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First Impressions from ISAF HQ in Kabul

Crossposted at opencanada.org’s Dispatch blog

I am in Afghanistan as part of a NATO TOLA tour. On Friday the six participants met in Brussels for a day of briefings at the NATO HQ, and then flew to Kabul together.  For 8 days, we are to be treated to incredible access to civilian, military and Afghan leaders.  There is no doubt we are receiving a very particular perspective on country, conflict and mission; but we are getting it in a large number of blunt, open, briefings.  In addition to time in and around Kabul, we will be doing trips to Mazar e Sharif (RC-North), and then to Herat in the west (RC-West).  I have a large number of more specific comments to make, but as an intro post, let me just make a few initial observations, based on 48hrs of briefings in Kabul.

The ISAF security infrastructure is suffocating. This is i’m sure obvious to anyone who has spent anytime here, and I certainly expected it, but nonetheless, the security within the green zone, which houses various headquarters, country bases, embassies and ministries, it a fortress like I have never seen (the only thing that come close for me is the US base in Erbil). The labyrinth of 20-30 foot blast walls, the immense rows of barbwire, the absurd amount of checkpoints, and the elaborate chambers for exiting and entering by foot, are truly incredible. Being inside it, and under the ‘protection’ of it, makes the thought of existing in the other Kabul seem impossible, even though you know that this is what many friends and colleagues do.  It feels like a catch-22, though – you are safest with either full military protection, or none.

The singular focus is on “transition”. So far, there has been only one theme of our briefings (by senior military, civilian and Afghan officials) – namely, transition. Whereas a year ago, I’m certain one would have heard about more generalized counterinsurgency strategy and tactics, now everything is about what will be in place by 2014.  The overwhelming focus of this is on training, or the NTM-A.   The training command, which only began in earnest in November 2009, has an objective of training and educating between 300,000 and 350,000 soldiers and police officers by October of this year.  While many of the early problems have been worked out (such as pay inequity, some of the corruption, 85% illiteracy), and while the program is now properly resourced ($11 billion a yr), it is still a monumental task.   What’s perhaps most concerning, though, is that the US force draw down is meant to be replaced by these new recruits.  For example, the reduction of 30,000 US forces over the next 18 months, will be replaced by 50-70,000 new ANA troops.  While there is something to be said for the argument that an Afghan soldier is in some ways more effective than a western one, the lack of training, organization, leadership, and equipment, combined with the remaining corruption, make one question this premise.   Interestingly, this is what the Canadian mission will shift to this week, and I will be visiting two places where our trainers will be based (RC-N and RC-W) this week.

The layers of bureaucracy are astounding. Several years ago I did some work on the whole of government approach that Canada was using in Afghanistan.  One of the things I took away from this research was that despite good the planning and coordination  between the military, diplomatic and development components of our mission, the overall complexity of the task and institutional responses built threatened to marginalize these efforts. And this was only in the Canadian context. The overwhelming sense I am getting through these briefings is that the layers of bureaucracy that are being created and used to tackle the incredibly challenging tasks we have given NATO are so vast and complex, that they ultimately may become unmanageable, and are almost certainly unsustainable post-transition. They feel all but certain to collapse in on themselves. Take just as one example the NTM-A. They are building a dozen military and policy schools, teaching all recruits to read and write, building an air force, training a special ops team, constituting anti-corruption programs, training officers and military leaders, and on and on.  All are positive, but they are all based on a western military and institutional model, and there is no doubt that this is am immense system being build for a country that does not have a recent institutional history. These same phenomena can be seen across the ISAF, OED, EUPOL, and UN missions.

Obama’s speech has had a real impact: It is easy to forget when one is watching politics in North America, that major policy changes are announced in what are often simply viewed as political speeches.  We arrived here a couple of days after Obama’s Afghanistan speech, in which he announced the beginnings of the draw down of the surge. The ubiquitous reaction we are getting is that while this was largely expected (Obama said when he announced the surge that he would begin drawdown in July 2011), it still has a real impact.  Much of these forces will likely be taken from non front line combat troops, but it will have a real impact. As an interesting side note, it took the US military a year just to physically fly in the 33,000 troop surge. So draw down will ultimately take a fair amount of time.

One final, perhaps minor point before I have to get some sleep:

There seems to be lots of talk at HQ that the new leadership trio of Crocker-Allan-Gass is a positive combination for the transition. It’s no secret that Patraeus and Ikenberry didn’t get along.  It was also no secret that Patraeus was the primary American voice in Afghanistan. This has served to reinforce the strength of the military as the primary voice and public face of the mission for the past two years.  While resources will of course continue to be overwhelmingly military, and there is little evidence of a shift to a real civilian surge, there is considerable talk that the balance of power will switch to the diplomats for the remaining 3 years of the mission. Crocker is a big presence and has the star power of Patraeus. And Simon Gass has a lot of experience in Afghanistan. They also get along well. It sounds like it is likely that the US embassy and NATO civilian civilian rep are about to take a lead role. Allen, less of a personality than McCrystal or Patraeus, will likely take less of a public role, as the focus shifts to polical transition and away from full scale counterinsurgency and towards training, reintegration and reconciliation.  Again, this does not necessary mean the local governance challenges are going to get the attention they require, but it is likely that this diplomatic leadership will move aggressively on high level reconciliation and pressure on Kabul.

Ok, those are a few very quick rough notes on the first 24hrs.  Will have much more to relay in the coming days.

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The Munk Debates, Henry Kissinger and Polite Company

Crossposted at opencanada.org’s Disptach blog

For the past few years I have worked on the Munk Debates. Officially, I am the Research Director. Unofficially, I help out however I can and get to be a part of a unique and fun event.

