Global Issues, US Politics

Philistine, or concerned citizen?

This curiously fascinating piece of personal Presidential information was in the U.S. News & World Report:

Maybe it was the influence of his wife, Laura, a former librarian, or his mother, Barbara, a longtime promoter of literacy. Or perhaps he was just eager to dispel his image as an intellectual lightweight. But President Bush now wants it known that he is a man of letters. In fact, Bush has entered a book-reading competition with Karl Rove, his political adviser. White House aides say the president has read 60 books so far this year (while the brainy Rove, to Bush’s competitive delight, has racked up only 50)…portraying Bush as a voracious reader is part of an ongoing White House campaign to restore what a senior adviser calls “gravitas” to the Bush persona.

Long ago, back when the President was a still a ‘regular Joe,’ critics longed (with a healthy dose of condescension) for a leader who at least feigned to read the newspaper. Well, perhaps they wished too hard. 60 books so far this year? Now I am more concerned about who is governing the free world during all this down time…

Global Issues

Settling in, Oxblog style

Perhaps it’s appropriate for my first ‘official’ Oxblog post to flog an article out today. It’s in Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly and titled ‘Sense and Symbolism: Europe Takes On Human Security.’

Porter, I hope you are suitably tickled that it leads with a Churchill quote, “The human tragedy reaches its climax in the fact that after all the exertions and sacrifices of hundreds of millions of people and of the victories of the Righteous Cause, we have still not found Peace or Security.”

While military policy is far from my expertise, the article looks at recent EU flirtations with the concept of Human Security, which is the focus of much of my academic work. Haven’t discussed the concept yet here, but as the Patricks both know, I can’t go too long without hard selling my definition of the concept and the overall utility of broader conceptualizations of security, so it shouldn’t be long until it rears it’s ugly (read, soft Canadian/Euro) head in this forum.

Anyways, my co-author on this piece, Peter Liotta, is an expert on US counterinsurgency strategy so is forcing me to think more and more in this direction. We have another piece out imminently in the The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and IR, which I’ll pass on when out.

And now back to your regular programing…

Global Issues

Sec gen straw poll

The results of the General Assembly straw poll are in.

1. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon
2. UN official Shashi Tharoor of
3. Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai
Jordan‘s ambassador to the United Nations, Prince Zeid al-Hussein
5. Jayantha Dhanapala of
Sri Lanka, a former head of the UN disarmament department.

Of course, the poll doesn’t mean that much as the chosen one must be security council veto proof. Me, I’m still hoping for the dark horse Canadian

Global Issues

Northern Uganda -Justice at what cost?

Returning to Northern Uganda for a moment, there is an interesting dilemma hidden in Erin’s account – one particularly poignant for liberal internationalists. By most accounts, the indictment of the LRA leadership was a positive international recognition of the war crimes that had for shamefully long gone unrecognised. However, since the indictments were not supported with viable implementation mechanisms, in many respects, they now present an obstacle to a regionally (as opposed to internationally) organised and sanctioned peace process. Frustrated that the international process was getting nowhere, the regional actors took the process into their own hands are close to a preliminary peace deal. The problem is that a component of this peace deal will almost certainly be amnesty for the indicted. A condition that Musevini has offered but that the international community flatly rejects.

The political explosiveness of this dilemma was evident in the British reaction to the peace negotiations. Two days after the meetings in the DRC, it was leaked that the British were going to table a SCR on the LRA that would extend MONUC and UNMIS mandates to Chapter 7 and go after LRA assets. In short, giving the indictment the legitimate enforcement mechanisms that they should have had from the beginning. First, somewhat superficially, the British are surely in part only acting as a reaction to the news that most LRA financiers are from London. Second, however, as Erin describes, is where the root of the liberal internationalists dilemma lies:

The timing of this is painful – it will not build confidence in LRA to talk, and having seen kids wearing the t-shirts of Guatemalan dead peacekeepers in Congo (not to forget those captive women and children) a military solution is not guaranteed to avoid a high cost or a victory. The victims of northern Uganda are almost outright hostile to ICC and anything international, viewing it as an obstacle to peace.

The questions then are threefold. First, idealistically, how does one weigh the symbolic value of the ICC indictments (international deterrent etc), against the realities of the conflict on the ground. Should peace and reconciliation, however imperfect, be prioritised over international punitive justice? Second, morally, is peace on the ground worth giving five war criminals amnesty? Third, practically, how does one separate victims from perpetrators in conflicts such as Northern Uganda’s and what are the consequences of this ambiguity for international action and actual, as opposed to idealized, reconciliation?

