Tag: human security (page 1 of 2)

New Research on Issue Selection in Global Policy Networks

At long last, the journal article version* of the research my team conducted on the human security network is published (complete with color-coded tag clouds and network graphs)! International Organization has very kindly agreed to temporary un-gate the article until May 30, so check out the TUG.pdf here!

tag cloudMy co-authors Sirin Duygulu, Alexander Montgomery, Anna Rapp and I analyze focus group data to explore how elites in global policy networks make judgments on which issues are worthy of their organizations’ attention.

We find practitioners pay lip-service to a confluence of factors corresponding in predictable ways to various streams in the scholarly literature, but we also find that factors within the network are especially important:

Through a series of focus groups with human security practitioners, we examined how powerful organizations at the center of advocacy networks select issues for attention. Participants emphasized five sets of factors: entrepreneur attributes, adopter attributes, the broader political context, issue attributes, and intranetwork relations. However, the last two were much more consistently invoked by practitioners in their evaluations of specific candidate issues. Scholars of global agenda setting should pay particular attention to how intranetwork relations structure gatekeeper preferences within transnational advocacy spaces because these help constitute perceptions of issues’ and actors’ attributes in networks.

*White paper version here. Book version with longer discussion of network theory, exciting illustrative case studies and many more color graphs is out from Cornell in June. Continue reading

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Creative Rebranding? Human Rights vs. Human Security

I had a boy break up with me once by saying “we’re not breaking up, we’re taking a break.”  I guess the boy assumed that “taking a break” would be easier for me to accept than “breaking up.”  He was right: it took me a while[1] to actually figure out that “taking a break” was really synonymous with “breaking up.”  For my teenage-girl angst, “taking a break” just sounded better.  For the boy, “taking a break” was probably the safer option.

In both advocacy and research concerning of how people are treated by governmental and non-governmental actors, I think the same type of linguistic gymnastics occurs between the terms “human rights” and “human security.” However, I think the strategic use of the terms could have ramifications for both our research and advocacy.

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A Network Explanation for the Rise of Global Social Issues

I am delighted to report that as of last Friday at 7:02pm I have completed final revisions on my latest book manuscript. This culminates a project on issue neglect that started with my observations about children born of war, emerged as a theory of “agenda-vetting,” and involved a detailed NSF-funded study of the rise and fall of issues in the human security network. It also includes detailed case studies on several norm-building campaigns I’ve been following since 2007: the campaign to make amends to civilians harmed in legitimate battle operations, the campaign to ban infant male circumcision, and the campaign to ban the development and use of autonomous weapons.

I am told by the editor at Cornell University Press it should hopefully be on the shelves in time for next year’s ISA conference. For readers who have long followed my work on this project, which coincided with the start of my blogging career, I offer below the fold the first few paragraphs of the book as a sneak preview. Continue reading

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Guest Post: What’s Wrong with the Human Security Report and the “Global Decline Claim”

This is a guest post by Amelia Hoover Green (Drexel University), Dara Kay Cohen (Harvard Kennedy School) and Elisabeth Jean Wood (Yale University). See also Megan H. MacKenzie’s post and Andrew Mack’s reply. tl;dr notice: 3,608 words

The Human Security Report (HSR) released last week has attracted considerable attention in both the news media and the blogosphere (the debate is collected here), mostly related to its assertion that wartime sexual violence may be on the decline globally. It is an attention-grabbing claim that is no more supported by data (indeed, somewhat less supported by data) than claims about the rising incidence of wartime sexual violence.

As scholars who research conflict-related rape and sexual violence—two of us provided input to the HSR[1]—we are concerned about both the global decline claim (we’ll refer to it as the GDC throughout) and the disproportionate attention it has received. In particular, we are troubled that the debate over the GDC has overshadowed other findings that are both more important and more grounded in evidence.

In this response, we first briefly review several important points of agreement with the HSR.[2] We then discuss our disagreements with the GDC, and with the HSR’s use of data to support the GDC. We nonetheless argue that cross-national data on wartime sexual violence are essential to understanding patterns of perpetration. While acknowledging that cross-national data have inherent biases, we maintain that such data have advanced our knowledge about the phenomenon of wartime rape. Some key findings from these data include the following:

  • States, not rebel groups, are more frequently reported as perpetrators of wartime rape.
  • Wartime rape is not (only) an African issue: Civil wars with high levels of wartime rape, when considered as a proportion of all civil wars, were only slightly more common in sub-Saharan Africa than in Asia.
  • Despite the conventional wisdom, ethnic war is not a statistically significant predictor of wartime rape.

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“Reversing the Burden of Proof”: Tactic or Norm

An interesting observation I took away from this meeting is the frequency with which I heard practitioners talking about the need to “reverse the burden of proof” from advocates (to prove that a particular weapon causes significant humanitarian harm) to governments (to prove that it doesn’t). As Richard Price documented in his study of the landmines campaign and John Borrie documented in his landmark genealogy of the cluster munitions convention, the ability to shift the terms of debate in this way is a pivotal component of successful campaigns in the area of weapons.

At the same time, this appears to be a tactic used during specific campaigns only, rather than a broad principle itself being proposed and promulgated throughout the human security network. I wonder what humanitarian disarmament advocacy might look like if, rather than going to governments to deal with specific weapons issues in a piecemeal manner, advocates pushed for governments to document the humanitarian harms of their weaponry and justify their use on a regular basis.

Indeed, this latter is precisely the point of the Casualty Recording Campaign, spearheaded by the Oxford Research Group in collaboration with IKV Pax Christi and Article36.org, which would require states to do body counts in armed conflicts and report their results to the international community. While the campaign is conceived primarily to ensure the dignity and recognition of victims, if its goals were achieved it could also be a mechanism for “reversing the burden of proof” in a wider and more systematic sense around weapons issues – in short, make it more of a constitutive humanitarian norm (much like the precautionary principle in the area of environmental health) and less like a tactic to be used only in discrete cases.

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In Weapons Advocacy as in Health, Prevention is Better Than Cure

A heavily attended side-event today was the Norwegian Red Cross‘ panel discussion “Looking Back to Look Forward: The Cluster Munitions Convention and What it Means for Limiting the Impact of Other Weapons Systems.”