The debate last week was on China and featured Henry Kissinger and Fareed Zakaria versus Nial Ferguson and David Li debating the resolution: be it resolved, the 21st century will belong to China.

While the debate was wonderful (one of the best yet, elevated by Ferguson’s Oxbridge cleverness, Zakaria’s polished showmanship, Li’s calm confidence and Kissinger’s very presence), from the moment I learned of the pairing several months ago, I have been uneasy about Kissinger’s participation. Leaving aside the irony that Christopher Hitchens (whose 2001 book The Trial of Henry Kissinger argues that Kissinger should be prosecuted for war crimes) participated in the previous Munk debate, I have substantial misgivings about the man and the role he plays in society. I am not absolutist about this – I recognize that he is a mainstay in elite foreign policy and media circles – but I didn’t feel entirely right about his participation.

This apprehension stems from substantial work I have done on the US bombing in Cambodia. A number of years ago, when I was in Cambodia doing research for my thesis, I was given a database by a computer technician at a de-mining NGO. On the CD, was a GIS database of all US drop points in Cambodia during the Indochinese war.  More info on this story can be found in thisWalrus piece that emerged from the research, but the short version is that I have spent a number of years studying the data and its implications with the world’s principle Cambodia historian, a Professor at Yale named Ben Kiernan.

And this is where Kissinger comes back in. One of the things we did was compare every written statement Kissinger has made on the bombing, as well as the White House transcripts that have recently been declassified, with the new bombing data. The result is that we can point to a very wide range of lies told by both Kissinger and Nixon. Based on this work, I believe that the secret bombing of Cambodia was both against US law and constitutes a war crime. I do not say this in the slightest bit lightly. I will likely be testifying in front of the Cambodian Tribunal this year to this effect (bizarrely, I am being called by the defense, which is another blog post all together).

Given all of this, here is the point I would like to make. I understand that leaders often have to do things in the interest of the state that are illegal and/or immoral. I understand that war opens, stretches and contorts the bounds of both. But if one feels that these exceptions are necessarily made, in the direst of circumstances, then I think that in order to signal the gravity of such an action, they should be held to some sort of account. To do so is not necessarily to condemn the act absolutely (though it may be), but to show the seriousness with which such acts should be treated. Perhaps this is a legal accounting, or, perhaps it is as simple as being socially ostracized. What I find off-putting about Kissinger is that not only has he remained wholly unrepentant about Cambodia and a host of other questionable actions taken in the name of national security, but that he has been coddled and ingratiated by the US elite and has profited mightily from his role as a statesman.

An analogous situation is that of a torturer. Let’s grant those who support torture the questionable premise that a person may choose to torture believing that to torture is the best possible action given the circumstances.  Even exceptional decisions should be held to account, and any person who tortures should be made to defend the urgency of his or her actions in both the courts of law and public opinion. This point for me is critical in ensuring that very rare acts do not become normalized by their acceptance. So too should be the case for illegal acts done in the name of the state.

So in my mind, even if what Kissinger has done can be defended by some grand theory of realpolitik, as matters of state security, in my view he should still be forced to account for them  (for instance, the hundreds of thousands of Cambodian civilians slaughtered by carpet bombs). At the very least, perhaps Kissinger shouldn’t be embraced by polite company.

When I met him backstage last week, I was surprised by my reaction.  I have in the past sent him my work with Ben on Cambodia and have tried unsuccessfully to get an interview. When I saw him, though, the overwhelming sense I got was that this man is, thankfully, of another age. He speaks a language that feels distant, ancient and out of touch. His quips have seen too many cocktail parties.  His reflections on China emerge from past realities and encounters.  This was made even more poignant by the fact that I’d spent the day with David Li, the very embodiment of the 21st century China – confident, brilliant, and quietly dismissive of the very Western world that the Kissingers of 20th century America built. Ironically, by reaching out to Mao, and shepherding China into the modern world, Kissinger may have helped build the very bridge that has made his world obsolete.

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Four Ways to Reinvigorate the Canadian Foreign Policy Debate

Crossposted at opencanada.org’s Dispatch blog

Last fall, I participated in a workshop hosted by L’Idée Fédérale, a think tank in Montreal headed by one of our Roundtable bloggers, André Pratte.  The topic was modest – “A Bold New Vision for Canada” – and we were all tasked with presenting on an aspect of our changing federation, in my case foreign policy.  As we launch opencanada.org, which is seeking to reinvigorate the Canadian foreign policy debate, I thought I would open with a few comments from that session. Below are a few personal reflections on possible components of a 21st century foreign policy. I would very much value your thoughts, as this is part of a much wider conversation – one we hope to foster on this site.

1. We must base our foreign policy in the tools and tactics of a networked world.

It is one thing to say, as the CIC Open Canada report as well as The Liberal Party of Canada’s recent foreign policy report, titled “A Global Network Strategy”, did, that the world is now interconnected.  It is quite another to map these networks and develop policies that take advantage of benefits and mitigate threats. The world is not simply multipolar, it is multiscalar.  States are still important, but they are subject to the actions of individuals and groups as never before. Although there are countless examples of networked international policy actors, groups and phenomena, such as al-Qaeda, microfinance organizations, do-it-yourself development theory, social entrepreneurial mergers of NGOs and for-profits, and so on, none more uniquely embodies the new global reality than the case of Wikileaks.

The recent Wikileaks release of thousands of diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies follows the publication of hundreds of thousands of documents containing operational information about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These massive data leaks, while lauded by many, underline the tension between a government’s justifiable need for secrecy and the public’s demand for more open and transparent governance. There are both benefits and costs to this new phenomenon that together accentuate the complexity of the new foreign policy environment.