As someone who believes in the value, and even necessity, of international legal regimes, I am in some ways torn. Part of me thinks that what is needed is a raid on all foreign assets flowing to the LRA coupled with a 20,000 person force with a chapter 7 mandate to root out the LRA combatants. I say this, however, from a markedly privileged position. I have not been living this war for the past decade. I have not seen my child kidnapped and forced to rape and kill my wife, seen my government’s soldiers slaughter innocents, and my people forced into horrific IDP camps with no hope of a future, while the international community does nothing. As Erin explains, even if a force could be deployed, killing the LRA will mean a lot more death and misery for the Acholi people. It will mean more war before, and if, it ever provides peace. Those who have lived this war want peace and traditional reconciliation, not punitive justice. Cruelly, the five indicted get amnesty, but at least the war’s victims get peace. This is the tough concession they are willing to make. Perhaps we should be too?

Global Issues

Truly bizarre of wonderfully ingenious?

Back during the UK mad cow scare I remember hearing people in the humanitarian demining world jokingly suggest using contaminated cattle to clear landmine fields. Well, all joking aside, check out this video of rats sniffing out mines in Mozambique. Incredible, and nothing to laugh at, given that in Cambodia for example, estimates put the demining project at over 100 years.

Global Issues

Another Isreali view

Avnery questions the results thus far of the following progression of Olmert’s purported strategic objectives: To destroy Hizbullah; To push Hizbullah away from the border; To kill Hassan Nasrallah; To return to the Israeli army the power of deterrence; Deploying an International Force along the border; “We shall create a new situation in the Middle East”. His rhetoric aside, these are legitimate questions, and it must be considered whether the current strategy will achieve any of them.

This WaPo piece from last weekend describes similar and wider Israeli discontent and below is Andrew Stuttaford at The Corner saying basically the same thing on the strategic side.

You and I, of course, agree on how much we dislike Hezbollah. Where we disagree is how it can be defeated. I’d like to stress that I’m not debating here the rights and wrongs of Israel’s incursion into the Lebanon. What we’re debating is what will work. Clearly Israel had to respond to the attacks upon it, but my point is that taking the war as far as Israel has done has strengthened Hezbollah, and it was always going to do so. So long as Hezbollah has sponsoring powers behind it (as it does), so long as Hezbollah is indifferent to the deaths of the civilians in its midst (as it is), and so long as Hezbollah is able to recruit new ‘martyrs’ (it still is) the only military question was how bloody a nose it was going to get. It was never going to be knocked out. Given those facts, Israel would have better advised to devise a method of retaliation that (a) minimized any propaganda advantage Hezbollah might derive and (b) boosted the indigenous Lebanese opposition to Hezbollah. Clearly, it did the opposite. The result of all this is that over the longer term Hezbollah will emerge strengthened from this affair, something that was, I fear, all too predictable. As I’ve said before, I will be delighted if I’m eventually proved wrong, but it doesn’t look like I will be.

Global Issues

Dispatches from Northern Uganda – A meeting with Kony

Just received an email from a close friend, Erin Baines, who works in Northern Uganda on traditional justice as it relates to the re-integration of Lords Resistance Army combatants. Remarkable work in a conflict that Jan Egeland has called the “biggest, forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world today.”

There are several aspects of the conflict that have received some international attention. First, the pernicious use of kidnapped child soldiers and sex slaves, which result in ‘night commuters’, children who walk for hours each night to sleep on city streets in order to escape raids in their villages. Second, the mystical personality of the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, who few westerners have ever met and about which we know very little. And third, the fact that the International Criminal Court has indicted 5 of the LRA leaders, in some respects, making them the most wanted men in the world.

Over the past several weeks, the Sudanese government has been holding peace talks in southern Sudan. Last week, Erin travelled with a small delegation into the Congo to meet Joseph Kony himself on the basis of her work on traditional justice. Again, very few people have ever met this war criminal, let alone spent days with him hashing out a peace deal. Incredible. Her email describing the week, along with some incredible pictures she took, are below. Enjoy.

I just returned from the peace talks in Juba and Nabanga between the LRA and Government of Uganda! The Government of South Sudan announced in May its willingness to host talks between the two factions who have been at war for the last 20 years. The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) fought the LRA for years during their own struggle, but with the new comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan, the fledgling government has a definite interest in resolving the Uganda conflict to stabilize the south and open up trade routes for development.