Richard Moyes, coordinator of the International Network Against Explosive Weapons, presented a compelling address about the importance of regulating the use of explosives in populated areas, and putting the burden of proof on states to document the humanitarian costs of the weapons they use in conflict zones. University of Sheffield’s Noel Sharkey presented on the dangers of trends toward increasingly autonomous weaponry. And Peter Herby, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Arms Unit, had a clear message for delegates and NGOs that tied together these specific calls for action: states need to do more to properly review the humanitarian acceptability of weapons – cyber-weapons, non-lethal incapacitants, autonomous weapons, nano-weapons, bio-weapons and others – before they are widely deployed.

States have long been required to do so under Article 36 of the first 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, but according to Herby as few as 12 signatory governments have established mechanisms for actually reviewing new weapons before they are deployed. And nor is there any independent body responsible for overseeing those reviews, as exists other areas of global governance. More typically, weapons development proceeds apace until some outcry from civil society, as is now beginning to happen in the case of autonomous weapons.

But this outcry is often too slow in coming: civil society has historically been likelier to condemn weapons already in widespread use than new weapons whose effects are uncertain. The reason is simple: it’s much easier to conduct ‘remedial’ campaigns on issues where widespread humanitarian harms have already been documented, as a combination of testimonial and statistical evidence of a problem is often a prerequisite for creating a sense of urgency around an issue. Thus campaigns against landmines, cluster munitions, incendiaries and explosive violence have emerged in recent years only after decades of mounting and evident civilian harms.

Nonetheless, as Herby emphasized today, “prevention is better than a cure.” And as he pointed out, pre-emptive bans are not unheard of nor necessarily infeasible: two important examples are the ban on exploding bullets promulgated by Russia in the nineteenth century at the behest of military specialists; and the ban on blinding lasers negotiated in 1995, before the widespread deployment of these weapons. In the case of nuclear weapons in particular, Herby said:

“The only option is prevention. This is an area in which we need to make efforts because remediation will be too late.”

Richard Moyes of Article36.org, an NGO dedicated to humanitarian disarmament, echoed Herby’s sentiments regarding nuclear weapons in a response to an ICAN representative’s query on how to move forward to a nuclear ban:

“You can feel a sense of momentum already in that direction, a fairly clear concept of a treaty prohibition on nuclear weapons is starting to take holds in a number of people’s minds. I think we can take confidence from the CCM that we can learn from communities that worked together on that. And I think we can learn from the overall standard-setting initiatives here as well, that we need to take it into our own hands to establish the standards we want to see in the world, not sit beholden to those who hold over our heads weapons capable of killing thousands of people in an unacceptable way. We as a community can start to address that, states without nuclear weapons can start to address that, we don’t need to wait to have nuclear armed states on board to articulate a treaty prohibition on these weapons. We need to make clear those weapons of mass destruction need to go the same way as chemical and biological weapons, landmines and clusters, subject to a straightforward prohibition on their use, stockpiling and production.”

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The State of Human Security

Eleven years ago today, the human security threat on many policy-makers’ minds was attacks against civilians by transnational terror networks. So it’s a good moment to reflect on the state of human security today – both the issue agenda in this network and the global burden of other human security problems, and particularly the gap between the threats people face and the issues that get global policy attention.

This week I’m attending the Cluster Munitions Convention Third Meeting of States Parties (3MSP) in Oslo, and I was invited to speak on “neglected human security issues” at a seminar for Youth Delegates organized by the NGO Norwegian People’s Aid. As I often do, I delivered my remarks with accompanying video, so here is the YouTube version (minus throat-clearing) for those interested. More updates from the 3MSP conference will arrive presently.

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Book Review: “The Justice Cascade”

My “Human Security” doctoral students just finished reading Kathryn Sikkink‘s new book on international tribunals and it is undisputably their favorite of all those assigned this year. Partly that is because it is written in clear, non-academic prose. Partly it’s the common-sense way in which Sikkink describes her methods and findings, and she ties her story concretely to ongoing policy debates. Partly it’s the way she weaves a portrait of her own intellectual journey into the writing. This book is going to have wide appeal beyond the academy for these reasons, but it was also notably very appealing to doctoral students for the same reasons, as they are hungry for scholarship to which they feel they can relate.

Beyond its appeal to the informed public and as a classroom text, The Justice Cascade makes significant intellectual, theoretical and empirical contributions to human security studies. The title is a little bit misleading since it implies that the story is about the rise of international justice as a norm… and it is, partly. But the real contribution is in demonstrating that trials and truth commissions work, especially in tandem. At least, these mechanisms appear to correlate somewhat to certain favorable outcomes, not least of which is a decline in human rights repression; and notably, in contrast to earlier work by Jack Snyder and Leslie Vinjamuri, her analysis shows such mechanisms certainly do no harm.

This finding should not be understated. Many have made similar arguments in the past, but none of the literature was particularly systematic or well-conceived: Sikkink’s own earlier quantitative work on the topic was either region-specific or failed to control for other causal factors. In fact a 2010 overview of the state of the TJ literature by Oskar Thomas, Jim Ron and Roland Paris concluded that it was impossible to know whether TJ worked due to absence of good data, over-reliance on case data, and conceptual incommensurability.

Sikkink’s new book is a redounding riposte to these claims, providing a much more careful systematic treatment of the relationship between trials and truth commissions and the deterrence of human rights abuses than anything I’ve read. She ties together a career’s worth of research on the subject, describing the evolution of the “norm cascade” toward individual state-level accountability for human rights abuses, documenting the effects within Latin America and then replicating these tests on a new global data-set. Throughout, she is careful to discuss the different analytical ways of thinking about “effects” of transitional justice, and she is clear on her coding and the trade-offs in some of her conceptual choices. Other scholars, she acknowledges, have created different data and found different results, but Sikkink’s reaction to that has been to team up with these colleagues on a new project aimed at reconciling the two sets of findings. So she describes her path-breaking conclusions with humility. Her work is a model of normatively-driven, empirically rigorous, policy-relevant social science.

I have only two mild critiques. The first is that I would have loved if the global deterrence chapter had explored differences between types of tribunals. An important policy question animating discussions of how to try Assad, for example, is whether international tribunals have advantages over local courts. It’s not clear to me that Sikkink’s data reflects the kinds of important variation that we see here: in fact my impression (though I’ve not look at the dataset itself) is that she coded only state-level courts. So there are open questions about the role of international institutions and the transnational international justice epistemic community in creating the outcomes she documents. I am hoping some of these more nuanced variables will be reflected in her new work with Leigh Payne.

