Monthly Archives: November 2013

Commonwealth Meeting 2013: Sri Lanka’s PR Miscalculation

The Official Photo of CHOGM 2013
CHOGM 2013 Official Photo

They had prepared the stage with impressive skill. Streets had been refurbished, a new motorway from the airport to the city had just been finished a few weeks before the first dignitaries arrived, and the Sri Lankan tourism authority had branded everything in a delightful range of colors, even the bottled water.

In preparation of the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo last week, the Sri Lankan government had spared no effort to present the island country in the most shining light possible. It had also worked hard to invite Commonwealth member states to send their heads of government to the meeting. Sri Lanka was to stand out for its rapid economic development, investment opportunities and organizational skills.

Instead, allegations of war crimes by the Sri Lankan armed forces during the last phase of the war, the lack of press freedom and other human rights violations took center stage in international and social media. A press conference held by President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the summit was completely dominated by these issues – in fact, not a single question was asked on issues that were actually on the CHOGM agenda. Only 28 out of 53 heads of government actually attended the summit (a record low), with Canada and Mauritius officially boycotting (the latter subsequently declining to host the next summit) and India’s Prime Minister giving in to domestic pressure to stay away as well.

When it came to the crunch, the Sri Lankan government demonstrated its lack of commitment to Commonwealth values such as press freedom with astonishing clarity. Promisingly, it had allowed the British TV station Channel Four into the country, despite their highly critical documentaries on war crimes allegations. But instead of giving the Channel Four journalists free reign, the government had them followed by intelligence officers at all time, organized demonstrations blocking their way to the Tamil-dominated North of the country and sent police to constrain their reporting.

The British journalists were finally able to travel to the North as part of British Prime  Minister David Cameron’s press convoy. Demonstrating the utility of attending the summit, Cameron was the first world leader to visit Sri Lanka’s North since the country’s independence. After he had spoken to the newly elected Tamil chief minister as well as visited a Tamil newspaper office and a camp of internally displaced persons, Cameron called on the authorities to lead a full, independent inquiry into allegations of war crimes. As a newly elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, the UK would press for an international inquiry at the UN Human Rights Council if a credible national inquiry was not forthcoming by March next year.

While the Rajapaksa family at the helm of the Sri Lankan government is used to criticism from Western countries, including the UK, its close international friends started to pick on it as well. After the Commonwealth meeting had ended, a Chinese spokesperson said Sri Lanka should “make efforts to protect and promote human rights,” and “dialogue and communication should be enhanced among countries” on the issue of human rights. China is the biggest bilateral donor (mainly by soft loans) to Sri Lanka and helped to finance, among other infrastructure projects, the convention center where most meetings of the CHOGM took place.

All this amounted to a huge diplomatic blunder for President Rajapaksa and his government. With the increased global attention, Sri Lanka’s attempt to clean its international image faces an uphill battle.

Links: Cyber Attacks, Trade Negotiations, Combat Drones

A Siemens device used to control centrifuges (via Wikimedia commons)
A Siemens device used to control centrifuges (by “Ulli1105” via Wikimedia commons)

Small anniversary: Link post #25. By the way, do you find these useful?

On cyber attacks, I would like to recommend three pieces that might not be for everyone, but are interesting to get a more technical understanding of what is going:

  • Ralph Langner has written a fascinating account of “Stuxnet”. It turns out that the U.S./Israeli (?) attack on Iranian nuclear centrifuges consisted not of one, but two separate types of computer virus, with trade-offs between effectiveness, predictability and stealth. The newer version used a less sophisticated way to damage centrifuges, but a much more sophisticated way to gain access in the first place and then spread across systems.
  • Nicholas Weaver summarizes the steps taken by U.S. intelligence agencies to access/hijack communications through the Internet’s backbone. This discussion of the NSA QUANTUM program is not too technical, but introduces a couple of phrases you might hear more often in the future. (via Bruce Schneier)
  • Jim Cowie discusses a different form of attack, in which internet traffic is redirected to get access to sensitive information. Fascinating for laypeople: Since we’re talking about milliseconds, “[t]he recipient, perhaps sitting at home in a pleasant Virginia suburb drinking his morning coffee, has no idea that someone in Minsk has the ability to watch him surf the web”. (But keep in mind that this comes form a private IT security company and is phrased to maximize PR effects.)

