Cdn Politics

In the dept of when is a “photo-op” actually a “Symbolic Gesture”

Harper, the new Canadian PM, will be diverting his plane to pick up 130 evacuees (of the estimated 50,000 Canadian citizens currently in Lebanon) on his return from the G-8.

In response to questions, Harper denied the trip was a photo opportunity.

“It’s more than a symbolic trip,” he said. “There’s a need for air support in Cyprus. Freeing up seats, we will have a significant number of seats to help the situation.”

Journalists and most of the plane’s crew will have to find their own way home, however, as the aircraft will be “stripped down to a skeleton staff.” Luckily though, for posterity’s sake, his personal photographer made the cut…

US Politics

Progressive Realism?

In a similar vein to the Truman Democrats, Beirnartian liberalism and Ikenberrian liberal realism, Robert Wright has weighted in with what he labels ‘Progressive Realism’. While the terminology is sure to make some oxblog readers (those who are neither liberals, nor realists) squirm, he argues that what is needed is the idealism traditionally attributed to liberal foreign policy combined with a degree of realism that reflects the changing nature of American strategic interests.

The proposal is a response to what he feels is a false dichotomy between the “chillingly clinical self-interest” of traditional realism, and the “dangerously naïve altruism” of neo-conservatism. A choice, he argues, which has serious limitations.

The realism in his argument stems from a broadened interpretation of American interests beyond the preservation of state integrity, the core of traditional realism. This of course, is a consequence of the globalizing of vulnerability. In Morgenthauian terms:

America’s fortunes are growing more closely correlated with the fortunes of people far away; fewer games have simple win-lose outcomes, and more have either win-win or lose-lose outcomes.

The liberalism in his proposal is similar to that proposed by Beinart and the Truman Democrats – multilateralism as a necessary tool for both pragmatically addressing the global nature of threats, as well as a means of legitimising American international engagement.

He concludes that what is needed is a reinvigoration of post-war multilateral institutions, legitimised by the active involvement of the US. As he summarizes:

President Bush’s belated diplomatic involvement in Darfur suggests growing enlightenment, but sluggish ad hoc multilateralism isn’t enough. We need multilateral structures capable of decisively forceful intervention and nation building — ideally under the auspices of the United Nations, which has more global legitimacy than other candidates. America should lead in building these structures and thereafter contribute its share, but only its share. To some extent, the nurturing of international institutions and solid international law is simple thrift.

The question of course is the same one that many have asked of Beinhart, Ikenberry and Kupchan over the past year – how is this different than simple liberal internationalism?

I suppose that one way is that the Realist aspect of Wrights proposal would limit American involvement in broader/global security issues to those with the greatest overarching and broadly defined strategic consequence for the US. As he puts it, this would obviously prioritise the Middle East over the Sri Lankan civil war. While I can see the attractiveness of this for a US domestic audience, unless these overlapped identically with perceive global interests, then this would undermine the very multilateralism for which he advocates. He wants to have his cake (the benefits of multilateral institutions), with out the sacrifice (collaborative threat prioritization). This is ok when the interest converge, as is the case with the current dynamic in the Middle East or arguably with a new nuclear arms control regime (for which Wright is an advocate). But what happens when they do not?

Who knows if progressive realism will catch on – in a sense though, it doesn’t matter. There is enough overlap in the numerous emerging liberal responses to the Bush foreign policy that we could be beginning to see the common ground that will form the next (‘08) democratic foreign policy platform.

Global Issues

Middle East escalations

For what it’s worth, here are some random bits and pieces from some of the blogs I frequent:

Jentleson argues that the conflict, as it has regularly since ‘48, requires external crisis management, and wonders whether the Bush Administration will/can play this role?

Marshall argues that the administration’s silence is born of over-extension and policy exhaustion.

Martin Peretz points out the, hmm, inconsistancy, in Siniora demanding that the United Nations and the United States impose a cease-fire on the combat between Israel and Hezbollah now, since Hezbollah have been lobbing rockets across Lebanon’s southern border into Israel for the entire time he has been PM.

