Global Issues

Who to trust?

Fallows in someone who, as Andrew points out, got it right on Iraq, and early. In fact, he has been consistently prescient, and in my view wise, over the past 5 years (see here here here here here and here for a start). Does this mean we should listen to him now over the voices of those who were spectacularly wrong? I dunno, but here’s what he thinks of the surge.
I guess we will see whether he was right, again, in a few months…

Global Issues

Indian Barometer Rising?

Usually not a huge fan of Siddiqui’s perspective, but if representative (particularly the quotes), this is a chilling take on the response to the execution from the world’s largest democracy.

I am taken aback by the reaction in India to Saddam Hussein’s hanging. The anger cuts across religious and political divides.

This secular nation of 1.2 billion – the world’s largest democracy and emerging economic powerhouse – has as many Muslims as Muslim Pakistan, at about 145 million. But its majority is Hindu and it has significant pockets of Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and others. Yet the condemnation has been near universal.

More tellingly, there has been little or no echo here of the Iraqi sectarian divide, with the Shiites there celebrating Sunni Saddam’s death.

There is even criticism, from both the right and the left, of the Indian government’s muted response to the execution, New Delhi’s stance dictated by the increasingly close relations with the U.S., exemplified by the controversial nuclear co-operation agreement.

If India is a key barometer of the non-Western world, and it often is, Saddam’s hanging will come to haunt George W. Bush.

(ed. – don’t forget the reaction from the Middle East!): from the NYT, via TPM:

In the week since Saddam Hussein was hanged in an execution steeped in sectarian overtones, his public image in the Arab world, formerly that of a convicted dictator, has undergone a resurgence of admiration and awe.

On the streets, in newspapers and over the Internet, Mr. Hussein has emerged as a Sunni Arab hero who stood calm and composed as his Shiite executioners tormented and abused him.

“No one will ever forget the way in which Saddam was executed,” President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt remarked in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot published Friday and distributed by the official Egyptian news agency. “They turned him into a martyr.”


The History Boys

Check out Sullivan’s review of The History Boys. I agree that it was a wonderful movie, albeit from a somewhat more removed perspective than Andrew. I particularly liked how it kept elements of its theatrical origins. In many instances, you felt like you were watching a play. I do agree with the sentiment in his follow up post that the movie was a bit fatalistic on the prospects of gay adulthood, however it undoubtedly captures what I am sure is the inner torment of growing up as a gay teenager, particularly 20 years ago. It also did so in a way that was completely free of the dichotomizing, over sentimentalizing, and melodrama that invariably accompany treatments of the topic. Instead, various perspectives on growing up gay were only one quite natural part of an all-round great movie.

I should also note a feeling that the movie demonstrated very clear distinctions between British and North American sensibilities. Not in a pejorative way in either direction mind you. Just profoundly different. Did anyone else feel the same way?

Global Issues

Counting Death

A couple of months ago David asked for comments on the latest Lancet Iraqi excess death study. I had drafted something but then forgot to finish and post it. Anyways, better late than never I suppose.

I do have a bit of a thing for counting bad things, and have been involved with several projects using modelling techniques at least tangentially similar to those in this project, however, only as a statistically-less-inclined co-author. In lieu of my own assessment then, let me provide the following two links that may be useful for those wanting to move beyond knee-jerk dismissals of these quantitative techniques.

First, the Human Security Centre, responsible for the Human Security Report released last year, has a very useful list of links to responses to the Lancet study. The Human Security Report was instrumental in bringing together considerable new data on conflict mortality rates and has substantial research connections to those on the frontier of this emerging field.

The Royal Holloway economics department provides another good resource on the methods used in the study.

What both these sites make clear is that this is an ever evolving field with its own internal debates. This is disputed by no one. That being said, there is a big difference between this recognition and the types of quasi critiques that have been abound on this issue.

I wrote a friend who has intimate knowledge of the methods used in the Lancet Iraq study, asking the following question:

What is your professional opinion of the new Lancet study of Iraqi casualties? Is the real story not the 650,000 but the 392,000 at 95% certainty? Would be very interested in your assessment.

I received the following reply:

No, message is 650,000 excess deaths is most probable estimate (probability
density highest here). 392,000, as the lower bound of the confidence interval, is a much less likely estimate. Same for upper bound.

The bigger question is why this should surprise us, given the political and
military situation.

This person has worked in just about every major conflict zone of the past two decades, and developed statistical surveys that are at the forefront of the field. He is intimately knowledgeable on the indirect human costs of war. His point is a clear one. The principal question is why are we so surprised that this level of conflict would result in such levels of excess mortality?

I would argue it is a direct result of our sanitised view of war. We consider the costs of war to be limited to direct conflict casualties. Bombs killing our soldiers, bullets killing insurgents, end of story. This of course is only the beginning, excess death levels tell the other side. The failure to provide humanitarian protection has real human costs, far beyond those directly killed by munitions.

And here in lies the rub. Indirect costs of war are both incredibly difficult to measure and generally not considered part of the overall war calculus. Iraqi Body Count, for example, only measures specific killings, not excess mortality – a substantial difference. Particularly since it was their figures which most news accounts (as well as the President) compared to the Lancet totals. Yet they are measuring different things.

But are excess deaths the responsibility of the intervening country? I would emphatically argue yes. Particularly if there is even an iota of humanitarian rational for the occupation. More importantly, it is these very excess deaths that are both symbolic of the failures of the humanitarian component on the occupation, as well as a causal factor of the high levels of anti-occupation sentiment and outright insurgency support. The fact that the numbers would be dismissed wholesale, is in my view symbolic of the disconnect between many war proponents and the humanitarian realities of the mission.