Two items on free trade negotiations:

First, Philip Murphy, the former U.S. Ambassador to Germany, is very confident that President Obama will manage to get approval from Congress for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP (via AICGS / Tobias Bunde).

Second, regarding the other U.S. free trade effort currently under negotiation – the Trans-Pacific Partnership TPP – you’ve probably heard that the part dealing with intellectual property rights was leaked last week. GWU PhD candidate Gabriel J. Michael has analyzed the way in which different countries proposed changes to the document (which is visible in the leaked text) and offers the following summary:

  1. The U.S. and Japan are relatively isolated in their negotiating positions.
  2. There appears to be a strong negotiating network between Singapore, Chile, Malaysia and New Zealand.
  3. Canada is up to something!

Some commentators pointed out that he might be neglecting an alternative explanation: that the U.S. and Japan are simply happy with the current document, as they have had a bigger say in creating the draft.

Irrespective of the arguments about causality, Michael’s blog post is a great example of what can be done with leaked documents and visualization! (via The Monkey Cage, where you can find more comments).

Finally, a quick follow-up on last week’s post on combat drones, again by Charli Carpenter at the Duck:

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots secured an important victory last week when delegates of States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) voted unanimously to take up the issue (…).


While this is an important and promising moment, the shape and trajectory of norm-building efforts will depend a great deal on the tenor and outcome of next May’s CCW meeting. And one thing is sure: if that meeting results in weaker norms that hoped for my human security advocates, NGOs may simply take their cause elsewhere.

Links: Drones; Forecasting; Ranking Researchers; Surveillance Logic

A combat drone, via Wikimedia commons
A combat drone, because that’s the most photogenic of all topics covered here today… (Wikimedia commons)

I hope you’re having a great week so far! My fellow bloggers have other obligations, so you’ll have to tolerate my incoherent link lists for the time being…

At the Duck of Minerva, Charli Carpenter makes a crucial point regarding the debate on military drones (emphasis added):

In my view, all these arguments have some merit but the most important thing to focus on is the issue of extrajudicial killing, rather than the means used to do it, for two reasons. First, if the US ended its targeted killings policy this would effectively stop the use of weaponized drones in the war on terror, whereas the opposite is not the case; and it would effectively remove the CIA from involvement with drones. It would thus limit weaponized drones to use in regular armed conflicts that might arise in the future, and only at the hands of trained military personnel. If Holewinski and Lewis are right, this will drastically reduce civilian casualties from drones.

I’d like to recommend a couple of links on attempts to forecast political events. First, the always excellent Jay Ulfelder has put together some links on prediction markets, including a long story in the Pacific Standard on the now defunct platform Intrade. Ulfelder also comments on “why it is important to quantify our beliefs”.

Second (also via Ulfelder), I highly recommend the Predictive Heuristics blog, which is run by the Ward Lab at Duke University. Their most recent post covers a dataset on political conflict called ICEWS and its use in the Good Judgment Project, a forecasting tournament that I have covered here on the blog as well. (#4 of my series should follow soon-ish.)

A post by Daniel Sgroi at VoxEU suggests a way for panelists in the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) to judge the quality of research output. Apparently, there is a huge effort underway to rank scholars based on their output (i.e., publications) — and the judges have been explicitly told not to consider the journals in which articles were published. Sgroi doesn’t think that’s a good idea:

Of course, economists are experts at decision-making under uncertainty, so we are uniquely well-placed to handle this. However, there is a roadblock that has been thrown up that makes that task a bit harder – the REF guidelines insist that the panel cannot make use of journal impact factors or any hierarchy of journals as part of the assessment process. It seems perplexing that any information should be ignored in this process, especially when it seems so pertinent. Here I will argue that journal quality is important and should be used, but only in combination with other relevant data. Since we teach our own students a particular method (courtesy of the Reverend Thomas Bayes) for making such decisions, why not practise what we preach?

This resonates with earlier debates here and elsewhere on how to assess academic work. There’s a slippery slope if you rely on publications: in the end, are you just going to count the number of peer-reviewed articles in a CV without ever reading any of them? However, Sgroi is probably right to point out that it’s absurd to disregard entirely the most important mechanism of quality control this profession has to offer, despite all its flaws.