Drezner clear-headedly remarks that the facts remain markedly fluid, with the NYT and WaPo reporting significantly different interpretations of how the Israeli attacks have affected Hezbollah’s political position in Lebanon?

Djerejian both worries of a major Israeli ground incursion and condemns the Secretary of State. Earlier in the week, he questioned, rightly in my mind, the foreseeable strategic effectiveness of a large scale Israeli military response to the kidnapping. (to which Frum scoffed, and Greg scoffed back)

Rosen has an interesting interview with Mark Perry, an American who has been hosting a dialogue with representatives of Hezbollah and former senior US and British policymakers for the past three years. He thinks this is a game of escalation that both sides will soon climb down from. (note: the interview was 3 days ago). Rosen also points out that Solana has just flown to Beirut for talks. As a fan of his EU foreign policy work, I think this is a positive development but obviously question his potential influence, particularly with Rice so conspicuously silent.

Jo-Anne Mort, in Israel, points out that the extent of the Hezbolla strikes have largely silenced the Arab League, because “Hezbollah has knowingly put the Lebanese gov’t –and people–at risk.” She then questions the US ability to serve as the needed diplomatic broker in each of ongoing the middle eastern crises – Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

Shadi Hamid, on Democracy Arsenal, in Egypt, points out the difference between ‘constructive instability’ and plain old instability.

Ygelsias maintains that the ‘real’ problem, when everything else is removed, is Palestinian anger.

Gandleman relays a note of thanks from a Lebanese Christian diaspora group to Israel.

Finally, I will quote from Clemmons’ argument because I both find it particularly interesting and would be curious what Oxbloggers think about it?:

Some in Israel viewed all three of these potential policy courses for the U.S. — a broad deal with the Arab Middle East, a new push on final status negotiations with the Palestinians, and a deal to actually negotiate directly with Iran — as negative for Israel.

The flamboyant, over the top reactions to attacks on Israel‘s miltiary check points and the abduction of soldiers — which I agree Israel must respond to — seem to be part establishing “bona fides” by Olmert — but far more important, REMOVING from the table important policy options that the U.S. might have pursued.

Israel is constraining American foreign policy in amazing and troubling ways by its actions. And a former senior CIA official and another senior Marine who are well-versed in both Israeli and broad Middle East affairs, agreed that serious strategists in Israel are more concerned about America tilting towards new bargains in the region than they are either about the challenge from Hamas or Hezbollah or showing that Olmert knows how to pull the trigger.

Another well respected and very serious national security public intellectual in the nation wrote this when I shared this thesis that Israeli actions were ultimately aimed at clipping American wings in the region. His response: “the thesis of your paper is right-on. whether intentional or coincidental, that is what is being done right now.”

Thoughts?

Uncategorized

Irresponsibility or Anonymity?

Andrew Brown asks why people are such jerks online? Although he suggests it’s because they are trying too hard to be journalists, his wittiest answer is unquestionably that: “we can type much faster than we can think.” TGA weighs in as well, with frustration:

To find these buried nuggets you have to take an exhausting five-mile trek through a seemingly endless swamp of views – some intelligent, others stupid, some well-informed, others ignorant, some polite, others abusive. How could the trek be made easier and more rewarding?

For what its worth, he concludes that user ranking systems are good and that real names should be strongly encouraged. I think that comment ranking can be useful on the bigger sites, although it is still limited by linearity, and am willing to accept anonymity as part of the medium.

Of course, the questioning of anonymous comments and the journalistic role of bloggers are both age old battles. As wiser ones than I have said:

Arguing with anonymous people on the internet is like wrestling a pig in the mud. You both get dirty, but only the pig enjoys it.

and,

We’ve said it a hundred times, and we’ll say it again: Until we brush our teeth, change out of our pajamas, and leave the goddamned apartment for the sake of a story, blogs aren’t going to replace journalists. We’re just going to tease them.

Global Issues, US Politics

The human cost equation

In Tuesday’s most deadly attack, two pedestrians wearing vests made of explosives blew themselves up near a restaurant outside the walls of the Green Zone, within a few hundred yards of three busy entrances, Iraqi and American officials said. Soon after the initial blasts, a hidden bomb was detonated nearby, adding to the carnage, the American military said. Some Iraqi authorities said the third explosion was caused by a car bomb.