My other set of questions has to do with the final empirical chapter on US policy post-9/11 and what this means for the “justice cascade.” First, the chapter itself is brilliant for what it is: it’s the best descriptive overview I’ve seen of the rhetorical mechanisms the Bush Administration used to stave off prosecution for its violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the war on terror (or at least, the best overview situated within the IR theory on norms). But the chapter makes an explanatory claim as well – that the efforts of the US to reinterpret international law indicate the strength of the justice cascade, rather than heralding its decline. Here Sikkink’s argument is weaker: it would be fairer to say she has advanced a new and very interesting hypothesis than that she has adequately demonstrated a finding on this point: the chapter includes no counter-factual comparison to earlier US administrations or to the behavior of other states in the same period; and no genuine causal assessment, actually, of whether the US would have behaved differently in the absence of the justice cascade. Plus it largely ducks the other question of whether a superpower’s malfeasance affects the legitimacy of the international norms it’s breaking, or only its own.

Still, both because of its many strengths and because of these small flaws, the book is absolutely ideal for teaching graduate students about how to do systematic, policy-relevant social science and to communicate it to wide audience. We ended by considering whether Sikkink could have written this book in this way straight out of grad school. Probably not: junior political scientists are still safer if they publish a few books with university presses in the style of Activists Beyond Borders before moving on to this more public-intellectual style. But this discussion not only inspired students to think about the justice cascade – it inspired them to visualize themselves at different places in their careers, as scholar-practitioners embedded in the human rights epistemic community, helping build social justice through research.

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The Constructivist Peace: Shared Norms and Pacific Relations Among Human Rights Abusers

Timothy Peterson and Leah Graham recently published a study in the Journal of Conflict Resolution showing that, after you control for the democratic peace, similarities in human rights performance have an important effect on any two countries’ likelihood to go to war. The interesting caveat is that this finding holds true for states that abuse their citizens as well as those that don’t:

Although mutual norms of domestic non-violence are more pacifying than mutual disregard thereof, the authors argue that a wide disparity in norms is more aggravating than shared norms… that norm asymmetry is aggravating provides evidence for an “‘abusers’ peace…” Our results suggest the possibility for conflicts arising between newly democratic, human rights-supporting states and their more oppressive, authoritarian neighbors… It may be that installing an “outpost of democracy” within an authoritarian region and enforcing improved respsect for human rights on the domestic population will lead to increased regional violence.

Peterson and Graham are building on two earlier studies augmenting the democratic peace thesis by exploring the specific impact of human rights performance on war. IR scholars have long noted that democratic states almost never fight one another, but there is much debate over why. Although IR liberals have long treated “ideological commitment to human rights” as one of several “pillars” or indicators of the liberal peace, Mary Caprioli and Peter Trumdore showed that human rights performance alone is actually a good predictor of interstate violence even controlling for regime type. A separate study by David Sobek, M. Rodwan Abouharb and Christopher Ingram demonstrated that states with good human rights records, were more peaceful with one another regardless of democracy. Peterson and Graham’s study extends this finding in one more direction, arguing it is indeed dyadic norms that matter, but that there exists an “abusers’ peace” as well as a “human rights peace.”

The findings themselves should be critically analyzed and replicated further: among other problems they all rely on different and imperfect indicators of human rights performance (for a critique of quantitative data-sets on human rights see this article). However as a whole this line of research suggests two modest challenges to democratic peace theory.

First, it suggests that democratic institutions per se may be far less important in mitigating interstate war than a cluster of human rights norms that can include but are not limited to the “empowerment rights” associated with democracy. Second, it suggests that the causal mechanism translating adherence to these norms into pacific relations is not liberal but rather constructivist: a set of shared identities that can constitute shared interests among human rights abusers as well as champions, lessening the likelihood of violent conflicts. And at the level of policy, these studies do indeed encourage an emphasis on diffusing norms within neighborhoods rather than changing the regimes of specific states, if the goal is to achieve both rights and security.

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Toward Pracademia

Among the assigned readings for my new doctoral seminar in Human Security this week are a number of pieces from last year’s International Studies Review Theory v. Practice Symposium. There are numerous fascinating pieces here, including Dan Drezner’s case study on the evolution of “smart sanctions,” Roland Paris’ discussion of “fragile states” as a case study in epistemic agenda-setting, and Kittikhoun and Weiss’ debunking “The Myth of Scholarly Irrelevance for the U.N.”

In particular, a quote from Jentleson and Ratner’s contribution jumped out at me:

“The profession-based incentive structure and other aspects of academia’s dominant organizational culture… devalue policy relevance. Doctoral students are cued early on that their program of study is more about the discipline than the world. Curriculua tend to feature courses on formal modeling, game theory and statistics far more than ones on policy areas, history or states/regions. Then when it comes time ot hit the job market, search committees give far more weight to a dissertation’s theoretical question than policy significance, and readily ignore, if not look down upon, policy oriented publications outside of the scholarly peer-reviewed domain. It thus is quite individually rational for so few graduate students to take on policy-relevant dissertations – rational for working within the system as it exists, but cumulatively irrational for the intellectual diversity and professional pluralism that a discipline such as political science and field such as IR should manifest. It is also out of synch if not in denial of job market realities… not preparing graduate students for this wider range of options borders on malpractice.”

We are beginning the term by thinking about “bridging the gap” for three reasons:

1) “Human Security” is, if neither a paradigm shift nor “hot air,” usefully understood as a specific policy domain, and human security policies of all kinds are being shaped by causal understandings percolating out of the academy

2) Therefore the course is based on understanding the classic empirical research on key human security topics (human rights, humanitarian affairs, humanitarian intervention, the laws of war, peace-building, etc) with a view toward understanding how to transmit the empirical insights of those literatures to policy-makers in those domain, as well as an appreciate of why this is so challenging

3) This pedagogy is in both respects a deliberate yet already uncomfortable attempt to buck the trend Jentleson and Ratner correctly identify. Doctoral students need both the skills to do policy-relevant, practitioner-oriented work if they choose AND the ability to write for comprehensive exams / compete in academia. The trick is going to be teaching both simultaneously, so I figure the first step is helping them to understand the difference.