UPDATE: I must add one more very useful set of links provided by the Human Security Center. In their words:

The recent Lancet article attempting to quantify the death toll since the 2003 invasion of Iraq has been the subject of much controversy. What is clear is that there is a dearth of accurate data and huge practical and methodological challenges inherent in calculating conflict death tolls. This special issue of Human Security Research features a series of recently-published reports and articles on conflict-related mortality and is designed to shed some light on what we know, what we don’t know and the challenges facing those who try to measure the human costs of conflict.

For those interested in the state of the art (or maybe I should say science, but that is a whole other debate), check it out.

Global Issues, US Politics

Wider implications of Saddam’s death sentence

That Saddam has been tried for past atrocities is in most respects a positive development for Iraq. The use of capital punishment, however, might be symbolic of a systemic flaw in the US approach to the occupation since the fall of Baghdad.

With self-serving mea culpas abound, and more and more people taking a stern realist tack from desired to possible outcomes, core principles that have led to the current humanitarian disaster deserve to be challenged.

Simply blaming the disbanding of the Army, or the incompetence of pre-pubescent CPA advisors is not sufficient, nor particularly productive save for those distancing themselves from a policy they staked their worldview on.

The singular moment in which the peace was lost must be seen to be linked to the gross failure of legitimacy following the fall of Baghdad. Much like a similar moment in Afghanistan, most Iraqis were likely willing to give the occupying regime a chance. However, legitimacy was crucial, and here is where Blair (in a very Beinartian manner) got it right, and Bush went disastrously wrong.

Blair advocated strongly for a shift to UN control immediately following the successful invasion. He realised, like many in the international community, that it would be crucial to internationalize the post-war reconstruction and peacebuilding and that the UN, despite its many flaws, was the best instrument for such a project. This was rebuked by the US, who wanted to retain complete control over the transition, to disastrous effect.

So what does this have to do with the Saddam death sentence? International legitimacy. Most of the world, as well as virtually every international rights organization, is against capital punishment. Whether or not this position is correct is beside the point. What is crucial is this is seen as another reason why the international community is reluctant to get engaged in what is overwhelming considered an ‘American problem’. These small things add up.

If the US had cared about international legitimacy, Saddam would have been tried for war crimes in the Hague or through an ad hoc tribunal established in Baghdad. There is of course the problem that one cannot be tried for crimes committed before the establishment of the ICC, a term ironically included to placate US opposition to the court, so the trial of Saddam would have been more difficult, but the results certainly more legitimate.

Perhaps it is too late to undo this mistake, so one can only hope that they will not be broadcasting his death on television. This would simply be a further affront to the decency one would hope will emerge is the war stricken country.

More generally and following from this, in my opinion, the entire Iraq project desperately needs to be internationalised. I do not believe that the US alone has either the tools, nor the political will to implement and see out the multi-decade peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and reconstruction project that the Iraqi mission has become.

This should have been done three years ago. It is still, however, essential, particularly with the growing call for US withdrawal. Recognizing the international implications of putting Saddam to death, would be a good place to start in beginning to shift the control of the Iraq mission to those best suited for the task.

UPDATE: Plus ca change…

UPDATE 2: Hitch concludes:

It would have been no offense to justice if Hussein had been sentenced to spend the rest of his days in prison without the possibility of parole, but it would represent a break with that sanguinary tradition. And it might be no bad thing if Americans, especially those who supported the breaking of his death grip on Iraqi society, found ways of conveying their distaste for this rushed and vindictive — and partial — version of a process of reckoning that ought to have been sober, meticulous and untainted.


Person of the year

Congrats bloggers, you beat Ahmadinejad!

Stengel said if the magazine had decided to go with an individual, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the likely choice. “It just felt to me a little off selecting him,” Stengel said.

Question, why can’t Time pick an unpleasant character as person of the year? Is it because it is released over the holidays? Is it bad for sales? If it is acually the feel good person of the year, or the positive change person of the year, then perhaps Time should change the selection mandate.

ps. Should the policy implications of the choice, whether positive or negative, be considered?

US Politics

Is Newt reasonable?

Newt (the new, mild mannered iteration) is one of those guys who sounds reasonable 95% of the time and then says something truly off the wall. In interviews it happens about every 5 minutes or so, and is often just a passing reference. Meet the Press this morning was a case in point. He even had some good ideas on Iraq, but then, without changing tone and without warning, he would drop a bizzare bomb of a comment. He wasn’t called on any of them though. Interested in David’s grading of him. Does he get penalised for four or five really stupid statements amongst a relatively benign 30 minute interview? Regardless, it’s pretty clear he’s running for pres…

It was discussed over at the Political Animal that I probably should have listed the wacky things newt said. First, let me just say that much what he said was very reasonable. His idea for a civil conversation corp to deal with 60% unemployment rate in Iraq is a good one, as is his focus on non-military ‘levers of power’ including a revamped State Department. His call for a real non-partisan discussion on Iraq is also welcomed, and bringing Obama and McCain together to generate ideas would be fantastic (David and I would certainly like it!). It should also be said that he is very slick and his manner is very impressive. Which only makes the nutty stuff stand out. Here is the transcript, and here are a few nuggets:

1. “if we are defeated in Iraq, there are not enough Marine elements in the world to evacuate the embassies that’ll come under siege.”

2. “This is either an American commitment to victory or it is a defeat. And if the Democrats decide it’s a defeat, fine, then let’s—then let’s withdraw”

3. On choosing whether a website is jihadist and should be censored: “Look, I—you can appoint three federal judges if you want to and say, “Review this stuff and tell us which ones to close down.” I would just like to have them be federal judges who’ve served in combat.”

4. FMR. REP. GINGRICH: “The local Muslims who are Americans and patriots and don’t want to be blown up in the mall thought it was terrific to arrest this guy for trying to buy hand grenades, and the ACLU thought there’s probably a real infringement of his legal right to be stupid.