At least 15 Iraqi civilians and an Iraqi police officer were killed in the explosions, and 4 people were wounded….

In a predominantly Sunni area of Dawra, a district in southern Baghdad, gunmen ambushed a bus carrying Shiite mourners from the holy city of Najaf, where they had buried a relative, government officials and family members said. The gunmen pulled 10 people from the bus and executed them, the Interior Ministry official said.

An hour earlier, in Taji, north of Baghdad, gunmen ambushed another bus, killing one person and wounding five, the official said.

Two mortar grenades hit a Shiite mosque in Dawra, killing 9 and wounding 11 civilians, the Interior Ministry official said.

In other violence, a family of five–a father, mother, grown daughter and two teenage sons–were found beheaded in a predominantly Sunni sector of Dawra, according to an official at Yarmouk Hospital, the main medical facility in western Baghdad.

The police and hospital officials also reported that four car bombs around Baghdad killed at least 7 people and wounded at least 18.

Gunmen raided a company’s offices in the upper-middle-class Mansour neighborhood, killing three employees and wounding three, officials said.

According to the official at Yarmouk Hospital, five bodies were discovered early Tuesday in Jihad, the neighborhood where dozens of people were reportedly executed by marauding gunmen on Sunday. It was unclear when the victims had been killed.

In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, a time bomb exploded in the clinic of Ameera al-Rubaie, the wife of the governor of Salahuddin Province, according to Agence France-Presse, which quoted the local police. Dr. Rubaie, a gynecologist, was killed and four of her patients were wounded, the police said, according to the wire service.

In Baquba, north of Baghdad, the mayor of the Um Al Nawa district was assassinated by gunmen, the ministry official said. In the Shiite holy city of Karbala, a drive-by shooting killed two workers in the central market, according to the Interior Ministry official.

An engineer and his bodyguard were assassinated on their way to work in Kirkuk on Tuesday morning, according to Col. Adel Zain Alabdin of the Iraqi police. A car bomb in Mosul l killed two people and wounded four, the police said. [emphasis added]

The above is a NYT report on one day of violence in Iraq – Tuesday of this week – as noted by Michael Crowley at the Plank. Some days have been better, some much worse. This Times of London report, as AS right states, is equally as grueling. My comment is not so much about these incidents per se, but rather the sum human cost of the war. In many respects, I can sympathise with the humanitarian rationales for the war. Particularly those expressed on this site. I am a strong supporter of humanitarian interventions, under strict conditions and with the types of coalitions, and skill sets, that I believe are essential to the post-conflict nation building process.

On balance, at the time, however, I was against the war based largely on an equation of the human costs. Or more accurately, the combination of the risk of an incredibly difficult post-invasion period, combined with a lack of planning, capability, desire, and coalition to effectively deal with this nation building project. UN support, for me, was not a matter of ‘what the world thinks’, but rather a combination of getting access to the necessary skill sets (imperfect but evolved over numerous post-cold war missions), and local/regional legitimacy, that is essential in post-conflict environments. The humanitarian equation, for me, did not add up.

Of course others had different equations. There has been much talk lately about the 1% doctrine, for example – this is not really a humanitarian argument though. One of Blair’s many calculations was that he could convince the US to accept the greater UN involvement that he knew was needed, immediately after the fall of Baghdad. This of course, for numerous reasons, proved incorrect.

If one’s goals are humanitarian, then this human cost equation is of primary relevance.

My question then is this. For the war’s supporters, is the human cost of the war academic? Do the causalities, or the many days like this past Tuesday, alter the overarching rationale for the war? Or, do the intentions of the war, and the eventual end state (if positive), trump any number of deaths, or any amount of brutality, in the interim? This question is at the center of much of the debate on humanitarian intervention more generally, and I think can, and should, be asked of Iraq.