Will be reporting back on my attempts through the course of the term. Meanwhile, pedagogical suggestions are highly welcome.

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War and the Eurozone

PM and Chancellor Merkel press conference

Last week, at University of Bristol, I gave a talk called “The Future of World Order” to the student International Affairs Society. It was a speculative lecture, based on my 17 years directing the Grawemeyer Award (for Ideas Improving World Order) more than my scholarship per se. I warned the audience from the start of two personal biases: (1) I am an optimist; and (2) I don’t really put much stock in specific predictions. I tried to stick to big ideas more than particular policies.

In the presentation, I argued that any order built on coercion and force would inevitably face a legitimacy crisis — and would ultimately collapse. The implications are twofold, I think. Domestically, people will demand greater control of their own lives. This means the world will see many more emancipatory movements to topple autocrats and unaccountable sources of power — as illustrated just this year by events in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, the city of London, Wall Street, etc.

Internationally, it means order built on deterrence, brute force, or even the balance of power will give way to something that is more consensual, such as a security community. In support of this position, I talked a bit about John Mueller’s thesis that major power war is becoming obsolete — an outmoded institution, abandoned like slavery and dueling previously were. Could this thinking become even more pervasive, so that virtually any talk of war — internal or external — becomes outmoded? Eventually.

In the talk, I did not explicitly argue against the traditional state-centrism of international relations, nor call for the end of the states-system. However, I strongly implied that the future of world order will be more cooperative, focused on low rather than high politics (elevating the human security agenda), and much less violent.

This week, recovering from jet lag, I’ve been following the efforts to save the euro and Eurozone. One interesting aspect is that conservative leaders in Europe have certainly made some bold claims to sell their preferred outcomes. For instance, while traveling in Australia, British Prime Minister David Cameron used some classic statist language to highlight his concerns about the implications of ongoing negotiations:

“This is our key national interest, that Britain, a historic trading nation, has its biggest markets open and continues to have those markets fairly open and fairly governed.”

He later told the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson: “In business often it’s selling more to your existing customers that’s the best strategy.

What his comments reveal is that when – if – the eurozone crisis ends, big political questions will replace the big economic problems”

“We’re big sellers into Europe, we can do better in those markets if we liberalise further.”

Mr Cameron has vowed to protect the UK’s position and said on Friday that the City of London was one “area of concern… a key national interest that we need to defend”.

“London – the centre of financial services in Europe – is under constant attack through Brussels directives,” he said.

Note the words and phrases Cameron used: “key national interest,” “attack” and “defend.”

Next, consider these remarks Wednesday from German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

“Nobody should take for granted another 50 years of peace and prosperity in Europe. They are not for granted. That’s why I say: If the euro fails, Europe fails,” Merkel said, followed by a long applause from all political groups.

“We have a historical obligation: To protect by all means Europe’s unification process begun by our forefathers after centuries of hatred and blood spill. None of us can foresee what the consequences would be if we were to fail.”

Gulp.

Based on these quotes, scholars should perhaps worry about the long-term durability of Mueller’s thesis.

Well, at least slavery is gone. Right?

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Understanding Zombie Comedy

Earlier this week, Tufts professor Dan Drezner tweeted that his Theory of International Politics and Zombies book has now sold more than 10,000 copies. That’s a huge total by academic standards and I sincerely congratulate Drezner on his success.

Fellow Duck of Minerva bloggers have previously written a good deal about zombies and Drezner’s book. For Foreign Policy, Dan Nexon wrote a brief comment about Drezner’s original article suggesting that we should think (naturally) about IR in terms of hierarchy and empire:

America’s unmatched global-strike capabilities will lead most other remaining states to acquiesce to U.S. leadership over the zone of the living.

The result will not, unfortunately, be Liberal Order 3.0, but a global Pax Americana supported by regional client-empires tasked with controlling and eradicating local zombie eruptions.

Likewise, Laura Sjoberg argues that Drezner reifies masculinization in/of IR.

Reviewer Adam Weinstein argues that the book is “a light, breezy volume” laced with “quick dry punch lines” (Drezner is said to have a “weakness for the cheap joke”). While Charli Carpenter conceded that “the book can and must be read as parody,” Vikash Yadav more critically writes that this hint of humor does not compensate for the mainstream thinking he finds both in Drezner’s book and the larger debate about it:

I do not see the discussions about zombies as a type of new or out-of-the-box thinking. If anything, the discussions of zombies that I have noted so far are completely “in-the-box” thinking, except with a touch of geeky humor, parody, and wit that is usually lacking in the discipline.

So what would constitute an out-of-the box critique of Theory of International Politics and Zombies?

In her most thorough Duck blog post about the book, Charli notes a potentially serious failing of Drezner’s work.

…the book actually scarcely mentions critical theory, post-modernism, feminist theory or pretty much any scholarship falling on the “reflectivist” side of the discipline, much less utilizes their tools. (Though to be fair, Dan doesn’t claim to do so, either.)

But if I have one critique of this otherwise brilliant little book, it’s that as a description of “the field” of IR, TIPZ’ relentless focus on rationalist theory to the near-exclusion of identities, language or embodiment frankly bites.

Broadly, Weinstein agrees with this assessment, as he claims that Drezner’s survey of the field is “prone to give short shrift to IR theories he clearly disagrees with [citing social constructivism], and to softpedal on those with which he sympathizes just a bit.”

While those are significant concerns about the book, they are likely not sufficiently unconventional to satisfy Vikash’s critique. Indeed, he suggests a potentially more critical approach — by thinking about the central role of threats in the discipline, especially ultimate “worst case” threats.

I would hypothesize that apocalyptic thinking functions to reassert the relevance of dominant modes of theorizing; apocalyptic thinking disciplines the discipline. Apocalyptic thinking is deeply conservative; it reasserts the relevance of theories which protect the status quo.

This is an especially important concern given some empirical evidence Drezner arguably misinterprets in his book — the meaning of a couple of comedic zombie films, Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland.