MR. RUSSERT: But they’re Americans and patriots as well.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Yeah, Americans and patriots as well, but they’re suicidal in my judgment.”

5. “You have—you have more censorship in the McCain-Feingold bill, which blocks the right of free speech about American campaigns than you have from the FBI closing down jihadists.”

6. “So we’ve had a 30-year period of saying it’s OK to infringe free speech as long as it’s about politics. But now if you want to be a jihadist, and you want to go kill people, well who are we to say that’s morally wrong? I think that’s suicidal.”

7. On his history of aggressive partisan rhetoric: “Look, first of all, it was a different time. I mean, you had a 40-year monopoly of power in the House by the Democrats. You, you were in very different kind of environment. You didn’t have a war that, that should focus every American on our own survival, which we—we have a big war, of which Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan are sub-sets. But we have a much bigger threat to our very survival. We didn’t have the rise of China and India.”

8. and finally, on the Clinton impeachment: “The question is, do you want to go down the road of Nigeria and corruption and have a country in which, as long as he’s popular, he can break the law?”

Global Issues, US Politics

The Incompetence Dodge 2.0

One would be hard pressed to find a more venerable beltway foreign policy panel: Hass, the CFR realist. Cohen, the SAIS pragmatist. Adelman, the unapologetic neocon. Ricks, the war-battered (and Pulitzer forthcoming) journalist. No bleeding heart? Nope, this was to be a ‘serious’ hard-nosed assessment. Needless to say, I watched Meet the Press with considerable interest Sunday morning. Surely these grand-hommes would shed light on what is increasingly becoming a markedly solution-deficient foreign policy discussion?

First on Haas. Every once and a while, the interests of differing foreign policy philosophies overlap. Such was the case in the lead up to the Iraq war. I remember being at a workshop nodding approvingly to Stephen Walt’s quintessentially realist assessment of why invading Iraq was a really bad idea. Surely we were on the same ‘team’ I thought? Deep down of course I knew I was dancing with the devil (in an ideological sense), but why question bedfellows when they sound so reasonable, not to mention sure footed and influential?

I don’t know what Walt is currently prescribing for Iraq, but if Hass is representative of the realist view, then count me sceptical. To paraphrase Haas: The Iraq war is all but lost. There is a very limited chance of success. This has to be admitted. The purpose of American foreign policy over the next year must therefore be to shift the perception that the problem lies not with US staying power or bad foreign policy decisions, but rather with the Iraqi’s. This shifting of blame is essential, says Haas, in order to ensure the perception of American military superiority; the worst case scenario being chaos in the Middle East, and America being blamed and deemed incompetent.

Well, there you have it. This is the realist version of the neocon’s incompetence dodge – foreign policy free from moral constraints. This is the Incompetence Dodge 2.0.

On first principles, as I once agreed with Walt, I also agree with Haas. The primary reason against unilateral invasion for both liberal internationalists and for realists alike, was that the concequences may be irreparable. Not just bad, but irreparable. Where I fundamentally divert from realist thinking, however, where to my mind the realist show their stripes, is in the amoral ‘solution’ they now prescribe.

There was not a moral argument against the war for the realists. There is likewise not a moral solution. A moral solution would require taking responsibility for the initial policy decision. Powel’s pottery barn trope, amongst others, for example. This is something Haas appears categorically unwilling to do. Instead choosing to shift blame to the Iraqi’s to ensure the credibility of future US foreign policy.

For their respective parts, Cohen, Adelman and Ricks said pretty much what you would expect.

Cohen pushed the ‘cross our fingers and hope it works out’ line. He argued for a drive to control Baghdad and suggested an ultimatum to the Iraqi ‘Government’: If you are not willing to do what we want, “we will leave you with chaos.” As if they believe that one, it isn’t chaos already, and two, that they have the power to significantly alter the current violence levels. Cohen did suggest that a better model for the ISG might have been to lay out the cost benefits of various plans for Iraq. Apparently Baker rejected this. Maybe it would have been a good model, although fissures within he group would have been brought to the surface.

Adelman was both remarkably recalcitrant and brutally honest in advocating the classic Incompetence Dodge 1.0. Ygelsias should really use him as a case study. Unabashed support for the war and complete blame on the Bush Administration’s incompetence, calling it shameful and mind-blowing. While this is well worn ground, he did point out one nugget from the ICG report: In the 1000 person US embassy in Iraq, 6 people speak Arabic. “How can anyone hear this and not be ashamed” he said. In a year from now, he wants a feeling that the government, rather than the sectarian groups are on the rise. Ok, but how? Package his arguments however you want. He is blaming the execution, not the first principle.

Finally Ricks is all but categorical on the degree of the failure, but certainly didn’t offer any solutions. On what the military will take from Iraq: “the worst decision in the history of American foreign policy.” On what’s driving the insurgency: A Hobbsian state – the war of all for all; Neighbourhoods are armed fortresses, a series of armed camps throughout Baghdad; Complete meltdown. On the future?: All of our allies have left, the middle class, the “glue of democracy” has fled. A dire assessment indeed.

So, to summarise. Haas wants to blame Iraqis, Adelman wants to blame the administration, Cohen wants to cross his fingers and hope things work out, and Ricks thinks we (Iraq, region and US foreign policy) are in an ever tightening downward spiral.

The Aldelman incompetence dodge we have heard before. The Haas dodge, however, is a new beast that I fear has legs. The isolationist left and right will soon grasp on, finding bedfellows in the realists, as anti-invasion advocates once did. As will politicians on both sides of the aisle who all want Iraq to ‘go away’ before 2008. To me this Incompetence Dodge 2.0 is the most perilous possible outcome of the Iraq problematic.