On a similar note, O’Hanlon, an advocate of humanitarian intervention for which I have great sympathy, last week had a good op-ed on the humanitarian side of the reconstruction effort – how it has faltered and where it might go. Incomplete, yes, but some decent ideas.

Global Issues

Living Civil War

LIVING CIVIL WAR: While I am in full support of all of the proper attention – if not action – that has been paid to Darfur over the past two years, the conflicts in Congo and Northern Uganda, despite horrific humanitarian costs, have received markedly less attention. I’ll return to Northern Uganda in a later post, but for a number of reasons, it is worth noting a recent, and in my view superb, article on the Congo in April’s Harpers (sorry not online).

Bryan Mealer, until recently, the Congo correspondent for the AP, writes a raw piece that quite brilliantly captures what I perceive to be the reality of living amongst the brutality of contemporary African civil war. I have no doubt that other wars, ongoing and past, have overlapping elements, but there seems to be something particular about the mix of truly dire poverty, humanitarian crisis, and brutal civil war, that distinguishes certain African conflicts from all others.

I have never lived in such a war zone, but my friends who have are changed. They see the world in a fundamentally different way. In a way that makes me feel removed, isolated, artificially sheltered, and naïve.

It is this feeling that I got from ‘Congo’s Daily Blood’. Not because it details particularly unique brutality, although it describes horrors. Not because the problem seems insurmountable, although there is a sense of exacerbated desperation in the authors voice. Not because I/the world know so shamefully little about a conflict that has taken 4 million lives over the past 5 years and continues to kill 1200 a day, although that implication/condemnation marbles the article.

It effected me I think, for amongst others, three interrelated reasons, all of which come to the fore in this very emotional article.

First, because such massive disasters are a shock to ones sense of the world’s interconnectedness. I am ashamed that we do not devote the prescience, resources or attention necessary to ensure that this does not happen in our world. Or when it does, that we do not react with the attention required. I do not buy the human nature argument and I firmly believe that orders of magnitude more can be done to prevent, alleviate, and help rebuild from these disasters. We do not adequately value doing it, so we don’t.

Second, having said that, I am not naïve to the tremendous complexities underlying humanitarian disasters, pernicious underdevelopment and civil war. However, when one spends their time studying international institutions, national foreign/development policies and analytic tools, it is necessary, but jarring, to be brought back to reality. This piece did that. (This point does not in any way negate the first)

Third, on a more personal level, how can one study civil war, as on some levels I claim to do, without having lived in this horror? I am not sure that one can. Living in the developing/southern world on numerous occasions has dramatically effected my view of the world. I am certain that experiencing a truly war-torn country would do so in orders of magnitude. First person accounts of this transformation are a stark reminder of this.

In any case, the article, as well as Mealer’s 2004 Harpers piece, also on the Congo, are very much worth reading.

Global Issues, US Politics

On the strategic costs of civilian casualties

I am currently working on a series of articles, popular and academic, on the US bombing of Cambodia. We have been using some remarkable new data that quite dramatically alters the history of this period – particularly regarding the versions outlined by Kissinger, Nixon and Shawcross, and the link between the bombing and the rise of the Khmer Rouge insurgency movement. Part of the project has involved going through many of the Nixon tapes. Here is a clip from one of our articles, describing a revealing conversations between Kissinger and Nixon and then Kissinger and Alexander Haig:

Telling Kissinger on December 9 of his frustration that the US Air Force was being “unimaginative,” Nixon demanded more bombing, deeper into the country: “They have got to go in there and I mean really go in . . . I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?

Kissinger, aware of the military assessments concluding that the air strikes were like “poking a beehive with a stick,” responded hesitantly: “The problem is Mr President, the Air Force is designed to fight an air battle against the Soviet Union. They are not designed for this war . . . in fact, they are not designed for any war we are likely to have to fight.

Five minutes after his phone conversation with Nixon, Kissinger called General Alexander Haig to relay the new orders. “He [Nixon] wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves. You got that?” The response from Haig is barely audible, but it sounds like laughing.