Some readers may know that my ongoing sabbatical project is about “the comedy of global politics.” As I have previously explained at the Duck, numerous realist and other IR theorists have long argued that the discipline is explained in tragic terms. Tragic stories traditionally focus on doomed heroic nobles who find themselves constrained by their situation. The stories tend to be set in the Great Hall or on the battlefield and end in death.

By contrast, comedy potentially provides an important alternative narrative perspective on the discipline. Comedies typically focus on ordinary people and emphasize their regular lives — the human security agenda, if you prefer that language. The stories end happily, perhaps in a marriage. Comedies focusing on elites typically satirize and critique those characters, revealing them to be self-interested buffoons. Satire, farce and black comedy can be subversive, reflecting critical rather than entrenched understandings.

Arguably, the makers of the recent comedic zombie films have both the concerns of ordinary people and subversive ideas about elites in mind. The threat from zombies is mostly played for laughs (Zombieland was criticized for its failings as a horror film) and the lives of the (ordinary) main characters provide alternative narratives that are not centrally focused on apocalyptic threats. The zombies seem relatively easy to slay — though, granted, their large numbers are somewhat worrisome. The lead characters spend a fair amount of screen time thinking about their love lives and families. Both Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland end relatively happily, suggesting romance, family, and a return to (a new) normalcy.

Elite characters in these films, by contrast, are often lampooned and criticized. Obviously, the zombie outbreaks in both films reflect a failure of established order — and the characters in these movies are thus left to construct their own rules and understandings in order to cope with their situations. While Shaun of the Dead relies upon the military to save the lead characters from their situation, the story’s final resolution remains nonetheless focused on the relationships among the ordinary people at the center of the film.

Bill Murray appears as himself in Zombieland , living essentially alone in his mansion and disguising himself as a zombie so that he can have a life outside his dwelling. He plays golf, an elite sport, thanks to his zombie disguise. This way of life proves unsustainable.

Comedic zombie films, despite Drezner’s take (rom zom com?), offer a meaningful pathway to discuss critical theory in IR.

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Observations on Traffic Safety From Indonesia

A few days ago this startling report hit the newsstands in Jakarta, proclaiming Bali to have surpassed Phuket in highway “carnage”:

Bali’s roads have become the scene of unprecedented carnage, with 758 people dying in traffic accidents in just three months, 200 more fatalities than all of last year, police said on Friday. An average of more than eight people a day died on the resort island’s roads in March, April and May…May was the deadliest month, with 286 deaths and 360 injuries, followed by March with 248 dead and 302 injured. The death toll in April was 224, with another 281 injured.

I can’t comment on the validity of the numbers but if true then per capita (Bali’s population now stands at about 4 million) that is about seven times the US traffic fatality rate for 2009.

Traveling around the island, I could see why. I found it remarkable that we didn’t witness at least one deadly wreck during our days there. In the country-side, drivers sped along curvy, one-lane roads with abandond, narrowly missing oncoming traffic. In Kuta, the traffic was intense and chaotic, a dizzying writhing snake of taxis, cars packed in nearly bumper to bumper with three times as many mopeds maneuvering neck and neck, lane to lane.

Few scooters carried helmeted riders, even fewer outsie the city. Those that did usually carried at least one un-helmeted toddler as well, napping unsecured on the handlebars ready to slide off any moment; or a five-year-old on the back, gripping the seat with his legs while using his hands to text on a mobile phone. The mopeds move lithely in between the cars; no rules exist about minimum safe distance. Our taxi once swiped a motorcyclist as it passed us; the rider simply shrugged off the impact and carried on. Meanwhile, our driver had a television documentary playing on his screen in the front of the car.

When we had to ride in cars – from Jimbaron Bay to Kuta, to Yeh Gangga Village for a horse trek, or Sanur Beach for kite-surfing lessons – I distracted myself from the expectation of an imminent accident by thinking and asking about the emergent order in this seeming chaos. What were the rules? Why weren’t they being followed? How did motorists manage to get by in the chaos?

Cultural explanations aside, the Indonesian government is actually rather concerned about traffic safety and has made efforts to tighten strictures since 2007: helmets are in fact required, and you’re not supposed to cross the solid line. But new rules are rarely enforced. Indeed when Jakarta (where traffic is far worse than Bali: one expat described a six-hour cab ride three miles from the military academy to the US embassy) – first implemented the new rules on turning right at red lights (Indonesia uses the British system) motorists nearly revolted in opposition to the tickets.

Perhaps this is because the government is aiming to alter the laws, rather than the architecture – which as Lawrence Lessig would tell anyone, is rarely the best way to encourage social change. For example, an acquaintaince I spoke with described one effort centered on reducing traffic by creating carpool lanes. However no effort was made to provide additional public transportation for the people who were presumably not going to be on the roads. Nor did authorities actually build new lanes but rather simply created a rule stating that any car in the left lane with fewer than three people would receive a ticket. So in theory this would have simply increased congestion in the non-carpool lane. In practice, what it did was encourage motorists to increasingly drive on sidewalks, and to create a new industry: individuals who hang out by the carpool lane and jump into cars for a fee in order to enable them to use the lane lawfully.

In Bali, at least, social norms appeared to govern traffic flows more than legal rules – leaving one observer to describe traffic there as “zen chaos”:

Being an active participant in Bali traffic is quite an illuminating experience, by no means limited to complex vehicular dynamics. It is a social and cultural phenomenon as well, not to mention a crash course in logistics, strategic planning, tactical implementation and group psychology…. One can contemplate the fluid chaos around one’s bike while interacting with it. Staying alive is always such a good motivator, too.

I’ve learned some simple rules to help me survive so far. Treat all turns as merges. Think zipper. Treat all intersections as the merging of two traffic streams at right angles. Give way only to those you are about to hit, or are about to hit you. Travel at the speed of the surrounding traffic. Drive in a bubble, concerning yourself only with the people in front and to the sides. The ones behind can take care of themselves. Assume that anyone joining traffic from left or right kerbs will not look before accelerating. Above all, follow the medicos’ creed: “First, do no harm”. It doesn’t reduce the chaos, but it does make it a little more bearable.