A voice conspicuously missing from this panel was the liberal internationalist. Where do they stand in this mess of blaming, dodging and praying? Tomorrow I’ll sketch out what I think they are, or should, be saying. Warning – It won’t be pretty, or particularly eloquent, but no options now are.

US Politics

SNL Homerun

Paraphrasing from the weekend update: “Today Al Gore called the invasion of Iraq the worst policy in American History. Disagreeing with him: Slaves.” Nothing like a little perspective!

Disruptive Power

The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age



Anonymous. WikiLeaks. The Syrian Electronic Army. Edward Snowden. Bitcoin. The Arab Spring.

Digital communication technologies have thrust the calculus of global political power into a period of unprecedented complexity. In every aspect of international affairs, digitally enabled actors are changing the way the world works and disrupting the institutions that once held a monopoly on power. No area is immune: humanitarianism, war, diplomacy, finance, activism, or journalism. In each, the government departments, international organizations and corporations who for a century were in charge, are being challenged by a new breed of international actor. Online, networked and decentralized, these new actors are innovating, for both good and ill, in the austere world of foreign policy. They are representative of a wide range of 21st century global actors and a new form of 21st century power: disruptive power.

In Disruptive Power, Taylor Owen provides a sweeping look at the way that digital technologies are shaking up the workings of the institutions that have traditionally controlled international affairs. The nation state system and the subsequent multinational system were founded on and have long functioned through a concentration of power in the state. Owen looks at the tools that a wide range of new actors are using to increasingly control international affairs, and how their rise changes the way we understand and act in the world. He considers the bar for success in international digital action and the negative consequences of a radically decentralized international system. What new institutions will be needed to moderate the new power structures and ensure accountability? And how can governments and corporations act to promote positive behavior in a world of disruptive innovation? Owen takes on these questions and more in this probing and sober look at the frontier of international affairs, in a world enabled by information technology and increasingly led by disruptive innovators.

With cutting edge analysis of the fast-changing relationship between the declining state and increasingly powerful non-state actors, Disruptive Power is the essential road map for navigating a networked world.



“The 21st century state is using new technologies both to serve and protect citizens and also to control them. Citizens are using the same technologies to fight back. Taylor Owen’s analysis is the one you want to read on this battle and the way it will shape the 21st century.”

–Michael Ignatieff, Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice, Harvard Kennedy School

“Cyber technology has led to disruptive power in the form of hackers like Anonymous and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin. How should states respond? Taylor Owen offers a provocative analysis and recommendations.”

–Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Harvard University, author of The Future of Power

“In Disruptive Power, Owen gives us a tour of the digital challenges to the nation-state, from newly flexible protest groups like Occupy and Anonymous to the rise of algorithms as weapons, often in the hands of non-state actors and often targeting civilian life. He weaves these observations into a forcefully argued thesis: the model of a world governed by stable nation-states is in crisis, forcing most state-led institutions into a choice between adaptation and collapse.”

–Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

“Taylor Owen gives us an incisive set of reflections on the ways in which the decentralized, collaborative, and resilient power of digital networks is undermining the state’s ability to govern. Even more disturbing is the resulting existential dilemma for democratic states: the best way to fight back is to become a surveillance state. Disruptive Power does not provide answers, but it poses important and unsettling questions.”

–Anne-Marie Slaughter, Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University, and Director of Policy Planning, U.S. State Department, 2009-2011


Media and Book Talks



The Violence of AlgorithmsForeign Affairs

Why the U.S. should but won’t partner with hactivists AnonymousSan Fransisco Chronicle 

Why governments must embrace the new global digital realityThe Globe and Mail

The promise and peril of digital diplomacyThe Globe and Mail



More Data, More Problems: Surveillance and the Information Economy,  Review in Foreign Affairs

Rescuing Democracy in the Age of the Internet, Review in Ethics and International Affairs



CIGI Signature Lecture, Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age

World Affairs Council, San Fransisco: From Bitcoin to WikiLeaks: Shaping the World in the Digital Age

Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum, Plenary Session: Foreign policy in 140 Characters: How technology is redefining diplomacy

International Conference of Crisis Mappers: Historical Mapping and the US Bombardment of Cambodia

Highlights from a talk at USC Annenberg: Disruptive Power 


Chapter Summaries


Losing Control

Losing Control outlines how in a wide range of international areas of influence, the state is being challenged by new, digitally enabled actors. Grounded in the theory of disruption, this chapter explores the rise and power of the activist collective Anonymous, the paradox of dual use surveillance technologies, and the recent revelation on the extent of NSA surveillance.  The chapter serves as an introduction to the book.

Disruptive Power

Disruptive Power traces the development of the modern state and drawing on disruption theory, explores how the introduction of digital technology presents a crisis to state power.  The state began as a mechanism for centralizing and exercising power and over time became hierarchical, bureaucratic, and, in democratic states, accountable to the rule of law.  In a networked world, however, groups like Anonymous wield power by being decentralized, collaborative, and resilient.  These two models of power are fundamentally at odds and the resulting disruptive power threatens the institutions that have preserved the balance of power since the end of World War II.

Spaces of Dissent

Spaces of Dissent explores the rapidly evolving space of digital activism, or hacktivism, through the example of a group of hackers called Telecomix, who served as a form of tech support for the Arab Spring.  Such cyber activists have taken on a role of social and cultural provocateurs; they are dissenting actors in a culture that is increasingly hostile to protest. What’s more, they see, observe, and quickly react in ways that boggle the state and corporations – all of this instrumentalized by digital technology. This argument is grounded in an exploration of hactivism as a form of civil disobedience, though one that looks markedly different, and is potential more powerful, than the placards and megaphones of old. The chapter details how the state has responded to the perceived threat of online civil disobedience through its prosecutions against Chelsea Manning and Anonymous, and argues that their excessiveness stems form a paranoia over losing control. Finally, it explores the costs to society when we eliminate social deviancy.