2. We must reform, dismantle or replace the institutions through which we conduct foreign policy

Most of the institutions through which we as a country engage with the world form a part of the modern social democratic state.  This institutional structure was developed in response to deep ideological divides between mercantilist capitalists and communists that existed at the turn of the last century.  It originated in the early 19th and early 20th centuries in response to a series of cascading global challenges. Like today, the pace of change was so rapid in 1912 that Americans, as Woodrow Wilson put it, were “coming to feel they had no control over the course of their affairs.” Consequently, as a movement composed of diverse interests a centrist progressive agenda sought to reconcile industrial capitalism with individual rights and democracy, diminish the religious and moralist tradition by integrating science and professional management into public policy and a professional bureaucracy, and confront international threats such as imperialism, fascism and expansionist communism with democracy and international stability.   From the late 19th century through the 1960s, three generations of leaders successfully built the national institutions and principles that define much of western world: liberal internationalism through the Bretton-Woods institutions and the League of Nations/United Nations, middle-class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, and the advancement of individual rights through the suffragist and civil rights movements.

These New Deal institutions are characterized by their hierarchical structure. At the heart of virtually all of them lies a centralized administration allocating resources. While command-and-control bureaucracies were a productive development in industrial economies, this organizational model is profoundly ill-suited for the globalized knowledge economy. New information technologies lower the costs of democratically affiliating, mobilizing and organizing people and co-creating and distributing ideas. More importantly, diversity and freedom — not control — drive innovation in a networked world.

There are both domestic and international examples of these out of date institutions.  Domestically, the role of DFAIT has in many ways been made redundant as other departments have taken on increasingly prominent international roles.  As domestic issues are become increasingly international, so too must the departments responsible.  As an example of DFAIT’s diminishing role, during the Afghan war, Canada implemented what they called a Whole-of-Government approach, which merged our development, diplomatic and military capacities into one central strategic command.  Incredibly, instead using DFAIT as the central coordinating body, which is after all its role, the integrated mission was run from an ad hoc PCO department.  A second example is the struggle of CIDA to evolve its development models.  Since CIDA is laden by bureaucracy, there are growing calls to disband or radically reform CIDA, including one from from the Open Canada report.  NGOs, donor countries, development contractors and individual employees are all increasingly frustrated with the CIDA development model.

The same challenge mires our international institutions.  The UN, World Bank and IMF were all built for a different word; one where nation states in general, and a select groups of states in particular, had a near universal monopoly on power.  This is clearly no longer the case.  The result is that small fixes, such as reforming the Security Council, will prove insufficient. We need to rethink what global governance looks like in a networked world.

3. We must meaningfully engage and incentivize the new foreign policy actors

If you were interested in international affairs in the 1970’s, your clear career choice was to join the foreign service. As a result, in what many see as the golden age of Canadian foreign policy, a small groups of diplomats guided our engagement in the world.  There were literally a handful of people responsible for our entire foreign policy.  It goes without saying that this is no longer the case.  If an engaged Gen Y’er wants to work on global issues, chances are he or she is not going to join the government.  In fact, the chances are pretty good that he or she is not going to even engage with the questions of Canadian foreign policy proper.

Instead, this group, my peers, start NGO’s, write books, work for multinationals, create social enterprises.  They are innovating.  They look at the government and see an institutional structure which does not appeal.  They see a bargain whereby they have to put in two decades of work to be in a position of authority and independence. What’s more, while some select few can have an impact within government, one can often make a far more significant impact from the outside.

And there may be a deeper shift in play.  This new generation of Canadians shaped by the internet and globalization have replaced a traditional desire for certainty (from their politicians, newspapers and teachers), for the probability of truth.  They understand that there are multiple perspectives that need to be balanced and understood. This is the basic fact of living in a network with access to an abundance of information. Have been presented with an online world centred around choice and freedom, made possible by decentralised authority, these people are increasingly interested in remaking the real world along those lines. In short, they are willing to trade the security of centralization and hierarchical institutions for something new.

4.  We desperately need innovation of ideas

The most significant thing lacking in the Canadian foreign policy discussion is innovation.  As the CIC’s report, Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked Age states, “ideas are the new industry.”  But our debate feels out of date, the language is tired, and we simply do not have the institutions needed to spur innovation.

First, the language of the discussion is both tired and out of date.  You would be hard pressed to pick up a Canadian foreign policy book or essay without seeing such clichés as: Go for Gold, World Class, Energy Superpower, Getting Back in the Game, Size of the fight in the dog, or any number of tedious sports metaphors. More importantly, the theoretical frameworks used to describe the context of foreign policy, such as strategic studies, security studies, the values versus interests debate, national security, and power relations, simply seem ill-suited for the contemporary world.  The policy discourse would benefit from a broader array of theoretical constructs.

Second, at the moment we do not as a country have the capacity for an innovative foreign policy discussion. Where is the creative thinking on foreign policy happening?   What is the framework in which a new generation are viewing foreign policy? I see very few researchers or institutions pushing the boundaries of the Canadian foreign policy debate.  Think tanks struggle for resources, and academics are dis-incentivised from working on Canadian topics, as all of the big disciplinary journals are international.

