On Thursday, I became part of a growing group of academics that has had a letter like this written about them:
On Thursday, I became part of a growing group of academics that has had a letter like this written about them:
There’s something about ‘lone wolf terrorism’ debates that stinks. I can’t quite find a singular source of the smell, but after further investigation, it seems the relatively recent surge in the use of the category ‘lone wolf’ to describe individual acts of political violence draws on extremely rank racist, sexist, and alarmist logic. When you compare the sparse literature on lone wolf terrorism and the slough of articles on the topic, one thing is clear: definitions of lone wolf terrorism are “fuzzy”, disparate, and often rely on contradiction and assumptions about mental health and motivation. The defining feature of the lone wolf terrorist is his or her (actually it is almost always a male) lack of wolf pack (I can’t get past the Hangover reference either, but stay with me). They are loners, committing political violence. Below, I raise several questions about the literature and discussion on lone wolf terrorism in the hopes of inviting dialogue and debate about why this term has such political purchase.
1. Is it possible that ‘lone wolves’ are neither lone nor wolves? The problems with definition:
The US Government defines terrorism as “premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” The overarching argument is lone wolf terrorism differs from ‘regular’ terrorism in that it is orchestrated by an individual. Yet the existing definition of terrorism seems to include agents as well as groups. So what purpose does ‘lone wolf’ serve? If ‘lone wolves’ are defined as acting politically, doesn’t this assume- by definition- the affiliation, or at least association, with a larger group? Recent research into 119 lone-actor terrorists in the United States and Europe, concluded that the individuals clearly expressed their beliefs and grievances to others, primarily family, friends, or an online community. This seems to indicate that ‘lone wolves’ aren’t that lonely. Continue reading
In advance of this year’s ISA convention and the OAIS awards, we’re happy to launch a new and improved Duck of Minerva with a revamped look and feel. You will notice automatically a direct link to duckofminerva.com which should make access more straightforward. The new site is also responsive so will resize automatically on your phone or tablet. We’ve also added a new set of topics to classify posts by subject so you can find them easily. The Twitter feed and blogroll have been updated.
We wanted to thank permanent contributors Robert Kelly and Vikash Yadav who have decided to step down. In addition, we wanted to thank a number of guest contributors, Edward Carpenter, Adrienne Le Bas, Burcu Bayram, PM, and Cynthia Weber who are cycling off. We will be bringing some new guest contributors on so be on the lookout for more news on that front. Special thanks to Lori Lacy from mod.girl.designs for carrying out the web redesign.
Thanks again for your readership and contributions to the blog, which we hope continues to provide an eclectic source of analysis on all things international and political and beyond in 2015.
This is a guest post by Grant Dawson, assistant professor of social science and international politics at The University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China and Cyrus Janssen is an American expat based in Asia.
The global order established by the West and led by the US since 1945 is gradually changing. China and the ‘rising Rest’ are catching-up to the US and the West in terms of economic and political power. Unfortunately, as was clear during the Hong Kong protests, the West’s ideas and attitudes about China are not keeping pace, and may lead to misunderstandings that undermine political relations during a crucial transitional period for everyone.
With Russia’s incursions into Ukraine becoming more aggressive, there has been a lot of chatter about whether or not the U.S. government should arm Ukraine with lethal weapons. Defense Secretary Nominee Ash Carter has signaled his openness to such a move. Ivo Daalder, Strobe Talbott, Steven Pifer, and collaborators have issued a call for such support. There has been push back from Sean Kay and Jeremy Shapiro, other establishment foreign policy types. (With Talbott, Shapiro, and other folks from Brookings weighing in on opposing sides, there has been interesting discussion of this being an internal food fight there).
What are their arguments? How can we adjudicate who is right? In other words, what kinds of empirical and theoretical arguments can we draw on to assess these differences in judgment? Continue reading
I am a huge fan of the Lego Movie, which is almost an IR movie, given that Will Moore is related to one of the movie’s creators. But this somewhat critical take on the film is still delightful:
We hear every day that technology is changing rapidly, and that we are at risk of others violating our rights through digital means. We hear about cyber attacks that steal data, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, names, incomes, or addresses. We hear about attacks that steal intellectual property, from movies to plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Indeed, we face a continual onslaught from not only the cyber criminals, but from the media as well. One of the lesser-reported issues in the US, however, has been a different discussion about data and rights protection: the right to be forgotten.
Last year, The European Court of Justice ruled in Google vs. Costeja that European citizens have the right, under certain circumstances, to request search engines like Google, to remove links that contain personal information about them. The Court held that in instances where data is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” individuals may request the information to be erased and delinked from the search engines. This “right to be forgotten” is a right that is intended to support and complement an individual’s privacy rights. It is not absolute, but must be balanced “against other fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and of the media” (paragraph 85 of the ruling). In the case of Costeja, he asked that a 1998 article in a Spanish newspaper be delinked from his name, for in that article, information pertaining to an auction of his foreclosed home appeared. Mr. Costeja subsequently paid the debt, and so on these grounds, the Court ruled that the link to his information was no longer relevant. The case did not state that information regarding Mr. Costeja has to be erased, or that the newspaper article eliminated, merely that the search engine result did not need to make this particular information “ubiquitous.” The idea is that in an age of instantaneous and ubiquitous information about private details, individuals have a right to try to balance their personal privacy against other rights, such as freedom of speech. Continue reading
*This is a guest post by Cynthia Weber, Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex
As the International Studies Association gears up for its 2015 annual convention in New Orleans, USA, an email announcing its Sapphire Series of panels was sent to ISA members. The email reads: ‘Introducing ISA’s new initiative THE SAPPHIRE SERIES. Covering key issues in the field and in international affairs, these talks will feature scholars discussing current world events, trends in academic research, and new challenges in teaching and learning’.