It was a ride on an Anitov with mediator Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar and a 13 hour drive to the Congo border to get to the proposed meeting point. We travelled in civilian convoys (on a un level 4 security road) and the roads were some kind of sick carnival ride with potholes better described as crater holes filled with so much water we often wondered if we were in a river or on a road. we got stuck sooo many times, but wenches are a dream in those scenarios and I think I will put one on my wedding register. we arrived at a SPLA military outpost by 6am after travelling the whole night.

Okot Odhiambo and Vincent Otti, both indicted by the ICC

In our convoy were relatives of the high command; the request was to consult and meet with them for ‘advice’ on how to proceed – consider it confidence building but it was an awful lot of pressure to place on young girls who had been abducted at young ages and forced to marry commanders. turns out I knew one of Kony’s (60!) wives from gulu so we hung out chatting a lot. so strange when the LRA finally showed up to pick her up and take her into their base camp in Congo; i feared not seeing her again (luckily i did, and got a chance to meet her two brothers still in de bush!). her son was named by Kony George Bush. they have a sense of humor.

On the second day I was separated from my group by the LRA. They went into base camp in congo and i waited 36 hours in the SPLA camp fighting off dinka soldiers – very persistent lot. when my group emerged they debriefed Machar, the facilitators and myself. Basically the meetings with Kony were focused on their desire for a ceasefire (government refuses this, as in previous peace talk attempts the LRA were thought to use ceasefire to ‘buy time’and regroup); the location of the talks (given five are indicted by the ICC, they are reluctant to move out of the Congo!); desire to have the ICC repeal the indictments and guarantees of the safe return to Uganda with um, retirement packages.

Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti

I had a chance to meet with about 105 women and children the next day being held by the LRA. They obviously were told not to say much and mostly sang songs. Most repeated they wanted to come home, but together, when there was peace. It was hard as I know each person has a family waiting for them at home, wondering if they are alive or dead. Our team and others tried to negotiate for their release but so far no results.

We got a chance to meet the high command in Congo at a place the LRA called ‘the parliament’ – an impressive structure complete with male and female bathrooms constructed by LRA for the talks. The meeting included other representatives of affected regions who had dropped everything to come at the last minute to have a chance to meet Kony and appeal for peace. It was very emotional and very surreal.

LRA Child Soldier

Kony repeatedly talked about the fact he was young when he came to the bush to fight for the people of Acholi, and that he had been betrayed by his own people who failed to support him and the rebels. He denied being a killer or war criminal and accused the international community of having already judged him. He reiterated most of the concerns raised earlier in the week, but vowed that it was the time for peace, that God had shown him it was time.

Certainly the efforts that went into travelling to and setting up the camp, as well as the fact they attended most talks (if often 3-24 hours late for meeting times!) is an indication of seriousness, but well, that should be measured against varying interests at play in these talks. The LRA are far more organized than portrayed, large in number, armed and skilled. Some were holding UN guns they took off MONUC peacekeepers last December in the Congo. Its going to be difficult to defeat them militarily given the terrain and their many years experience.

LRA fighters (second from left holding a grenade launcher captured from UN peacekeepers)

The talks are fragile. One minute the LRA withdraw from talks over lack of faith in Machar, the next they declare a ceasefire. The ICC warrants would have to be withdrawn for the talks to succeed, but for that to happen, the LRA must demonstrate they are serious and there must be an alternative accountability mechanism advanced.

The news this morning is that the UK are planning to table a SCR on the LRA that would extend MONUC and UNMIS mandates to Chapter 7 and go after LRA assets. The timing of this is painful – it will not build confidence in LRA to talk, and having seen kids wearing the t-shirts of Guatemalan dead peacekeepers in Congo (not to forget those captive women and children) a military solution is not guaranteed to avoid a high cost or a victory. The victims of northern uganda are almost outright hostile to ICC and anything international, viewing it as an obstacle to peace.

On the trek out of the bush this kid calls out to me and says ‘if you love children you will give me your jacket!’ clever kid.

US Politics

Sunday morning prep

In the interest of being prepared for David’s Sunday Morning Round-up, here is a quick look at what some of the Sunday regulars are saying in their pre Sunday show op-eds. Or, “What they are saying in print today that they will be saying on air tomorrow?”