Finally, and related to the first two points, we need to cease being afraid of bringing ideology into the foreign affairs conversation. As discussed above, there is a widespread belief in the ideal, centrist, moderate foreign policy.  I believe that this is mythology, and that using ideological lenses to develop and critique ideas and policies would be one way of advancing what is a stagnant discourse.  Take the Liberal Party of Canada as an example.  We need to rethink what a liberal internationalist foreign policy looks like in a post 9/11 world.  Some of the greatest thinkers of the left in both the US and UK have recently been bitterly divided between interventionists and isolationists.  With Michael Ignatieff as its leader, the Liberal Party was perhaps uniquely positioned internationally to rethink this ideological world view.  And yet they remained stuck in glorifying past accomplishments developed in and for a world that no longer exists. Similarly, I would be fascinated to hear a clear articulation of a morality-driven Conservative foreign policy platform.  The way in which the Harper government has navigated the Chinese rights versus market debate has been telling – and indicative of an emerging Canadian conservative ideological worldview- but all we have really heard are piecemeal, disjointed and often contradictory policy ideas. We sense that there is not an overarching ideological lens. These are the types of ideological arguments and tensions that should be present in a vibrant policy debate.

So there are four thoughts to get the conversation going.  We are going to do our part here to foster these and other debates.  Here’s hoping you will join us.

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Welcome to opencanada.org

For the past eight months I have had the thrill of working with the CIC to answer the following question: what if the CIC wanted to build the online hub for international affairs discussion in Canada?  The challenge was to merge an organizational website, with a media platform.  http://opencanada.org, is our first iteration of the answer.

We have approached this in several ways.  In our section called The Think Tank we engage with, analyze and promote research and journalism produced both around the world and in Canada.  We will not replicate the primary content creation role of other think tanks and publications.  Our Rapid Response feature provides real-time reactions to world events directly from the BlackBerrys of eminent Canadians. I’m very excited about the initial group, which we will continue to expand.  Our group blogs bring top academic and international discussions into an approachable and inviting format.  The Roundtable, our first group blog, tackles the field of international relations and features four leaders: Roland Paris, Jennifer Welsh, André Pratte and John Hancock.

The editors of opencanada.org will post from Dispatch.  Here you can find commentary on international affairs from myself and deputy-editor Anouk Dey, as well as postings by the CIC President Jennifer Jeffs.  On Twitter our @cicdispatch handle will curate and engage with the growing and dynamic community of international affairs scholars and policy-makers.

Site-wide we will run a full media production suite.  Our CIC Events Calendar and Global Events Calendar will alert you to organized events, from international elections to the activities of organisations and universities, both national and abroad.  On our homepage we run a Twitter feed that selects topical tweeters each week.  We plan to host virtual and live events and, wherever possible, to use technology to facilitate online engagement.  Through this variety of features we will promote other think tanks, academics, and journalists while encouraging a lively discussion of international affairs.  To be the hub of a conversation, we need to be completely open.  This platform is yours as much as it is ours.

While the site is a work in progress, it is a labour of love, and we have a host of exciting expansions and projects to roll out over the coming months.  We can’t wait to build the 21st century platform for international affairs in Canada – a platform that has been for too long absent.  Welcome to opencanada.org, Canada’s online hub for international affairs!

I will be cross-posting my pieces in Dispatch to this blog.

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Liberals and a new political centre

Below is an oped for the Toronto Star written with David Eaves.  We wrote a longer exploration of the state of progressive politics for the LRC a couple of years ago, which sounds many of the same themes, and can be found here.

If the Liberals want to be the progressive center – they are going to have to create it.

Canadians may have once valued the Liberal Party, but they reject what it has become. The reason is simple. The centre is dead. Worse still, Liberals let it die.  While once the pragmatic core of Canadian politics, today it is a wasteland devoid of an imaginative, progressive vision, occupied by a largely obsolete electoral strategy.

Don’t believe us? Consider the issues the Liberal Party managed over the 20th century.  The creation of universal health care, and the social safety net. The management of the Canada-US relationship by balancing opportunities for Canadian businesses with our desire to preserve our identity. Engaging Quebec and seeking to affirm its place within the country. Cultivating multiculturalism while simultaneously securing individuals rights in a charter. Fostering peacekeeping to ensure local conflicts did not escalate into nuclear confrontation.

These are significant accomplishments which defined three generations of Canadians. They are also no longer relevant.

Today Canadians, especially young Canadians, are confident about themselves and their identity — there is no longer a “Lament for a Nation.”  The sovereignty movement, while not dead, struggles. Individual rights continue to erode discrimination and the hierarchical relationships that impeded free expression and liberty. While some progressives continue to bang these drums no one should be surprised that they no longer resonate.

In other cases, the solutions offered in the 20th century are simply no longer relevant. Canadians know – as healthcare threatens to eat up 50% of provincial budgets and service levels remain mixed – that their healthcare system is broken. Young Canadians don’t pretend to believe a pension system will exist for them. Anyone can see that peacekeeping cannot solve today’s international conflicts. On all of these issues the traditional offering of progressives rings hallow.

But there is an opportunity for progressives. An opportunity to build a new centre. A centre that moves beyond the debate between conservatives of the Right, and the conservatives of the Left.

On the right is a conservative party that, at its core, doesn’t believe in the federal government. It’s a vision for Canada grounded in the 1860’s, of a minimalist government that does little beyond crime and defense. Its appeal is the offer to dismantle the parts of the system that are broken, but in so doing, it will leave the many who are protected and enabled by the government behind.

On the left is a party who’s vision is to return Canada to the 1960’s. It’s a world of a strong national government, of an even bigger healthcare system, social safety net, and welfare state. Its appeal is a defense of the status quo at all costs, which in the long run will be many.  The conservatism of the left means protecting at all costs that which is unsustainable.  It is the unreformed arc of old ideas.