Great idea, it seems to me, so I click on the link to ‘Find Out More.’ This is where things get troubling. For the more I find out, the more troubled I become. On the ISA Sapphire Series page, I find descriptions of four up-coming panels – Epistemology in IR, The State of IR Theory: Questions Big and Small, Topics in Teaching and Professional Development, and Commentary on Breaking Current Events. So far, so good. Each panel is composed of prestigious members of the discipline, men and women. Again, so far, so good. Then things start getting weird.
Every IR scholar is from the Global North, which seems strange to me given the conference theme of ‘Global IR, Regional Worlds’ and given the post-colonial expertise and commitments to post-colonial scholarship of this year’s ISA Program Chairs. Then I see the profile pictures of each speaker embedded next to their description, and here I audibly go ‘huh?’ Because every one of the 17 Sapphire participants appears to be white. Again, I’m confused. For at ISA 2015 in particular – with its two Program Chairs who are variously racialized against standards of normalized whiteness and who contest racialized IR knowledges – how is it that seemingly superior Sapphire Series knowledge appears to be universally white? Continue reading
I can still remember my first ISA conference. I was a PhD student eager to present early work at the freezing Montreal conference (not the last Montreal, the one before that). I remember being gobsmacked hearing academics talking about how they were booked up with meetings and hadn’t attended a single panel. I thought: What did that mean?; What was this ‘other’ conference or set of meetings happening and why was it happening at the same time as the ISA?; How was it possible to attend the ISA, but not attend any panels? But several years later, as I look at my ‘ISA Schedule’ I’m struggling to carve out time to attend panels that aren’t my own. Don’t get me wrong- this isn’t going to be a post about how important I am, or how busy I am: I’m not, and I’m not. And, don’t get me wrong, I love attending panels. For me, there is no greater conference satisfaction than folding over pages, highlighting panels, and placing stars beside ‘must see’ roundtables. But conference creep happens! With four days of conference, and 4 panels a day, there are exactly 16 opportunities to attend a panel…in theory. Here’s how to loose those opportunities, one at a time.
1. Your own presentations. This is a no brainer- the average ISA-er is on 2-3 panels (based on my total guestimation- note that participants are technically only supposed to be on 4, but there are a whole host of ways that gets ignored…a good topic for another post). Let’s round up to 3. That means you only have 13 possible panels to attend.
2. After-panel creep. Continue reading
Thanks to all of you who voted for this year’s OAIS Blogging Awards finalists. We had an amazing pool of nominees again this year in all four categories. We had a record voter turnout — it’s exciting to see the growth in interest in the Duckies in the past three years. It is even more exciting to see and read all of the incredible intellectual contributions made by all of the bloggers in the IR field.
We are pleased to announce this year’s finalists. Continue reading
About a week ago I published a piece with the International Relations and Security Network (ISN) on the analytical and political utility (or lack thereof) of the concept of terrorism. I cannot reproduce it here in full for Duck readers because the ISN owns it. But, since I think the topic might be of interest to readers, here is a taste of what I argue in hopes of prompting a discussion:
With high-profile incidents of political violence continuing to make headlines, the time has come to question the labeling of these events as ‘terrorism.’ While politically or ideologically motivated violence remains all too real, approaching events such as these through the framework of ‘terrorism’ does little to help academics or policymakers understand or prevent them. Fourteen years into the Global War on Terror, the political and security baggage that accompanies the label ‘terrorism’ may even undermine such efforts. This is because the term terrorism creates the false impression that the actions it describes represent a special or unique phenomenon. Because this confusion impedes our ability to understand politically motivated violence as part of broader social and political systems, the costs of continuing to use the concept of terrorism outweigh the benefits. The simplest solution to this problem would be for scholars and policymakers alike to jettison the term…
Save room on your schedules for some Ultimate:
I am hoping that there will be enough space and too few drunken folks on the playing field at Woldenberg Park at 10am on Saturday of ISA week. It is just up the river (if you look at a map, it looks is up and to the right of the Hilton along the waterfront). Bring a dark shirt and a light shirt. Cleats are optional. I will bring the cones and the disks.