Today a continued use of airpower in combating insurgencies raises this same dilemma: perhaps even more than civilian casualties of ground operations, “collateral damage” from U.S. aerial bombing still appears to enrage and radicalise enough of the survivors for insurgencies to find the recruits and supporters they require. If ‘shock and awe’ worked against the regular Iraqi army, does it also nourish the anti-US insurgency? Whatever the moral meaning of inflicting predictable civilian casualties, do the political repercussions of air strikes against an insurgency outweigh their military benefits?

While the munitions are radically different, Kissinger may still be right about the use of airpower against a heterogeneous insurgency. Further, I think the question of the strategic costs of civilian casualties in this context is under studied. Much of the debate is, I believe, wrongly centred on the morality of the deaths and whether they are ‘justified’ in international law. This is an important question, undoubtedly, but one that is devoid of the potential strategic costs of the casualties. I would argue that a very small number of civilian casualties, regardless of the ‘justice’ of the attack or the efforts to limit collateral damgage, can have a grossly disproportionate strategic cost when fighting an insurgency. Those whose family’s are killed will rarely be convinced by our rationalizations, nuances, claims of moral difference etc. More likely they will become, at the least, tacit supporters of the insurgency being fought. When fighting a group that requires this very civilian support, this becomes a serious strategic concern.

I would be interested in readers’ opinions, or recommendations for reading, on the strategic costs of civilian deaths. Again, putting aside the morality or justice of the strikes themselves, are we underestimating the damage done by civilian casualties in asymmetric warfare?

FYI – this is a map (of hundreds we have made) of the bombing of Cambodia. Each point represents one target and usually many sorties (of which there were over 200,000). When the first article is published, (soon), I will discuss the findings of the spatio-historical analysis.

US Politics

Washington goes to Aspen

ASPEN: Clinton asks Rove, (via Fallows, in Aspen), what he would have done if Clinton’s political advisor had blown the cover of a CIA agent. Rove responds to Clinton, (via Isaacson, also in Aspen), with an expertly crafted hypothetical. Small world…

Global Issues

In that way only he can

Hitchens critiques Vietnam-Iraq analogies in a manner that plainly demonstrates why his is a polemical voice to be cherished.

While his argument is fragmented and dangerously absolute (as it often is) and in the form of a response piece (likely scribbled in a mid-night fit of anger), the combination of a ruthless and unabashed critique of the Vietnam war along side a vigorous defence of the Iraq war is, delightfully, enough to make any reader squeamish – whichever end of the political spectrum.

The scope of the typically eclectic argument defies summary, however, some morsels of his pastiche are worth highlighting.
First, he argues, as if undisputed, that there never should have been a war in Vietnam to begin with, that by:

1945 the successive French and Japanese occupations had been discredited and defeated, and if Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived it is unlikely the US would have supported the disastrous restoration of French rule in Indochina.

He cites the war’s atrocities, including “ecocide by chemical weaponry to the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians.” The latter of which I have worked extensively on in Cambodia and will discuss in a post this week.

He holds no punches at contrasting the two in the starkest of ways:

In Vietnam, even president Dwight Eisenhower conceded that Ho would have won any national election. But the US then proceeded to impose a dictator who was so hateful that Kennedy had to have him killed.

In Iraq, the coalition has removed an almost uniquely ghastly dictator and mass murderer, and sponsored the only elections Iraq has had. The only real people’s army in Iraq, the Kurdish freedom fighters, enter combat on our side.

And again:

The tussle in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, on the other hand (compared with 911), was a minor squabble, distorted and magnified for purposes that were warmongering and imperialistic.

Of course, saying that there are no similarities between Iraq and Vietnam is equally as fallacious as drawing deterministic parallels. Issues of domestic and international, public and political support, and some aspects of fighting the insurgency are certainly similar. The latter is actually much more pronounced in Cambodia, where the shift to air-power in fighting a fragmented rebellion had disastrous strategic and human consequences. Military planners look regularly to Vietnam to frame aspects of Iraq strategy for, obviously, while some are more useful that others, we ignore past lessons to our peril.