New Money

New Money details how the rise of crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin represent a threat to the power the state derives from the control of currency. This chapter first outlines the history of the close connection between the control of currency and state power. It then details the rise of crypto-currencies, explain how they work, and their potential real-world benefits. Finally, it explores the potential challenge to state power posed by this decentralized and technologically enabled currency. I argue that if the use of Bitcoin were to proliferate, as it likely will, then the inability of the state to either collect revenue from, or regulate commercial activity, poses a threat to the control it currently holds over the international financial system.

Being There

Being There considers the evolution of international reporting news by juxtaposing the death of seasoned war corresponded Marie Colvin during the bombing of Homs, Syria with the new digital tools Syrian citizens used to document and stream the war to the world in real time.  In an age of live-streaming, citizen journalism, drone journalism and coming advances in virtual reality, do we even need foreign correspondents? What’s more, do these technological advances result in new forms of knowing and understanding international events, do they shift how we understand the traditional power of the media and their capability to control information, and are they ultimately affecting how we see, and act in, the world?

Saving the Saviors

Saving the Saviors looks at the impact of collaborative mapping and advances in satellite technology on humanitarian and development agencies. The world of aid, humanitarianism and development have long been dominated by state-based agencies and large international organizations. For nearly a century, organizations like the World Food Program, The Red Cross, USAID and Oxfam have attempted to lead a transfer of expertise and resources from the developed world to the developing world. But new models are emerging. In the first week following the 2010 Haiti earthquake 14,000 citizens used their cell phones to upload emergency information to a live online crisis map. How do we know if the information uploaded to a crisis map is real? How do we hold these projects to account, without the oversight that states and institutions once provided? Using examples of disruptive humanitarian actors and recent academic work assessing their impact, this chapter explores how aid and humanitarianism are being transformed from the ground up.

Diplomacy Unbound

Diplomacy Unbound explores the emerging practice of digital diplomacy. First, it outlines how we valued the efficacy and power of diplomacy before Twitter and Facebook and mesh networks by tracing the notion of diplomatic power. It then argues that we need to view digital diplomacy initiatives in two categories, those that simply expand the practice of public diplomacy into a new medium, and those that seek to fundamentally engage in the digital space, using the tools and capabilities outlined throughout this book. I argue that when the bounds of diplomacy are extended into influencing not just states, but also digital actors, then they overlap fundamentally with other foreign policy programs and objectives. And this invariably leads to conflicting methods and outcomes.  The undue negative costs associated with coercive digital diplomacy demonstrate the weakness of the state in a major realm of its foreign policy. And if the state can’t be effectively diplomatic in the digital space, then what does this tell us about the contemporary relevance of diplomacy itself? 

The Violence of Algorithms

The Violence of Algorithms looks at how advances in computational power and automation have produced military weapons and surveillance tools that blur the boundaries of the battlefield and the lines between domestic and international. While much of this book focuses on diminishing state power in the face of empowered actors, here I look at how the state is fighting back. What does it mean when the state extends the use of military technologies and tactics far beyond the battlefield? How should we view advances in automated warfare, and the power that these new technologies embed in complex and secretive algorithms? And for how long can we expect the state to have a monopoly on these news forms of pervasive violence? Put another way, where is the line between war and peacetime behaviour with the deployment of computation and surveillance based weaponry?

The Crisis of the State

The Crisis of the State outlines four challenges that together threaten the state’s traditional mechanisms of power and control, but that also might provide models for 20th century international institutions seeking to adapt— if they are structurally capable of transformation or meaningful reform.  This crisis of the state has at least four key components: democratic legitimacy, reversing the surveillance state, algorithmic accountability, and internet governance.  Solving any one of them, will not prove a panacea to this crisis, nor is this list exhaustive; there are many more innovations being developed and important questions being addressed. But luckily in each, there are individuals and groups experimenting on new models and proposing potential solutions.  This is the new landscape in which the state must constructively engage.



By way of an intro, currently: 0197Taylor O. B_W WEB

My PhD was on the concept of human security, exploring how mapping and spatially analyzing local vulnerability data can help us better understand the nature of extreme insecurity.  My current personal research, however, now focuses on the intersection of digital media, technology and public policy.

I use this site as a contact point and as an aggregator of my academic work and broader writing.

A bit more officially:

Taylor Owen is the Beaverbrook Chair in Media, Ethics and Communications and Associate Professor in the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University. He was previously Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, and the Research Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University where he led a program studying the impact of digital technology on the practice of journalism, and has held research positions at Yale University, The London School of Economics and The International Peace Research Institute. His Doctorate is from the University of Oxford and he has been a Trudeau and Banting scholar, an Action Canada and Public Policy Forum Fellow, the 2016 Public Policy Forum Emerging Leader, and sits on the Board of Directors of the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and on the Governing Council of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). He is the founder of the international affairs media platform, and he is the author, most recently, of Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age (Oxford University Press, 2015) and the co-editor of The World Won’t Wait: Why Canada Needs to Rethink its Foreign Policies (University of Toronto Press, 2015, with Roland Paris), Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State (Columbia University Press, 2017, with Emily Bell) and The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley Re-enginnered Journalism (Tow Center 2017, with Emily Bell). His forthcoming book on Silicon Valley, journalism and democracy will be published by Yale University Press in early 2019. His work can be found at and @taylor_owen.


Email: taylor (dot) owen (at) gmail (dot) com

Twitter: @taylor_owen

Warning: I have been largely defeated by email flow, so please feel free to send reminders and nudges when needed.