Clift asks: ‘where’s Cheney?’
Kristol slams Rumsfeld’s and joins the choir suggesting that he should be replaced by a post-primary-loss Lieberman.
Beinhart comes to Liberman’s defense, sort of.
Kagan suggests Lieberman’s sin was not recanting on the war.
Buchanan says its time to talk to the terrorists.
Ignatius looks to 1973 for middle east lessons, particularly regarding US involvement.
Blankley wonders if ‘world opinion’ has ever been right?
Dershowitz challenges the ‘occupation causes terrorism’ trope.
Novak looks at who’s with Bolton and who’s against him.
Krauthhammer questions whether Israel is, and will remain, a US ally or liability.
Brooks suggests the emergence of a ‘Wal-Mart leisure class’.
Broder questions the wisdom of the status quo in both Iraq and Lebanon.
Blumenthal discusses the broader implications/connotations of sharing NSA intelligence with Israel.
And, Friedman, in big punditry news, makes a major shifts in position on Iraq.

OK, that’s a start anyway, what am I missing?

Global Issues

’82 of ’96?

Oxford’s Avi Shlaim argues in the IHT that instead of comparisons the 1982 war:

the more instructive comparison is between the recent incursion and the strangely named Operation Grapes of Wrath, which the Labor prime minister Shimon Peres mounted in April 1996…

In both cases the main aim of the operation was to break Hezbollah – and in both cases the aim was unrealistic.

In 1996 the idea was to put pressure on the civilians of southern Lebanon, so that they would put pressure on the government of Lebanon, so that it would put pressure on the Syrian government which, finally, would curb Hezbollah and grant immunity to Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. In short, the plan was to compel Syria to act as an Israeli gendarme in Lebanon. Syria did not oblige and Hezbollah went from strength to strength.

The original aim of the present campaign was said to be to destroy Hezbollah. This aim, too, is completely unrealistic. No amount of external military pressure can bring about the forcible disarming of Hezbollah. The Lebanese government is a fragile coalition that includes two Hezbollah representatives. The writ of the Lebanese Army does not extend to the south and an attempt to disarm Hezbollah there would probably provoke a revolt from the Shiite rank and file.

He continues by paralleling the killing of 102 refugees in 1996 with the deaths of last weekend, both in Qana, (the former resulting in an immediate US arranged ceasefire), and concludes that:

As in 1982, the effect of this savage assault on the Lebanese people will be to breed a new generation of angry young men dedicated to resistance.

Again, speaking to the long term strategic costs of civilian casualties.

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:PastedGraphic-2

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 technology, media 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 Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, a Senior Fellow at the Columbia Journalism School. He was previously 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, Oslo where his work focuses on the intersection between information technology and international affairs. 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

  • Owen, Taylor, “The Networked State and the End of 20th Century Diplomacy,” Global Affairs, Vol 2 No 3, 2016.
  • Burgess, P, Owen, T and Uttam Kumar Sinha, “Securitizing Water: A Case Study of the Indus Water Basin” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 25(4).
  • Owen Taylor and Mary Martin, 2010. “The Second Generation of Human Security: Lessons from the UN and EU Experiences?” International Affairs, 85:1.
  • Travers, Patrick and Taylor Owen, 2008. Canada in Afghanistan: Between Metaphor and Strategy. International Journal, Sept/Oct 2008. (winner, Canadian International Council Gelber Prize)
  • Owen, Taylor, 2008. The Critique that Doesn’t Bite: A Response to David Chandler’s “Human Security: The Dog that didn’t Bark” Security Dialogue, 39(4), April/June 2008.
  • Aldo Benini, Harvard Rue, Taylor Owen, 2008. “A Semi-Parametric Spatial Regression Approach to Post-War Human Security: Cambodia, 2002-2004”, Asian Journal of Criminology, Volume 3, no 2, September 2008.
  • Liotta, P.H & Taylor Owen, 2006. “Why Human Security?” Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations Vol VII, No. 1: 37-55.
  • Liotta, P.H., & Taylor Owen, 2006. “Symbolic Security: The EU Takes on Human Security”. Parameters. The Journal of the US Army War College. Vol 36, No. 3: 85-102.
  • Gleditsch, NP; Owen, T; Furlong, K & Bethany Lacina, 2006. ‘Conflicts over Shared Rivers: Resource Wars or Fuzzy Boundaries?’ Political Geography. Vol. 25. No. 4: 361382.
  • Owen, Taylor & Olav Slaymaker, 2005. “Human Security in Cambodia: a GIS Approach”. AMBIO. The Journal of the Human Environment. No. 6, Vol. 34.
  • Owen, Taylor, 2005. ‘Consciously Absent?: Why the Secretary General used Human Security in all but Name’ St. Anthony’s International Review. Vol. 1, Issue 2.
  • Owen, Taylor, 2004. “Human Security – Conflict, Critique and Consensus: Colloquium Remarks and a Proposal for a Threshold-Based Definition”. Security Dialogue, vol. 35, no. 3, September 2004. Special Section on Human Security, co-edited by Peter Burgess and Taylor Owen.
  • Owen, Taylor. 2003. “Security Mapping: A New View of Cambodian Insecurity”. Cambodian Development Review, Vol. 7, Issue 2.