As should be no surprise, his support for Iraq remains steadfast:

Gruesome as it is, the Iraq war has justice on its side and pits us against a truly wicked enemy; the confrontation was inevitable and long in the making. It is a pity Saddam was not removed in 1991. None of these things can be said about the war in Vietnam, which no revisionist will be able to remove from the annals of disgrace.

Who else could write that paragraph?

Like his line of the day or not, there are very few people who have both ruthlessly critiqued the Vietnam war and unabashedly supported and advocated for the war in Iraq. For this, if nothing else, I am glad he is as extraordinarily prolific as he is.

Global Issues

The not-so-special relationship

According to a recent Telegraph poll (conducted by YouGov), British support for American politics, culture and role in the world is at a possible historic low. Granted there have been an inordinate number of these polls of late, usually conducted after a particularly contentious American action, gleefully reported by the media as further sign of a transatlantic rift. And, having spent a fair amount of time in the UK, I am willing to admit to witnessing my share of the uniquely Oxbridge brand of anti-Americanism. In the end though, most polls seem to reflect the reality that save on Iraq, and Bush I suppose, there is general good will between the two nations. The results from this one, however, are really quite astonishing.

For example:

  • 12% trust the US to act wisely in international affairs.
  • 11% see the US as a beacon to the world.
  • 65%, regard America‘s influence in the world today as predominantly malign.
  • 22% believe that the present American government’s policies and actions make the world a better place to live in.
  • 72% think George W Bush’s desire to spread freedom and democracy is really merely a proxy for American self-interest.
  • 77% think George W Bush is a “pretty poor” or “terrible” leader.
  • 72% believe American society is essentially “unequal”.
  • 73% think the US is “badly led”.
  • 73% think the US is ignorant of the outside world.
  • 83% think the US doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks (perhaps this one speaks best to the relevance of the poll).

As Anthony King puts it, “the so-called “special relationship” may still thrive in Downing Street and at Camp David but it has obviously atrophied among the British public.”

For what it’s worth, The US Embassy in London responded that their polling suggests a different level of support, and that “With respect to the poll’s assertions about American society, we bear some of the blame for not successfully communicating America‘s extraordinary dynamism.” The Telegraph editorial accompanying the poll rightly asserts that “To dislike a country as diverse as America is misanthropic: America, more than any other state, contains the full range of humanity between its coasts.”

But does any of this matter? At a general level, I tend to think that it does, at least at the extremes, based on a host of liberal internationalist arguments. I have also been finding myself sympathetic to recent Realist articulations on the value of global opinion, Walt’s latest book being a great example.

More specifically, if the sentiments reflected in this poll are representative, they will surely play a role in the next British election. While Blair has paid a heavy cost for his Atlantic alliance, if polls like this continue to emerge, the parameters of the debate will shift dramatically. This has implications for their role in both Iraq and Afghanistan – and hence, to the US. Cameron has already shown that he is willing to diverge dramatically from the Conservative establishment (on the environment for example), and is nothing if not politically astute.

Without getting into the validity of this particular poll, I have no idea how accurate it is or is not, I would be interested in the range of arguments for why none of this matters. Does power simply trump perception? Can the GWOT be fought without widespread public support? Can this all be written off to euro-elitism? While Edward Glick perfectly displayed the US antitheses of this elitisms yesterday, in an argument that I found utterly unconvincing, I am more than open to other arguments.

I know Porter doesn’t loose sleep over the ebb and flow of global opinion. Why not?

Disruptive Power

The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age

Cover

 

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.

 

Endorsements

“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

 

Articles:

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

 

Reviews:

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

 

Videos:

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.

Twitter


About

By way of an intro, currently:Version 4

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 and international relations.  I am interested in how ubiquitous digital technology challenges the institutions, systems and norms that control the broadly defined space of international affairs. At Columbia, I designed and led a research program studying the impact of digital technology on the practice of journalism, and I continue to work closely with them.

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 and the founder and Editor of OpenCanada.org. He was previously the Research Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University where he designed and 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). 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 work can be found at www.taylorowen.com and @taylor_owen.

Contact

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.

Publications

 

Selected writing (Full list below)

On technology and foreign affairs:

On journalism innovation:

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), Forthcoming 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.