Next week, the Körber-Stiftung will hold the 3rd Berlin Foreign Policy Forum. One of the panels deals with transatlantic relations. I’m wonder if any interesting news on the spying scandal will pop up in time. Meanwhile, this talk by Dan Geer on “tradeoffs in cyber security” illustrates the self-reinforcing logic of surveillance (via Bruce Schneier):

Unless you fully instrument your data handling, it is not possible for you to say what did not happen. With total surveillance, and total surveillance alone, it is possible to treat the absence of evidence as the evidence of absence. Only when you know everything that *did* happen with your data can you say what did *not* happen with your data.

Links: Transparency Intl.; Financial Secrecy; Social Sciences Funding

First, a warning to all visiting researchers in Germany, who might entertain false hopes based on this year’s relatively friendly October:


OK, back to business… three links today, and all of them are about money:

Transparency International celebrates its 20th anniversary in Berlin. Tomorrow there will be a conference followed by the ceremony for this year’s “Integrity Awards”. The full program is here. As far as I know, the event is fully booked, but there will be a live stream. On Twitter, they use the hashtag #TIat20

The Tax Justice Network published the 2013 Financial Secrecy Index (FSI):

The Financial Secrecy Index ranks jurisdictions according to their secrecy and the scale of their activities. A politically neutral ranking, it is a tool for understanding global financial secrecy, tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions, and illicit financial flows.

The ranking covers many of the usual suspects, but its design is geared to put pressure on countries that are not usually called “tax havens”. Germany and the U.S. get spots among the top-10 offenders because the FSI ranking reflects two factors: (1) how much secrecy a jurisdiction offers, and (2) how big the country’s share of global financial services is. This leads to lower ranks for very secretive, but tiny places. So if you have a lot of cash to hide, you should rely on the fourth column, not the third.

From the PDF version of the Finanscial Secreacy Index 2013. Unfortunately, the online version isn't prettier.
Slightly cropped screenshot from the PDF version of the Financial Secrecy Index 2013. Unfortunately, the online version isn’t prettier. Maybe they could hire a designer for 2014?

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren wants to help secure federal funding for research in the social sciences.  Henry Farrell at the Monkey Cage summarizes:

As Warren points out, people are prepared to pay for social science data. The problem is that the buyers aren’t interested in finding out what is true. They are interested in pushing results that will promote their economic interests.

Is there a middle ground between ivory-tower academics (who have a long record of producing practically irrelevant output) and politically motivated donors (who cherry-pick researchers and results in line with their agenda)?

As illustrated by the fact that I’m posting this directly after two reports about advocacy groups publishing social science research, this is an important debate!

IR Journals Off the Beaten Track


Whenever you write an acacemic paper – no matter whether it is for school, for a journal or as part of your thesis – you are in need of literature. You need to find other papers or books to read and to cite to show that you know what you and others are talking about. But where do you look for this literature? No matter whether you start your search at Google Scholar, your local university library or the Web of Knowledge (WoK), you often end up following a beaten track. And that track most oftenly leads through US publishing houses, authors, and journals.

If your are interested in some alternative views, here are some links to journals that might help you leave that path at least once in a while:

Some of these journals are actually listed in the Social Science Citation Index and you might want (or have) to access it through the Web of Knowledge (given that your institution has access to the WoK).

This list is probably not exaustive and it ignores non-US journals from Europe and Canada. But it introduces publications of IR communuties that are probably farest off the beaten  track and it represents what I have collected over the years as part of my own research on post-Western IR. If you know of other journals or good alternative databases, please share these with us!

Espionage, Surveillance, and Transatlantic Relations

snowdenletterOK, the NSA was bugging German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone for ten years, and a well-known German member of parliament has just met with whistleblower Edward Snowden in Russia. Snowden has written a letter and offered “to testify to a public prosecutor or an investigating committee of Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag”, as the SPIEGEL reports.

So I guess it’s time for some quick reflections on two of our favorite topics, Transatlantic relations and surveillance / espionage:

Continue reading Espionage, Surveillance, and Transatlantic Relations