Book Chapters

  • Owen, Taylor, “Global Media Power”, in The Sage Handbook of Digital Journalism Handbook, edited Tamara Witschge, Chris W. Anderson, David Domingo and Alfred Hermida. Sage, London, 2016.
  • Owen, Taylor and Ben Kiernan, 2010. The Costs of the US Bombing of Cambodia. In Pavlick, Mark ed, US War Crimes in Indochina: Our Duty To Truth. Common Courage Press, 2010.
  • Owen, Taylor and Emily Paddon, 2010. “Beyond Humanitarians: Canadian Development Policy in Afghanistan.” In Ben Perrin (ed), Edges of Conflict, UBC Press: Vancouver.
  • Owen, Taylor and David Eaves, 2010. “Missing the Link: How the Internet is Saving Journalism.” In, The New Journalist, Edmund Montgomery Press: Toronto.
  • Owen, Taylor, 2008. In All but Name: The Uncertain Future of Human Security in the UN. In Rethinking Human Security, Blackell Press: Oxford.
  • Owen, Taylor, “Measuring Human Security: Methodological Challenges and the Importance of Geographically-Referenced Determinants.” In Peter Liotta ed, Environmental Change and Human Security: Recognizing and Acting on Hazard Impacts. Springer NATO Science Series, 2008.
  • Owen, T, & P.H. Liotta, 2006. “Europe Takes on Human Security” in Tobias Debiel/Sascha Werthes (Eds.): Human Security on Foreign Policy Agendas: Changes, Concepts and Cases. Duisburg: Institute for Development and Peace, University of Duisburg-Essen (INEF Report, 80/2006).

Non-Peer Reviewed Academic

  • Owen, Taylor, Fergus Pitt, Raney Aronson, James Milward, Virtual Reality Journalism, Report for the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism, Columbia University, 2015.
  • Owen, Taylor, 2012,  Disruption: Foreign Policy in a Networked World.  Trudeau Foundation Position Paper. PDF
  • Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, 2010. The U.S. Bombing of Afghanistan and the Cambodian Precedent, The Asia Pacific Journal June 2010. Republished in The Asia Times.
  • Travers, Patrick and Taylor Owen, 2007. Peacebuilding While Peacemaking: The Merits of a 3D Approach in Afghanistan. UBC Center for International Relations Security and Defense Forum Working Paper #3.
  • Owen, Taylor, 2006. “In all but Name: the Uncertain Future of Human Security in the UN”. Commissioned UNESCO publication.
  • Owen, Taylor, 2004. ‘Are we really secure?: Challenges and opportunities for defining and measuring human security’ Disarmament Forum. Issue 2, June 2004.
  • Owen, Taylor. 2003. “Measuring Human Security: Overcoming the Paradox”. Human Security Bulletin. October, Vol.2 No. 3.
  • Owen, Taylor. 2002. “Body Count: Rationale and Methodologies for Measuring Human Security”. Human Security Bulletin. October, Vol.1 No. 3. pdf

Magazine Articles

  • Owen, Taylor, 2016, Can Journalism be Virtual, The Columbia Journalism Review
  • Owen, Taylor 2016, Quantum Leap, Foreign Affairs
  • Owen, Taylor 2015, The Violence of Algorithms, Foreign Affairs
  • Owen, Taylor, 2016, Coin Toss: Will blockchain undermine or buttress state power? Literary Review of Canada
  • Owen, Taylor, 2010. A World Turned Upside Down. The Literary Review of Canada. link
  • Owen Taylor and David Eaves, 2008. Progressivism’s End. The Literary Review of Canada. September, Vol 17, No 7. (Winner of national New Voices competition)
  • Liberal Baggage: The national party’s greatest burden may be its past success, Literary Review of Canada, May 2012.
  • Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, “Bombs Over Cambodia. The Walrus Magazine. November, 2006. (Finalist for National Magazine Award)
  • Taylor Owen and Emily Paddon, 2008. Zakaria, Kurdish Nationbuilder, The Walrus Magazine, December 2008.
  • Owen, Taylor and Ben Kiernan, 2008. Iraq Another Vietnam, Try Cambodia? Japan Focus. May, 2007. Reprinted in Outback Magazine.
  • Owen, Taylor & Patrick Travers, 2007. 3D Vision. The Walrus Magazine. July/August 2007.