If there is going to be a new center between these conservative poles, then liberals will need to stop lying to themselves, and to Canadians. They will need to acknowledge, loudly and publicly, that they have failed to reform the institutions of the 20th century and that as a consequence, healthcare is broken, and the welfare state as presently constructed is financially insatiable.  A progressive future lies in taking these challenges head on rather that passively avoiding them.

Moreover, a modern progressive view on government needs to meet the consumer expectations being created by Google, Apple, or Westjet. Fast, effective, personalized, friendly. In short, progressives need a vision that not only safeguards citizens against the extremes of a globalizing market, but that also meets the rising expectations Canadians have of services in the 21st century, all this in a manner that will be sustainable given 21st century budgets and demographics.

No party has figured out how to accomplish this, on the Left of Right. And trolling through 20th or 19th century ideologies probably isn’t going to get us there.

Most importantly, the future for progressives rests in figuring out the political axes of the 21st century around which new solutions can be mined and new coalitions can be built.

We suspect that these will include open versus closed systems, evidence-based policy versus ideology, meritocratic governance versus patronage, open and fair markets versus isolationism, sustainability vs. disposability, and emergent networks versus hierarchies. It is these political distinctions, not the old left versus right, that increasingly resonate among those we speak to.

The challenge is enormous but progressives have done it before. In the 19th century the rise of industrial capitalism led to a series of tense societal changes included the emergence of an urban working class, increasing inequality and the terrifying possibility of total war.

A centrist party turned out to be the place where three generations of pragmatically driven progressives were able to lead  nearly a century of Canadian politics.  Doing this again will require starting from scratch, but that is the task at hand.

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Why Canada should seize the R2P moment

The Oped below is in this morning’s Toronto Star.  It was written with my new colleague Anouk Dey, with whom I am in the process of building something pretty exciting with the Canada International Council.  Many more details to follow in the coming weeks.

R2P: More than a Slogan

For many commentators, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is becoming the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) of Libya: the suspect acronym behind a misbegotten military effort. Before placing the blame on what was once a symbol of Canada’s international leadership, it is important to remember what R2P is and what it is not.

Emerging from a Canadian-funded commission in 2001 into how the international community should react in the face of crimes against humanity and genocide, the concept is meant to put a degree of conditionality on the notion of sovereignty. The sovereign rights of states, R2P argues, are conditional on the protection of civilians against large-scale slaughter. If this protection is not provided, the international community can legitimately breech sovereignty in order to protect the civilians in harm.

What R2P is not, is a blank cheque to invade. It is a threshold that can be used to guide Security Council endorsement for humanitarian interventions. It is a principle that was adopted by the UN General Assembly, not an idea unleashed from the ivory tower. It did not apply to either Iraq or Afghanistan. It would have applied to Rwanda. It applies in Libya, and likely in the Ivory Coast.

There are three reasons why Canada should actively promote R2P.

First, it is our best hope of realizing the proclamations of “never again” that followed the Rwandan genocide. This massive failure on the part of the international community demonstrated that something is grossly wrong with a system of absolute sovereignty that protects the right of a state to murder its citizens. R2P is far from perfect, but it does begin to address the two major flaws of the status quo, that sovereignty is a powerful trump card against action, and that it is very difficult to pass humanitarian intervention authorization through the Security Council.

Second, R2P deals with a core dilemma of humanitarian intervention, that protective interventions are preventative rather than punitive. In the past, we have deliberated and delayed intervention until it was too late. The challenge is that to stop atrocities, we have to act on the perception of intent (Gadhafi’s articulated goal to “cleanse Libya house by house”) rather than evidence of action (him having done so). R2P therefore seeks to engage policy-makers in the short window of time when atrocities are imminent and inevitable, but have not yet occurred.

Finally, the intention of an intervention can shape its outcomes. Whether an intervention is justified according to R2P or allegations of WMD matters. Take Iraq — the U.S. invasion would likely have employed different tactics if the primary intention had been civilian protection rather than the removal of WMD. Libya is not Iraq in part because our motives are different.

For these three reasons, R2P is good for the world as a whole. But supporting R2P and, by extension, the military action in Libya, is also in Canada’s self-interest.

For one, by taking part in the mission in Libya — endorsed by both the Security Council and the Arab League — Canada is rightfully engaging as a key multilateral partner. This is a crucial step in Canada’s effort to redeem its strategic international position after its failure to secure a seat on the Security Council this fall.

More important, in the deployment of an R2P-based mission such as Libya, Canada has a rare opportunity to shape global action. Through the beginning of this decade, Canada’s role in clarifying and championing R2P represented a significant foreign policy success. Without extensive lobbying by the Canadian delegation, it is unlikely that the UN would have taken the substantial step forward in approving R2P in 2005.

In spite of this accomplishment, 18 months ago the Harper government banned the use by government departments of the term R2P (along with human security, gender equality and child soldiers). With that, Canada lost a primary vehicle through which to assert its international leadership.

Ironically, just as we have abandoned its use, the world has embraced a concept that is, at its heart, Canadian. And yet, as Canadian troops engage in an operation explicitly justified according to R2P, Defence Minister Peter MacKay suggests that R2P has “lost its lustre” and his government has not used the term to describe Canada’s involvement in the Libyan mission.

With a Canadian in charge of the NATO mission, Canada is receiving deserved international attention.

Despite this, Canada is missing a rare opportunity to push an important concept that would not exist without our hard work.

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Don’t Blame R2P: A Rebuttal to Margaret Wente

Sometimes I appreciate Margaret Wente’s contrarianism, sometimes it really blinds her.  Her piece last weekend on R2P and Libya was wildly off the mark, replacing critique with a somewhat bizarre stretch to lay ideological blame.  Below is a response I wrote with Anouk Dey for the CIC blog.