Selected writing and media (more formal list below)

On technology and global affairs:

On media and democracy:

On Canadian politics and foreign policy:

On the bombing of Cambodia:

On Human Security:

On the future of think tanks:


Full(ish) List

Books and Manuscripts

  • Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Era. March 2015, Oxford University Press, New York (About, Amazon)
  • The World Won’t Wait: Why Canada Needs to Rethink its Foreign Policies, Forthcoming December 2015, (ed., with Roland Paris), University of Toronto Press, Toronto (Amazon)
  • Journalism After Snowden, Columbia University Press (ed with Emily Bell and Jennifer Henrichson), February 2017. (CUP)
  • The New Global Journalism: Foreign Correspondence in Transition. Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University, 2014 (ed with Ann Cooper) pdf
  • Human Security.  Sage Major Work, Four-Volume Set. London, UK. 2013. Link
  • The Handbook of Human Security, Routledge Press, 2013 (ed., with Mary Martin) Link
  • Operationalizing Human Security: From Local Vulnerability to International Policy, DPhil Thesis, The University of Oxford, July 2010.

Peer Reviewed Academic

  • Belair-Gagnon, Valerie, Taylor Owen and Avery E. Holton. “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Journalistic Disruption: Perspectives of Early Professional Adopters.” Digital Journalism, vol. 5, no. 10, 2017, pp. 1-14,
  • Owen, Taylor. “The Networked State and the End of 20th Century Diplomacy.” Global Affairs, vol. 2, no. 3, 2016, pp. 301-307,
  • Burgess, J Peter, Taylor Owen and Uttam Kumar Sinha. “Human Securitization of Water? A Case Study of the Indus Water Basin.” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, vol. 29, no. 2, 2013, pp. 382-407, 
  • Martin, Mary, and Taylor Owen. “The Second Generation of Human Security: Lessons from the UN and EU Experience.” International Affairs, vol. 86, no. 1, 2010, pp. 211-224, 
  • Travers, Patrick, and Taylor Owen. “Between Metaphor and Strategy: Canada’s Integrated Approach to Peacebuilding in Afghanistan.” International Journal, vol. 63, no. 3, 2008, pp. 685-702, 
  • Owen, Taylor. “The Critique that Doesn’t Bite: A Response to David Chandler’s ‘Human Security: The Dog That Didn’t Bark’.” Security Dialogue, vol. 39, no. 4, 2008, pp. 445-453,
  • Benini, Aldo, Taylor Owen and Håvard Rue. “A Semi-Parametric Spatial Regression Approach to Post-War Human Security: Cambodia 2002-2004.” Asian Journal of Criminology, vol. 3, no 2, 2008, pp.139-158,
  • Liotta, P.H., and Taylor Owen. “Why Human Security?” Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, vol. 7, no. 1, 2006, pp. 37-54,
  • Liotta, P.H., and Taylor Owen. “Sense and Symbolism: Europe Takes On Human Security.” Parameters, vol. 36, no. 3, 2006, pp. 85-102, 
  • Gleditsch, Nils Petter, et al. “Conflicts over Shared Rivers: Resource Wars or Fuzzy Boundaries?” Political Geography, vol. 25. no. 4, 2006, pp. 361-382, 
  • Owen, Taylor. “A Response to Edward Newman: Conspicuously Absent? Why the Secretary-General Used Human Security in All but Name.” St Antony’s International Review, vol. 1, no. 2, 2005, pp. 37–42,
  • Owen, Taylor, and Olav Slaymaker. “Toward modeling regionally specific human security using GIS: case study Cambodia.” AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, vol. 34, no.6, 2005, pp. 445-449, 
  • Owen, Taylor. “Human Security – Conflict, Critique and Consensus: Colloquium Remarks and a Proposal for a Threshold-Based Definition.” Security Dialogue, vol. 35, no. 3, 2004. Pp. 373-387,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Human Security: A New View of Cambodian Vulnerability.” Cambodia Development Review, vol. 7, no. 2, 2003, pp. 9-16,