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“Too Fat to Fight”

Mission: Readiness, a collection of retired generals, admirals and other senior military officers issued their latest report this week and the accompanying press release should draw the attention of IR scholars interested in the Copenhagen School and securitization: “Childhood Obesity Endangers National Security.” The news was particularly bad for my state:

…obesity rates among children and young adults in Kentucky are significantly higher than the national average. Weight problems have become the leading medical reason why young adults are unable to serve in the military, both in Kentucky and nationwide…

“Today, in Kentucky and across the country, otherwise excellent recruit prospects are being turned away because they are simply too overweight,” Major General [D. Allen] Youngman said.

The Louisville Courier-Journal summarized the report’s bad news for local readers:

The report says that 51 percent of young adults in Kentucky were overweight or obese in 2007-09, up from 38 percent in 1997-99. Indiana’s rates, meanwhile, rose from 37 percent in 1997-99 to 40 percent in 2007-09.

Nationally, the report found that about one in four 17- to 24-year-olds is too fat to serve in the military….

“As we look to the future, military defense will remain an important issue for our country. We are confident we’ll have the tanks and ships.…What we’re really concerned about is who will be able to join the military,” said retired Army General D. Allen Youngman of Bowling Green. “In Kentucky, we are worse off than elsewhere.”

Obviously, there are many good reasons to be concerned about childhood nutrition and obesity — particularly given high rates of childhood poverty and hunger as well. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is probably desirable policy. However, I do wonder about the need to sell the policy by framing it as a national security issue. Even a human security frame would be preferable, but that’s not likely a persuasive message in the US.

Where does US militarism end?

Given this ranking and this data, I’m expecting the new school superintendent in Louisville to be a Dean Wormer disciple.

Note: the title of this post comes from the original report issued by Mission: Readiness.

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Battlestar Blegging

This scene from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica pilot – the first in which Commander Adama and President Roslin meet – is emblematic of three politically significant conversations underpinning the series. First, what is the appropriate role of the military with respect to the society it presumably exists to serve? Second, who decides? Third, what are the means by which that role is to be executed? All these conversations map broadly onto what Peter Feaver has called the “civil-military problematique;” and they cut across an emerging conceptual distinction in security studies between national and human security.

A graduate student and I are currently working on a paper that explores how those conversations play out over the course of BSG and examines how the show’s messaging is positioned in current debates about both civil-military relations and human security. In the paper, we elaborate on each of the three tensions exemplified by the initial conversation between Roslin and Adama in the pilot episode, and tie it to civ-mil/human security debates.

First, we examine the epistemological referent of “security” in the series. At the start of the series, Commander Adama assumes a territorialized national security frame – he sees his role as defending the Colonies themselves by pursuing and engaging ‘the enemy’ – while Roslin argues the role of the military is to protect civilians and proposes a militarized humanitarianism on behalf of a diasporic human collective. Although the distinction between military and human security is a constant tension in the show, we argue that the series progresses in the direction of a human security frame. But we also show how the series challenges the concept of human security.

Second, we examine the tension between civilian and military authority as depicted in the series. An abiding thread of analysis in civil-military relations is what level of civilian control over the military and military influence over civilian society is appropriate in a given society. The series begins with the two on somewhat equal footing in their respective spheres – similar to what Huntington referred to as “objective civilian control” – but the show progresses toward greater civilian supremacy overall, as well as fusing the distinction between the two, trends more associated with Janowitz. The civilianization of the military throughout the series is reflected in the destabilization of gender hierarchies as the show progresses, and culminates in complete debellicization in the final episode.

Finally, we examine representations of the limits placed on the role of the military in security, and the means by which it can carry out security measures. The show is unflinchingly brutal at times, forcing the viewer to confront the notion that good people can do terrible things. Nonetheless, BSG presents and defends an argument that military force can only be legitimate and therefore effective if wielded with due respect for the rule of law and human rights. This narrative has significant resonance with current policy debates over the role of the military in human security, in the US and abroad; and the show embodies an important tension between civilians and military personnel in the war on terror on the extent to which the state and/or military have the nation’s best interests at heart.

So that’s the paper in a nutshell. Here’s the bleg. We’ve been asked by the editor of the volume for which this is a contribution to ground the meta-analysis more closely in real-world political events, rather than simply academic literature. Help! There are obviously analogues with rule of law in the war on terror, and with the supposed civil-military crisis of which various commentators have been writing in recent years. But we’d also like to cast a broad net: as we develop this further, I am soliciting further thoughts from readers. How might the political debates from BSG be further mapped onto / connected to real-world civil-military relations? Reply below to earn an acknowledgement in our final version. 

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The Shifting Civil-Military Balance in Egypt

President Obama expressed a general sense of relief tonight that the Egyptian military chose to side with the people over the state this week – an outcome not at all pre-ordained by the pre-existing historical relationship between the Egyptian military and the govenrment. In 2004, for example, Stephen Cook concluded the Egypt case study in a Council on Foreign Relations report on civil-military relations in the Middle East as follows:

The organic connection between the Egyptian armed forces and the existing political order is likely to place a drag on Egyptian reform and complicate US efforts to bolster change. With their influence institutionalized at the highest levels of the state, the
officers are likely to countenance reforms that merely shore up the existing regime, but do not effect in any way their highly influential role over the course of Egypt’s political development.

What happened? Mark Thompson at Time Magazine argues:

Ever since the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel, promising Egyptian military officers have come to U.S. military schools, including the Army War College in Carlisle, Penn., the Army’s Command General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. Inculcated there with U.S. ideals on lawful civilian control of military, such an education has helped act as a “safety” on the firepower of the Egyptian streets now massing in Cairo and in other cities.

“This new generation of Egyptian officers has been exposed to the American military and has had a very favorable impression of not just the way we fight our wars but also about the relationship between the military and society,” says Robert Scales, a retired Army major general who served as commandant of the Army War College where he launched the international fellows program. “One of the reasons for the army’s reluctance to follow Mubarak’s intent and squeeze the population in Cairo has to do with the Egyptian military’s exposure to the U.S. military.”

Now, I hope that someone following civil-mil in Egypt more closely than I have will weigh in on the veracity of this analysis. But if this is indeed even a significant element of the basic story, then it confirms an argument by Carol Atkinson on the liberalizing effect of military-to-military relations globally:

The research presented in this article examines one aspect of state socialization, the extent to which transnational military-to-military interactions have served as an effective mechanism of the democratic political socialization of states. The socialization process described in this study is three level: (1) individuals acquire new ideas; (2) coercion, incentives, and persuasion aid in institutionalizing these ideas in the underlying political structure of the state; and (3) once institutionalized, these new ideas/identity of the state influence the material and ideational structure of international society. Using an original data set encompassing over 160 states during the years 1972–2000, the analyses find U.S. military-to-military contacts to be positively and systematically associated with liberalizing trends.

