitude to Roger Robinson, the founder and president of Conflict Securities Advisory Group (CSAG). An international banker by training, Mr. Robinson applied his visionary understanding of the markets to help create investment products that for the first time enabled the American people – with no discernable difference in investment returns – to make a choice: invest terror-free or do business with those determined to take us down.
It is time for the Bush Administration to end its stated opposition to terror-free investing. After all, as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson observed last month in sanctioning the IRGC: "In dealing with Iran , it is nearly impossible to know one’s customer and be sure that one is not unwillingly facilitating the regime’s reckless conduct."