Book Chapters

  • Kiernan, Ben and Taylor Owen. “Iraq, Another Vietnam? Consider Cambodia.” The United States, Southeast Asia, and Historical Memory, edited by Mark Pavlick. Common Courage Press, Forthcoming, July 2018.
  • Owen, Taylor. “Global Media Power.” The Sage Handbook of Digital Journalism, edited by Tamara Witschge, C.W. Anderson, David Domingo and Alfred Hermida, London, Sage Publications, 2016, pp. 25-35.
  • Bell, Emily, Taylor Owen and Smitha Khorana. “Introduction.” Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State, edited by Emily Bell and Taylor Owen, with Smitha Khorana and Jennifer Henrichsen, Columbia University Press, 2016, pp. 1-18.
  • Paris, Roland, and Taylor Owen. “Introduction: A Transforming World.” The World Won’t Wait: Why Canada Needs to Rethink Its International Policies, edited by Roland Paris and Taylor Owen, University of Toronto Press, 2016, pp. 3–19.
  • Paris, Roland, and Taylor Owen, “Conclusion: Imagining a More Ambitious Canada.” The World Won’t Wait: Why Canada Needs to Rethink Its International Policies, edited by Roland Paris and Taylor Owen, University of Toronto Press, 2016, pp. 175–188.
  • Martin, Mary, and Taylor Owen. “Introduction.” Routledge Handbook of Human Security, edited by Mary Martin and Taylor Owen, London, Routledge, 2014, pp. 1-15.
  • Owen, Taylor. “Human Security Thresholds.” Routledge Handbook of Human Security, edited by Mary Martin and Taylor Owen, London; New York, Routledge, 2014, pp. 58-65.
  • Owen, Taylor. “Human Security Mapping.” Routledge Handbook of Human Security, edited by Mary Martin and Taylor Owen, London; New York, Routledge, 2014, pp. 308-319.
  • Martin, Mary, and Taylor Owen. “Conclusion.” Routledge Handbook of Human Security, edited by Mary Martin and Taylor Owen, London; New York, Routledge, 2014, pp. 331-335.
  • Owen, Taylor. “Editor’s Introduction: Human Security.” Human Security, edited by Taylor Owen, London, Sage Publications, 2013, vol 1, pp. xxiii-xlix.
  • Owen, Taylor, and Emily Paddon. “Whither Humanitarian Space? The Costs of Integrated Peacebuilding in Afghanistan.” Modern Warfare: Armed Groups, Private Militaries, Humanitarian Organizations, and the Law, edited by Benjamin Perrin, Vancouver, UBC Press, 2013, pp. 267-287.
  • Eaves, David, and Taylor Owen. “Missing the Link: How the Internet is Saving Journalism.” The New Journalism: Roles, Skills, and Critical Thinking, edited by Paul Benedetti, Timothy Currie, and Kim Kierans, Toronto, Edmund Montgomery Press, 2010.
  • Owen, Taylor. “In All but Name: The Uncertain Future of Human Security in the UN.” Rethinking Human Security, edited by Moufida Goucha and John Crowley, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell Press, 2008, pp. 113-127.
  • Owen, Taylor. “Critical Human Security: A Contested Concept.” The Routledge Handbook of New Security Studies, edited by J. Peter Burgess, Oxford, Routledge, 2010, pp. 39-50.
  • Owen, Taylor. “Measuring Human Security: Methodological Challenges and the Importance of Geographically-Referenced Determinants.” Environmental Change and Human Security: Recognizing and Acting on Hazard Impacts, edited by Peter Liotta, Springer NATO Science Series, 2008, pp. 35-64.

Non-Peer Reviewed Journals

  • Kiernan, Ben, and Taylor Owen. “Making More Enemies than We Kill? Calculating U.S. Bomb Tonnages Dropped on Laos and Cambodia, and Weighing Their Implications.” The Asia Pacific Journal, vol. 13, no. 16, no. 3, 2015, pp. 1-9.
  • Owen, Taylor, and Ben Kiernan. “Roots of U.S. Troubles in Afghanistan: Civilian Bombing Casualties and the Cambodian Precedent.” The Asia Pacific Journal, vol. 8, issue 26, no. 4, 2010,
  • Owen, Taylor, and Ben Kiernan. “Bombs over Cambodia: New Light on US Air War.” The Asia Pacific Journal, vol. 5, issue 5, 2007,
  • Burgess, Peter J., and Taylor Owen. “Editors’ Note.” Introduction to “Special Section: What is ‘Human Security’?” edited by Peter J. Owen and Taylor Owen, Security Dialogue, vol. 35, no. 3, 2004, pp. 345- 346,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Challenges and Opportunities for Defining and Measuring Human Security.” Disarmament Forum, no. 3, 2004, pp. 15-24,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Measuring Human Security: Overcoming the Paradox,” Human Security Bulletin, vol. 2, no. 3, 2003,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Body Count: Rationale and Methodologies for Measuring Human Security,” Human Security Bulletin, vol. 1, no. 3, 2002,

Magazine Articles

  • Owen, Taylor, and Robert Gorwa. “Quantum Leap: China’s Satellite and the New Arms Race.” Foreign Affairs, 7 Sept. 2016,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Can Journalism Be Virtual?” Columbia Journalism Review, Fall/Winter 2016,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Towards a Whole of Government Digital Strategy.” Policy Magazine, July/August 2016, pp. 6-8,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Coin Toss: Will Blockchain undermine or buttress state power?” The Literary Review of Canada, July 2016,
  • Owen, Taylor. “The Violence of Algorithms: Why Big Data Is Only as Smart as Those Who Generate It.” Foreign Affairs, 25 May 2015,
  • Eaves, David, and Taylor Owen. “Liberal Baggage: The national party’s greatest burden may be its past success.” The Literary Review of Canada, May 2012,
  • Owen, Taylor. “A World Turned Upside Down: To face an age of climate change, Twitter and counterinsurgency, Canada’s foreign policy establishment needs fresh ideas.” The Literary Review of Canada, December 2010,
  • Eaves, David and Taylor Owen. “Progressivism’s End: In Obama, both Americans and Canadians can see the promise of something new.” The Literary Review of Canada, September 2008,
  • Owen, Taylor, and Emily Paddon. “Rattle and Hum: Hello, Baghdad! A Kurdish singer rocks Iraq.” The Walrus Magazine, 21 Jan. 2009,
  • Owen, Taylor, and Patrick Travers. “3D Vision: Can Canada reconcile its defense, diplomacy and development objectives in Afghanistan?” The Walrus Magazine, 12 Jul. 2007,
  • Owen, Taylor. “One Step Closer to an Obama-Ignatieff Continent.” The Prospect Magazine, 10 Dec. 2008,
  • Owen, Taylor, and Ben Kiernan. “Bombs Over Cambodia: New information reveals that Cambodia was bombed far more heavily than previously believed.” The Walrus Magazine, 12 Oct. 2006,