Food for thought.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

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Too many bodies? Communicating the population question

The question of human over-population of our planet seems to resurface every few decades, driven by fears that there are too many people to feed, clothe and shelter, or that the sheer volume of human beings working, travelling and polluting is causing environmental damage. But the persuasiveness of such claims is weakened empirically and normatively. In terms of facts, it does not help the over-population claimants that every time the population question is raised, humanity seems to deal with the problem. People do find food, clothing and shelter. And in terms of values, the notion of limiting or reducing the number of human beings appears a slippery slope to calls for coercion and perhaps eugenics in the name of ‘the greater good’. But in 2010 the question is being asked again.

At Royal Holloway last night, Professor Diana Coole presented early analyses from her new three year project, Too many bodies? The politics and ethics of the world population question. She is interested in why the question is re-emerging now and why it is in developed countries that calls are loudest for something to be done, according to her analysis of media and policy documents. Size of world population seems to have causal links to the development of climate change, water and food security, managing waste, and preserving diversity. The Royal Society’s working group People on the Planet raises this explicitly, as did the Stern Report – though neither recommended any proposals to intervene in human population numbers. As Coole argued, the tools we have for managing demography – fertility, mortality and migration – are all political minefields. Governments quietly manage birthrates through tax and welfare regimes and campaigns on family planning, but few policymakers in liberal democracies would explicitly institute a one-child or two-child policy for families.
It is interesting that Coole, a critical theorist in the continental tradition, should be asking why the population question remains a taboo. Materiality, vital matter, the non-human and post-human futures have all been on the critical theory agenda recently, in IR and more broadly. People are not the only things that matter. This scholarly focus parallels public-political claims for ‘sustainability’ in which the maintenance of ecosystems are considered more pressing than the continuation of humanity and certainly more pressing than economic growth. Might it be that a new strategic narrative will be formed and brought to bear on policy, a ‘smaller, better humanity’ narrative? Population projection statistics are ambiguous and can easily be used to support Malthusian stories. And Coole’s project may unpick the factual and normative discourses that silence talk of the population question, so that the better-smaller narrative — if that is what is being formulated — can be heard.


(Cross-posted from https://newpolcom.rhul.ac.uk/npcu-blog/)

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Whither Human Security?

In an International Affairs article earlier this year, Mary Martin and Taylor Owen point out that the term is all but dead, both in the UN system and within the governments who once championed the concept:

“The term ‘human security’ has all but vanished from the reports of the UN Secretary-General and high-level panels, and from branch organization use… Canada, one of the principal initial proponents of the human security agenda, is also going through a period of withdrawal from both the advocacy and use of the concept… ‘human security’ was among a group of term blacklisted in government parlance.”

But Martin and Owen also show that human security concepts are increasingly penetrating and transforming state practice – even among governments, like the US, who once obstructed norm development in the broad area of human security:

At the same moment that the first generation of human security (represented by the UN and Canada) appears to be in retreat, a second generation is emerging. This second generation is being driven by the EU, and also finds an echo in new security thinking and military doctrine about population-centered security in the United States. By moving away from the very broad, development-focused conceptualization envisioned and then discarded by the UN, and fostering a much tighter crisis or threshold-based conceptualization, it may well be that the second coming of human security achieves a far greater impact than its early forms.

Martin and Owen then go on to explain the failing UN experiment with achieving a consensus definition of “human security,” which has been subject to a heated debate over how broadly or narrowly to draw the boundaries, how to measure it, and whether to think of it as a goal, a set of tactical initiatives, or simply a lens for framing many disparate policy objectives. And they evaluate new initiatives within the EU that, they argue, can improve upon the earlier UN approach only through clarity of conceptualization, and they propose two ways forward: first, policymakers might use threshold-base definitions of human security, which “limits the inclusion of threats by their severity rather than their cause.” Or second, human security can be conceptualized as a set of principles for guiding foreign policy.

My experience so far this term in playing with these different approaches and frameworks with a class full of sharp undergraduates suggests that the “principles” approach is by far more useful. The threshold approach helps narrow in what sort of threats a policy might focus on (traffic accidents v. terrorism for example) but that will always remain contested and at any rate it does not prescribe an operational framework for solving policy problems. However if you forget about thresholds and definitions and simply ask of any policy problem what sort of solutions a human security approach would lend itself to, the discussion becomes much richer and more interesting.

A set of such principles is described by Mary Kaldor in a recent series of essays (p. 184-190), and includes:

1) The primacy of human rights;

2) the exercise of authority according to legitimate and accepted rules;

3) a multilateral approach to global policy problems; and

4) a bottom-up strategy in which the needs and capacities of those most affected by a policy are accounted for in shaping the policy.

Arguably, one could evaluate any set of actors engaged in any policy issue on the extent to which they are or are attempting to behave according to such basic principles. The overall measure of the rights and well-being of civilian populations could become a metric for determining the extent to which such policies, however well-intentioned, represent improvements over other alternatives.

Open questions about such a framework include: When “human rights” conflict in a specific context, which rights and whose rights should be “primary” and according to which principles should the policy analyst decide? When the rule of law and the protection of human rights conflict, which is most important? How shall the analyst weigh variation in the likelihood of specific harms to different groups, the gravity of those harms, or the scope of those harms?

My students will be playing with these tensions all semester, as will I in working to clarify the conception of ‘human security’ that I’ll be working with in my book project. I wonder if readers have ideas about how to resolve such tensions, or if you have other thoughts on the extent to which ‘human security’ is or can become a more useful analytical perspective even as it recedes as a political buzzword.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

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What I Learned At Nerd Camp

I spent last week at an ICPSR workshop on network analysis methods in Bloomington, Indiana, and while I wouldn’t say I’m exactly an expert now on network analysis, I did learn to do a few interesting things with my human security data.