Policy Reports

  • Owen, Taylor, 2012. Taylor Owen and Alexandre Grigsby. In Transit: Guns, Gangs and Trafficking in Guyana. A Working Paper of the Small Arms Survey, Geneva.
  • Owen, Taylor 2012. Media, Technology and Intelligence, a Report to the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, March 2012.
  • Jackson, T., N. Marsh, T. Owen, and A. Thurin, 2005. “Who Takes the Bullet: The Human Cost of Small Arms”. Oslo: Norwegian Church Aid.
  • Owen, Taylor & Aldo Benini, 2004. ‘Human Security in Cambodia: A Statistical Analysis of Large-Sample Sub-National Vulnerability Data’. Report written for the Centre for the Study of Civil War at the International Peace Research Institute Oslo.

Selected Opeds

  • Owen, Taylor “Why governments must embrace the new global digital reality” The Globe and Mail, April 10, 2015
  • “Why the U.S. should but won’t partner with hactivists Anonymous” San Fransisco Chronicle, May 1, 2015 link
  • Owen, Taylor “The promise and peril of digital diplomacy” The Globe and Mail, January 9, 2015
  • Owen Taylor, “Drones don’t just kill. Their psychological effects are creating enemies” The Globe and Mail, March 13, 2013
  • Taylor Owen and Rudyard Griffiths, 2010 “Let a commission, not broadcasters, call the shots” Globe and Mail.
  • Owen, Taylor and Robert Muggah, “With think tanks on the ropes, Canada is losing its bark and bite” Globe and Mail, October 10, 2013
  • Review of The Canadian Century, Brian Crowley, Jason Clemens and Niels Veldhuis, The Globe and Mail, August 10th, 2010.
  • Owen, Taylor, “Afghan army: If you build it, who will come?” Globe and Mail, Sept 6, 2011.
  • Taylor Owen, 2010. Why Wikileaks will Lead to More Secrecy, not Less. Macleans Magazine, November 29th, 2010.
  • Taylor Owen, 2010. Five reasons David Cameron’s coalition government is not a harbinger for Canada, The Globe and Mail, May 14, 2010.
  • Taylor Owen and Rudyard Griffiths, 2010. Learning from Britain’s Three Election Debates, The National Post, April 30, 2010.
  • Taylor Owen and Rudyard Griffiths, 2010. Let the Debate Begin, The National Post, April 16, 2010.
  • Taylor Owen and Adrian Bradbury, 2009. The Rhetoric of Foreign Policy. The Mark News, Dec 1 2009.
  • Taylor Owen, 2008. One Step Closer to an Obama-Ignatieff Continent, The Prospect Magazine, December 2008.
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2008. Real Liberal Renewal. The Toronto Star, November 20, 2008
  • Travers, Patrick, Taylor Owen, 2008. 2011 is a date, not a goal. The Toronto Star, April 5th 2008.
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Failed strategy connects Afghan fields, city streets, The Toronto Star, December 7th, 2007.
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Kandahar deal breakers: The Afghan poll is not a blank cheque, The Globe and Mail, November 2nd, 2007
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Africa is Not a Liberal Idea, Embassy Magazine, October 3rd, 2007
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Iraq Suddenly Appears on Canada’s Radar Screen. Toronto Star August 29th, 2007
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. How the internet humbled the NYT, The Tyee, October 10th, 2007
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Blogosphere at Age 10 is Improving Journalism, The Toronto Star, July 30th, 2007
  • David Eaves and Taylor Owen, 2007. Prime Ministerial Power Stifling Decision Making. Toronto Star, June 28th, 2007
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Getting Back On Track in Afghanistan. Toronto Star, February 23rd, 2007
  • David Eaves and Taylor Owen, 2007. Beyond Vimy Ridge: Canada’s Other Foreign Policy Pillar. Globe and Mail, April 18th, 2007.