Policy Reports

  • Bell, Emily and Taylor Owen, with Peter Brown, Codi Hauka and Nushin Rashidian. The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley Reengineered Journalism. The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University, 2017,
  • The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age. The Public Policy Forum, 2016,
  • Aronson-Rath, Raney, Milward, James, Owen, Taylor and Fergus Pitt. Virtual Reality Journalism. The Tow Centre for Digital Journalism, Columbia University, 2015,
  • Cooper, Ann and Taylor Owen, editors. The New Global Journalism: Foreign Correspondence in Transition, The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University, 2014,
  • Owen, Taylor. Media, Technology and Intelligence. The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), 2013.
  • Owen, Taylor. Disruption: Foreign Policy in a Networked World. Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Position Paper, 2012,–en.pdf.
  • Owen, Taylor, and Alexandre Grigsby. In Transit: Gangs and Criminal Networks in Guyana. A Working Paper of the Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2012,
  • Owen, Taylor, and Rudyard Griffiths. The People’s Debates: A Report on Canada’s Televised Election Debates. Aurea Foundation, 2011.
  • Owen, Taylor, and Emily Paddon. The Challenges of Integrated Peacebuilding in Afghanistan. Report for the Canada Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 2009.
  • Owen, Taylor. The Uncertain Future of Human Security in the UN. UNESCO Working Paper, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, 2008,
  • Travers, Patrick, and Taylor Owen. Peacebuilding While Peacemaking: The Merits of a 3D Approach in Afghanistan. UBC Centre for International Relations Security and Defense Forum Working Paper, no. 3, 2007,
  • Jackson, Thomas, Marsh, Nicholas, Owen, Taylor and Anne Thurin. Who Takes the Bullet? The Impact of Small Arms Violence. Norwegian Church Aid, 2005,
  • Owen, Taylor, and Aldo Benini. Human Security in Cambodia: A Statistical Analysis of Large-Sample Sub-National Vulnerability Data. The Centre for the Study of Civil War at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, 2004,
  • Owen, Taylor, Kathryn Furlong, and Nils Petter Gleditsch. Codebook for the shared river basin GIS and database. The Centre for the Study of Civil War at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, 2004,

Selected Opeds

  • Owen, Taylor. “Data governance in the digital age: How Facebook disrupted democracy.” The Financial Post, 25 May 2018,
  • Owen, Taylor. “The era of big tech self-governance has come to an end.” The Globe and Mail, 11 Apr. 2018,
  • Owen, Taylor, and Ben Scott.  “The new rules for the internet – And why deleting Facebook isn’t enough.” The Globe and Mail, 2 Apr. 2018,
  • Muggah, Robert, and Taylor Owen. “So, the liberal order is in freefall? Not so fast.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Jan. 2018,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Is Facebook a threat to democracy?” The Globe and Mail, 19 Oct. 2017,, Edward and Taylor Owen. “’Fake news 2.0’: A threat to Canada’s democracy.” The Globe and Mail, 28 May 2017,
  • Ananny, Mike, and Taylor Owen. “Ethics and governance are getting lost in the AI frenzy.” The Globe and Mail, 30 Mar. 2017,
  • Owen, Taylor, and Elizabeth Dubois. “It’s time to reform the CBC for the digital age.” The Toronto Star, 1 Feb. 2017,
  • Owen, Taylor. “What can governments learn from digital disruptors.” World Economic Forum, 6 Apr. 2016,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Why governments must embrace the new global digital reality.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Apr. 2015,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Why the U.S. should but won’t partner with hactivists Anonymous.” San Francisco Chronicle, 1 May 2015,
  • Owen, Taylor. “The promise and peril of digital diplomacy.” The Globe and Mail, 9 Jan. 2015.,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Bitcoin is dead— Long live bitcoin.” Vice News, 23 Mar. 2014,
  • Muggah, Robert, and Taylor Owen. “Decline in Canadian think tanks couldn’t come at a worse time.” The Toronto Star, 9 Oct. 2013,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Drones don’t just kill. Their psychological effects are creating enemies.” The Globe and Mail, 13 Mar. 2013,
  • Muggah, Robert, and Taylor Owen. “With think tanks on the ropes, Canada is losing its bark and bite.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Oct. 2013,
  • Griffiths, Rudyard, and Taylor Owen. “Let a commission, not broadcasters, call the shots.” The Globe and Mail, 1 Apr. 2011,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Afghan army: If you build it, who will come?” The Globe and Mail, 6 Sept. 2011,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Why Wikileaks will lead to more secrecy, not less.” Maclean’s Magazine, 29 Nov. 2010,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Review: The Canadian Century: Moving out of America’s shadow, by Brian Lee Crowley.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Aug. 2010,
  • Owen, Taylor. “Five reasons British coalition is not a harbinger for Canada.” The Globe and Mail, 14 May 2010,
  • Griffiths, Rudyard, and Taylor Owen. “Learning from Britain’s three great debates.” The National Post, 1 May 2010,
  • Eaves, David, and Taylor Owen. “How about real Liberal renewal?” The Toronto Star, 20 Nov. 2008,
  • Travers, Patrick, and Taylor Owen. “2011 is a date, not a goal.” The Toronto Star, 5 Apr. 2008,
  • Eaves, David, and Taylor Owen. “Failed strategy connects Afghan fields, city streets.” The Toronto Star, 7 Dec. 2007,
  • Eaves, David, and Taylor Owen. “Kandahar deal breakers: The Afghan poll is not a blank cheque.” The Globe and Mail, 2 Nov. 2007,
  • Eaves, David, and Taylor Owen. “Africa is not a Liberal idea.” Embassy Magazine, October 3, 2007.
  • Eaves, David, and Taylor Owen. “Iraq suddenly appears on Canada’s radar screen.” Toronto Star, 29 Aug. 2007,
  • Eaves, David, and Taylor Owen. “Blogosphere at age 10 is improving journalism.” The Toronto Star, 30 Jul. 2007,
  • Eaves, David, and Taylor Owen. “Getting back on track in Afghanistan.” The Toronto Star, 23 Feb. 2007,
  • Eaves, David, and Taylor Owen. “Beyond Vimy Ridge: Canada’s other foreign-policy pillar.” The Globe and Mail, 18 Apr. 2007,