For example, below is a visual representation of the “human security issue agenda” as represented by 88 websites of organizations in the “human security network” circa May 2008. I identified the organizations in that network through a hyperlink analysis using the tool Issuecrawler, and then we downloaded their mission-statements and “issue lists” and tagged each document with as many different “issues” as we could find in the text data. When two issues occur in the same document, I consider that a “tie” between two “issues.” So on the map, links between issues represent co-occurences in the text.

As you can see, lots of organizations do lots of issues, so when you first look at the graph the ties are so many it’s just a big mess. But if you drop out half the ties, you end up only with the most densely connected issues, and then it starts to look pretty interesting:

What’s interesting is that the issues cluster based on how often they co-occur a lot: some issues cluster together more than others. You notice that the human security network is really made of a few separate issue clusters – a cluster around peace or conflict-prevention and resolution; one around conflict mitigation or humanitarian affairs; one around repressive or violent practices (what human security specialists like to call the “freedom from fear” agenda) and another dealing more with economic and social rights, which is adjacent to a cluster dealing with development and poverty reduction, and another dealing with environmental security and health, both of which connect to weapons issues which connect to the security sector / arms controls organizations, which connect again to the “peace and security”/conflict prevention folks.

Lots of people have written abstractly about what “human security” means, but as far as I know this mine is the first analysis that actually maps the term empirically. If you add in a few more of the links (using a “cut-point” of .40 instead of .50 for example) you can see these clusters emerge in somewhat sharper relief, but also see them beginning to connect together.

You’ll notice that these clusters are linked to each other to a greater or lesser extent. For example, there are a lot of connections between “human rights” and “humanitarian affairs” and relatively fewer connections between the “arms control” cluster and the “economic and social rights” cluster. There’s also a distinction between issues associated with “arms control” and those associated with “disarmament” – because everyone knows the arms control folks are manly realists and the disarmament folks are peace-loving hippie feminists.

Finally, there are some interesting cases where an issue doesn’t show up where you might imagine it would in the network. “Depleted uranium weapons,” for example, is mentioned in connection with health and the environment (and is most closely associated with “disease” issues like cancer) but is not on the agenda of organizations concerned with limiting the use of weapons in warfare (like landmines and chemical weapons). “Sovereignty,” interestingly, is most often mentioned not as a counterpoint to military intervention in humanitarian crises (as the literature would suggest) but in regards to natural resource disputes (or, shown here, “minerals”).

What does it all mean? For my project, I’m interested in what gets on the agenda and what doesn’t, and so how agenda space is carved up within a network is a really interesting piece of that question.

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“An AQ/Taliban Executioner’s Dream.”

Quoting an anonymous former military intelligence officer, that is how Adam Swerer described the Wikileaks’ archive published Sunday in an op-ed earlier this week. Joshua Foust concurred in a PBS essay:

If I were a Taliban operative with access to a computer — and lots of them have access to computers — I’d start searching the WikiLeaks data for incident reports near my area of operation to see if I recognized anyone. And then I’d kill whomever I could identify. Those deaths would be directly attributable to WikiLeaks.

Even with the names removed from these reports, you know where they happened (many still have place names). You know when they happened. And you know an Afghan was speaking to a U.S. soldier or intelligence agent. If you have times, locations and half the participants, you don’t need names to identify who was involved in a conversation — with some very basic detective work, you can find out (and it’s much easier to do in Afghanistan, which loves gossip).

This morning, the New York Times confirmed that the presumably heavily redacted leaked reports contain numerous data-points, including specific names, that will identify Afghan informants who have provided intelligence to US forces. The Afghan government is rightly appalled:

“Whether those individuals acted legitimately or illegitimately in providing information to the NATO forces, their lives will be in danger now,” said Mr. Karzai, who spoke at a press conference just after he said he discussed the issue with his advisors. “Therefore we consider that extremely irresponsible and an act that one cannot overlook.”

While the government mulls options for prosecuting Assange (more thoughts on that shortly), consideration should probably be given to the legal or ethical culpability of the mainstream press as well. There are professional standards in most industries about the protection of sources. (As a political scientist, if I published my human subjects data in such a way as to put their lives at risk, I would face serious professional consequences.) Yet the paper is blithely oblivious to its own role in publicizing and legitimizing Wikileaks’ actions:

A search by The New York Times through a sampling of the documents released by the organization WikiLeaks found reports that gave the names or other identifying features of dozens of Afghan informants, potential defectors and others who were cooperating with American and NATO troops.

The Times and two other publications given access to the documents — the British newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel — posted online only selected examples from documents that had been redacted to eliminate names and other information that could be used to identify people at risk. The news organizations did this to avoid jeopardizing the lives of informants.

They may have redacted names in their print versions, but they publicized the archive and linked to it, ensuring its contents maximum exposure. Does this fall within the bounds of appropriate conduct for professional journalists? Based on a reading of the “minimize harm” rules in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, I have my doubts.

Even if there’s no legal requirement, it seems to me that the mainstream news media could and should play a significant role in cases like this in disseminating rights-based norms for reporting and sourcing to online journalists. There is no professional association for bloggers, no oversight for users who generate content on YouTube, Facebook or other social networking sites, no codes of conduct for one-URL entities who make it their business to raise awareness of specific issues. However, when mainstream news organizations cover the actions of those organizations or individuals in a way that raises their influence and profile, they have an ethical responsibility to consider the fall out to vulnerable individuals of that coverage.

I would argue this extends to negotiating terms with people like Assange that make cooperation contingent on guarantees of certain ethical standards in their own work. Most likely such a socialization process would have helped an amateur like Assange avoid what he himself admits were mistakes, and resulted in a set of wikileaks that minimized the “collateral damage” to Afghan citizens.

In the absence of such guarantees, the mainstream news media could have published a different story, as soon as they understood the contents of the archive: a story about the evolving relationship between new media and human security, perhaps headlined “Wikileaks Founder Poised to Endanger Civilian Lives in Afghanistan.”

Instead, they treated him as a fellow journalist without holding him to any journalistic standards. Whatever the merits of the rest of the archive, The Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel dropped the ball by cooperating fully with Assange instead of reining him in.

I wonder if an outcome of this fiasco might be the establishment of offices within mainstream news outlets specifically designed to review the ethics of complicity in publishing stories like this, staffed by individuals with human rights and ethics training whose job is to liase in a responsible manner with new media information sources upon which mainstream news reporting has increasingly come to rely.

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