In last Saturday’s Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente provocatively opposed NATO’s  engagement in Libya. Just as Iraq was the neocons’ war, western intervention in Libya, she suggested, stems malignly from the machinations of the liberal intelligentsia.

The hub of her argument rests on the fact that members of the Security Council alluded to the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect in the lead up to the UN resolution authorizing a no-fly zone. The implication is that the liberal internationalists who support this doctrine did so to promote their ideas, rather than to protect those facing imminent slaughter.

Before going through her case, which warrants response, it’s worth remembering what R2P is and is not. Emerging from a Canadian funded commission in 2001 into how the international community should react in the face of crimes against humanity and genocide, the concept is meant to put a degree of conditionality on the notion of sovereignty. The sovereign rights of states, R2P argues, are conditional on the protection of civilians against large-scale slaughter. If this protection is not provided, the international community can legitimately breech sovereignty in order to protect the civilians in harm.

What R2P is not, is a blank check to invade. It is a threshold that can be used to guide Security Council endorsement for humanitarian interventions. It is a principle that was ratified by the UN General Assembly, not an idea unleashed from the ivory tower. It did not apply to either Iraq or Afghanistan. It would have applied to Rwanda. It applies in Libya, and likely in the Ivory Coast.

With this in mind, it is worth looking closely at the case made by Wente.

First, Wente argues that R2P is “rooted in Western guilt over the failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda.” R2P is certainly linked to failure to save a million Rwandese from slaughter. Whether you want to call this guilt, or shame, or disgust, what is important is that we recognized that something is grossly wrong with a system of absolute sovereignty that protects the right of a state to murder its citizens. Yes R2P is born from a brutal lesson in history – but that is a good thing.

Second, R2P proponents are not just ill-intentioned, “they’re also ignorant. They know less about the tribal politics of Libya than they do about the dark side of the moon. To them, all Arab nations look alike.” Never mind the fact that some of the most prominent proponents of R2P actually know a great deal about tribal conflict, but a wide range of experts in the Middle East and North Africa have also supported the no-fly zone. And it is not just regional experts who support the no-fly zone; so too do those who draw their knowledge from the field. Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire described the international community’s failure to invoke R2P earlier as “a colossal missed opportunity.”

Third, on the implementation of R2P, Wente chastises intellectual zealots who “have been so amazingly eager for us to rush into battle.” But here is the thing about preventing imminent slaughter, it has to be done in a timely fashion. Protective interventions must happen before mass atrocities occur, but in the past, we have waited until it was too late. This means that to stop atrocities, we have to act on the perception of intent – Quaddafi’s articulated goal to “cleanse Libya house by house” – rather than evidence of action. This is the very core dilemma of humanitarian interventions which the concept of R2P seeks to address. A challenge yes, but the alternative that Wente recommends is far less palatable.

Fourth, advocates of R2P are not only ignorant, sinister and quixotic. They are also French. The French counterpart to Susan Rice (US Ambassador to the UN), Wente remarks, “is the glamourous philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy.” Leaving aside the fact that he has no official role in the government of France, and she is an ambassador, Rice is a far cry from a pontificating leftist savant. She is the daughter of a former governor of the Federal Reserve and, at Oxford, worked under Ngaire Woods, a pro international financial institution free market thinker, who works closely with the IMF and the World Bank. Not particularly Lévy-esque.

Fifth, according to Wente, liberal internationalists who support R2P are also hypocrites. “Many of the liberal intellectuals who vigorously opposed the Iraq war,” Wente reveals, “have just as vigorously been advocating intervention in Libya.” Indeed, but this is no revelation. It is because they believe the latter meets the criteria of a humanitarian intervention, while the former did not. They also likely supported previous humanitarian interventions in Congo, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, East Timor and Kurdistan.

Sixth, R2Pers we learn, are really just imperialists. “We have entered a new age – the age of humanitarian imperialism. Humanitarian imperialists are besotted with the fantasies of the West’s inherent goodness… To them, the facts on the ground don’t matter much. What really matters is their good intentions.” Actually, it is precisely the facts on the grounds (that Quaddafi is murdering his citizens) that prompted action from the international community. This is why R2P was applied to this specific case. Moreover, many have argued that the intentions behind an intervention, actually shape the outcome. Take Iraq – the US invasion would likely have employed different tactics if the primary intention has been civilian protection, rather than the removal of WMD.

Finally, Wente tells us that Canada is only in Libya “because our allies are.” This may be one reason, but isn’t this part of a long tradition of Canada supporting multilateralism? Let’s not forget this mission has the endorsement of the Security Council and the Arab League and that a Canadian, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, is currently the commander of NATO’s Libya operations. We would have likely played a more forward role in the lead up to the resolution if the Harper government had not banned the use of the term R2P (along with human security, gender equality and child soldiers) 18 months ago, but surely a Canadian currently in charge of the NATO mission counts for some sort of leadership?

There are two things that are certain about Canada’s involvement in Libya. The first and most important is that in the face of Quaddafi’s aggression, the mission was worth supporting, but undoubtedly brings with it a host of challenges. Identifying and addressing these challenges is important. The second is that on the issue of R2P, Canada has a rare window of opportunity to shape global action. Ultimately, Canada should be proud of the role it has played in developing and promoting the doctrine, a product of historical experience and learned debate. Unfortunately, analysis such as Wente’s gets us no closer to either.

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Oped in G&M on Election Debates

Rudyard Griffiths and I have a piece out today on how and why our election debates are flawed, and what can be done about it.  We have a lot of research on this, so feel free to contact me for details.