Get your ballots in soon. We are in the home stretch for the voting for the 2015 OAIS Blogging Awards (The Duckies). Voting closes on Friday, Jan. 30 at 5:00pm EST. All ballots must be submitted by then. We’ve had a record number of votes and all four categories are very tight. Once all the votes are in, we will tally them and announce the finalists for each category. At that point, a panel of judges will select the winners from among the finalists. For more information on the list of nominees and all the details and rules on voting, check out our earlier post. Continue reading
How can we ensure that when Ebola ends, Sierra Leone’s medical infrastructure and economy doesn’t disintegrate with it? Yesterday Oxfam called for an Ebola Marshall Plan to help countries like Sierra Leone, which have been seriously impacted by the deadly virus. This would involve economic interventions in health, education, and sanitation- amongst other areas. But given the slow and late response to the Ebola crisis- is this realistic? Continue reading
One of the regrets of my career is that I was developing the ethnic security dilemma concept the same time as Barry Posen, who published his in Survival in 1993. As I prepared for my comprehensive exams in 1991 in IR and Comparative Politics, I focused on ethnic politics for the latter exam. I wrote papers that developed the IR concept for ethnic politics, got nice comments from my profs, but moved on to the dissertation. I should have tried to publish the piece–I would have scooped Posen.
Nathan Paxton has a provocative post on The Monkey Cage where he suggests, among other things that the World Health Organization (WHO) is not to blame for the Ebola crisis. Rather, he lays the blame squarely on donor countries.
He rightly notes that the WHO’s budget and staff was cut after the financial crisis, but I think he lets WHO off too lightly. With many ideas circulating about the future of the WHO in advance of the upcoming WHO Executive Board meeting beginning January 26th, understanding the various factors that contributed to the failed response to Ebola is all the more critical. Continue reading
In last night’s State of the Union Address, President Obama briefly reiterated the point that Congress has an obligation to pass some sort of legislation that would enable cybersecurity to protect “our networks”, our intellectual property and “our kids.” The proposal appears to be a reiteration that companies share more information with the government in real time about hacks they are suffering. Yet, there is something a bit odd about the President Obama’s cybersecurity call to arms: the Sony hack.
The public attention given over to the Sony hack, from the embarrassing emails about movie stars, to the almost immediate claims from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that the attack came from North Korea, to the handwringing over what kind of “proportional” response to launch against the Kim regime, we have watched the cybersecurity soap opera unfold. In what appears as the finale, we now have reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) watched the attack unfold, and that it was really the NSA’s evidence and not that of the FBI that supported President Obama’s certainty that North Korea, and not some disgruntled Sony employee, was behind the attack. Where does this leave us with the SOTU?
First, if we believe that the NSA watched the Sony attack unfold—and did not warn Sony—then no amount of information sharing from Sony would have mattered. Sony was de facto sharing information with the government whether they permitted it or not. This raises concerns about the extent to which monitoring foreign attacks violates the privacy rights of individuals and corporations. Was the NSA watching traffic, or was it inside Sony networks too?
Second, the NSA did not stop the attack from happening. Rather, it and the Obama administration let the political drama unfold, and took the opportunity to issue a “proportionate” response through targeted sanctions against some of the ruling North Korean elite. The sanctions are merely additions to already sanctioned agencies and individuals, and so functionally, they are little more than show. The only sense that I can make of this is that the administration desired to signal publicly to the Kim regime and all other potential cyber attackers that the US will respond to attacks in some manner. This supports Erik Gartzke’s argument that states do not require 100% certainty about who launched an attack to retaliate. If states punish the “right” actor, then all the better, if they do not, then they still send a deterrent signal to those watching. However, if this is so, it is immediately apparent that Sony was scarified to the cyber-foreign-policy gods, and there was a different cost-benefit calculation going on in the White House.
Finally, let’s get back to the Sony hack and the SOTU address. If the US was taking the Sony hack as an opportunity in deterrence, then this means that it allowed Sony to suffer a series of attacks and did nothing to protect them. If this is the case, then the notion that we need more information sharing with the government may be false. What the government wants is really more permission, more consent, from the companies it is already watching. Protecting the citizens and corporations of the US requires a delicate balance between privacy and security. However, attempting to corrupt ways of maintaining security, such as outlawing encryption only makes citizens and corporations more unsafe and insecure. If the US government really wants to protect the “kids” from cyber criminals, then they should equip those kids with the strongest encryption there is, and teach good cyber practices.
It’s always nice to read good news. And it’s nice to read evidence-based arguments in the popular press. Over the holiday, Andrew Mack and Steven Pinker offered a little of each over the holidays in their article “The World Is Not Falling Apart.” Therein, they marshal of human security indicators upon indicators – number of rapes reported, number of civilians killed, number of wars breaking out, number of homicides – to argue that at the global level the trendlines are mostly pointing downward. In championing “an evidence-based mindset on the state of the world,” the authors place the blame for our current misconceptions on “a misleading formula of journalistic narration”:
“Reporters give lavish coverage to gun bursts, explosions and viral videos, oblivious to how representative they are and apparently innocent of the fact that many were contrived as journalistic bait… News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen… The only sound way to appraise the state of the world is to count. How many violent acts has the world seen compared with the number of opportunities?”
This seemingly sensible argument does contain one fundamental paradox, however: some of the data-sets on which Mack and Pinker rely are themselves based on news reports. Continue reading