Let a Commission, Not Broadcasters, Call the Shots

Whether or not one agrees with the broadcast consortium’s decisions to exclude Green Party Leader Elizabeth May from the leaders debates and to rule out a one-on-one between Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff, the way in which those decisions were made highlight the fact that we do not have a coherent system to oversee an essential component of our federal elections.

Canadian election debates, despite being held since 1968, are flawed in virtually all aspects – from planning, to format, to distribution, to ad hoc decisions on participants.

First, our debates are not transparent. The way they are negotiated prioritizes the interest of the parties above those of the voters. These closed-door negotiations encompasses all aspects of the debate, including whether to have a debate at all – in effect, giving a veto to any one of the political parties. The threat of this veto could be what is keeping Ms. May out of this year’s debates.

Second, this flawed negotiation process, unsurprisingly, creates a flawed debate format. J. Jeffery Auer called the infamous 1960 U.S. election debates between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon “a double public press conference for simultaneous interviewing.” This, of course, is the ideal outcome for a politician, and precisely what you get when they make the rules.

Third, the sole medium used to disseminate the debates – television – is not in and of itself a sufficient way of stimulating public engagement. If the desired goal of the debate is public participation, it’s retrograde to limit debates to a single live viewing on one medium. In addition to allowing many more people to both watch and participate in the debates, using a broader range of online tools would also serve to democratize the commentary process – which research shows is often more influential than the debate itself.

Fourth, the considerable costs of holding the debates are born solely by the broadcasters and their shareholders. The 1997 debates cost $275,000 to produce, plus more than $3-million in lost advertising. If we consider debates to be an important part of the electoral system, it’s strange they are the only aspect not covered by electoral spending laws or by the public financing system.

Fifth, why do we have only two leaders debates? In a parliamentary system, we are also electing MPs and, ultimately, a cabinet, not just a prime minister. Why not hold issue-based critics debates throughout the election in addition to multiple leaders debates on specific topics such as health care, foreign affairs and the environment?

Finally, language has been a thorny issue throughout the history of our election debates. While the first debate in 1968 was simultaneously translated, we have since moved to having separate French and English debates. The result is that the French version invariably becomes the “Quebec debate.” There’s absolutely no reason why debates can’t be simultaneously translated, allowing for policy issues to be spread over the two debates. If aspiring prime ministers choose not to speak in both official languages, that’s their headache.

Since the 2008 election, we have worked as private individuals on a project to study our debate system and to look internationally for alternative models. It’s now quite clear that the debates must be taken over by an independent commission.

The core principles of such a commission should be independence and transparency. The commission would thus operate as an independent charitable civic institution, rather than either a part of Elections Canada or a new government agency. It would be government by a cross-partisan board of prominent Canadians.

Planning should occur between elections, with the commission transparently negotiating the rules using the goal of a substantive policy debate as the primary interest. The format should draw on international best practices, include a diverse range of debate styles and participant groupings, be held throughout the campaign on various issues, and leverage the latest technology for both broadcasting and engagement.

Money to fund the debates should be raised privately through charitable contributions, taking the burden of the cost away from the TV networks.

By demonstrating how debates can be more transparent in their organization and rule-making, more engaging in terms of their format and staging, and far more technologically savvy, an independent commission could have a far-reaching impact on the quality of public policy debate in Canada.

If reforms are left until after the next election, we will undoubtedly come up against the same reluctance to change the system that we’ve witnessed over the past two years. The time to reform the debates is now, while we have national attention on what is a clearly flawed process.

Rudyard Griffiths is the co-organizer of the Munk Debates and co-host of SqueezePlay on BNN. Taylor Owen is a postdoctoral fellow at the Liu Institute for Global Issues and research director for the Munk Debates.

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Foreign correspondents in an age of Twitter

My friend Mike Ananny and I have been chatting lately about the changing role of the foreign correspondent.  As the evolving democratic movements in the Middle East have shown, the way we learn about, and add context to, international events is rapidly shifting.  As the way we consume information changes, so too must the tools and roles of those tasked with relaying and interpreting the messages. This will invariably effect the role of the foreign correspondent.  This is obviously a huge topic, but below are some of Mike and my’s early thoughts on the subject, posted on The Mark today.

Why Reporters Still Matter in the Age of Twitter

What would it mean for the future of international journalism if – a big if – all revolutions were tweeted?

Until recently, most western societies viewed the world through the eyes of foreign correspondents. But if Canadians can now watch revolutions like Egypt’s unfold in real-time – via tweets, Facebook pages and Al Jazeera – then why should news organizations send foreign correspondents to far-off places?

Answering these questions means pausing to ask what international news means in an age of digital information networks.

First, how has the idea of the news story changed in a world of information abundance?

Traditionally, the foreign correspondent provided objective accounts wrapped in compelling and relevant stories. We now have access to millions of observations and accounts, creating a diverse and sometimes dizzying mix of information. The objective truth, summed up in the evening news, seems a thing of the past – but our need for a story remains.

If we assume that there exists a single thing called “the story” – the Tunisian revolution, the Egyptian protests – that can be told by anyone, then we fall into an old and naïve belief in journalistic objectivity. We mistakenly think that the storyteller is irrelevant because facts are facts. To understand what events and facts mean, we need to know how information tells a story – a role traditionally but imperfectly fulfilled by international journalists.

Second, who is telling us stories about the world?

Do we trust Al Jazeera because they are based in the Middle East and have a geographic perspective that a single CBC crew cannot? Do we trust our Facebook friends because they tell us what we want to know, or what we need to know? If international journalism is about translating “other people” into terms that “we” understand, then we have to consider carefully who “others” and “we” are.

It’s easy to get information from almost anywhere, but hard to know how to understand it. Reading news today means multi-tasking among channels, sifting through networks of sources, accounts, and biases to build understandings that we trust, opinions we can defend. The idea of journalistic objectivity isn’t dead. Rather, it’s distributed among stories, people, and networks that we don’t yet know how to trust. Ideally, journalists are uniquely positioned to help us sort these out.

Third, what roles does nationalism play in globalized and decentralized media environments?

Despite claims of a flat digital world, nationalism still very much matters online. It was, after all, the national governments of Egypt and Tunisia that blocked and censored the internet during the recent uprisings. And, in many countries, internet service providers have close contacts with national governments that make it easy to censor and disrupt dissent.

On the media consumer end of the equation, nationalism is even more complex. At moments like the Egyptian uprising, what does it mean to produce an international report as a Canadian, tell a story to a Canadian audience, or listen to a report as a Canadian? Canada is far more ethnically, linguistically, and culturally diverse today than when many international reporting traditions were established. People are right to look to sources outside the mainstream media to understand international issues.

Where does all of this leave international journalism?

First, let’s invest not only in foreign, mainstream media reporting but also in networked infrastructures for international reporting that let us hear what we need to hear, not just what we want to know. Groups like Global Voices Online are an excellent start, but we need to sustain, develop, and amplify them.

Second, let’s not rely upon any one source, network, or system to bring us international news. Al Jazeera and the BBC cannot replace the CBC or CTV. And no matter how diverse we might think our Twitter networks and Facebook friends are, we must continually find new influences and redesign our online networks. Media competition is not just good business, it is increasingly vital to how we understand the world.

Third, we should demand more design oversight of privately held companies that structure much of how we learn about foreign issues. How are Twitter’s “Trending Topics” or Facebook’s “Top News” decided, for example? Simultaneously, we need to develop alternatives with more transparent algorithms and policies in order to support the conversations we need to have about international affairs as Canadians.

As we increasingly use online environments to decide what we think about international affairs, we need to ask whether we have the media infrastructure we need to build informed public opinion. Populist accounts and social networks can give us intimate insights into distant events, but we also need high-quality analysis to lead us through the complexities of international issues. Foreign correspondents are uniquely positioned to help us turn information into news and events into stories, but they will have to keep up with a rapidly evolving media and technology landscape. Here’s hoping they do.

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A new model for public policy debate?

Rudyard Griffiths and I wrote the below for the Guardian the week after the Munk Debates, and I forgot to post.  I have worked on the debates for a couple of years now, and they have grown and evolved significantly.  It has been an incredibly fun project to be a part of, and it will only get more so over the coming year as we hold two new debates and roll out some cool new online features.  Anyways, below are a few quick, and perhaps overly earnest, reflections on what the debates’ success may say about the state of our public policy discourse.

Last week, 3500 people in Toronto and 3,000 people online came together to watch a former Prime Minister and a writer debate one of history’s great questions – whether religion is a force for good in the world.  In the 72 hours following the event 20,000 hours of archived video were viewed and on January 1st, 240 million people will watch a broadcast of the debate on BBC World Service and BBC International.

There is no doubt that Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens were entertaining, that they surely advanced what is a prescient discussion, and that the event was made even more powerful by the timing of Hitchens’ illness and Blair’s recent conversation to Catholicism.  Both are giants, and the effect of them sharing a stage was electric.

Just as importantly though, the excitement surrounding this event confirmed our belief at the Munk Debates that there is a hunger for substantive public policy debate.

Over the past three years The Munk Debates has held debates on humanitarian intervention, aid, US foreign policy, health care, climate change and religion.  Debaters have included Niall Ferguson, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, George Monbiot, Hernando de Soto, Samantha Power, Rick Hiller, Stephen Lewis, Bill Frist and Howard Dean. In the lead up to each debate, we have held wide ranging public dialogues online and in print.  We have screened the debates in movie theaters across Canada.  The debates have now been viewed by millions around the world.  The live events sell out in hours. Yet the widespread perception remains that citizens are indifferent to public policy.

Perhaps though the public has tuned out not because they don’t care, but because the public policy debate has been co-opted by the language and style of academia, policy wonks and political speak.  The options presented to them are either tabloid style with no substance, or serious content mired with earnestness.

Our politicians reduce their platforms to campaigns slogans, our bureaucrats keep ideas under lock and key, and much of our media treats public policy as a polarity of political gamesmanship versus dry commentary. Between wonkish think tanks and Hello magazine, there is little in between.

This creates a vicious cycle, where the ideas get less and less substantive and prescient, and the rhetoric and style in which they are presented become increasingly debased. The result is a democracy in which few are engaged in our formal institutions and in our major policy debates.  But that doesn’t mean people don’t care.

The approach we have taken is the opposite of what is generally presented – to raise both the quality of the discussion and make it more entertaining.  This means drawing on the best international speakers.  It means producing policy debate in a theatrical, engaging style.  It means using the newest online and social tools.  Most importantly, it means treating the audience as the intelligent participants that they are, willing and able to both be serious and have fun.

One way to gauge the depth of the interest in such a model is whether people are willing to pay for content.  And they are.  Where as many media companies often struggle for small payments, the Munk Debates pay per view channel has been a huge success.  So far, we have averaged $1.50 for every hour of video watched online.  There is a case to be made that pay per view can be part of a new model for the funding of policy events.  If people are willing to pay for football games and prize fights, why not also for public policy debates?

Politicians, policy makers, and pundits take note – the public is not the problem, the problem is the way you are speaking to them.

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.