New Report on the Societal Ethics of Biometric Technologies

Photo: Leszek Leszczynski / CC BY @ Flickr

Biometric technologies are rapidly becoming integral to the governance of populations world-wide. Contemporary societies are networked by advanced biometric technologies of identity management that were inconceivable just a couple of decades ago.

A report by Nina Boy, Elida K.U. Jacobsen and Kristoffer Lidén addresses the widespread ethical issues raised by the increasing use of biometric technologies. It concentrates on the social and political effects of novel governmental schemes of policing, surveillance and identity management that combine biometric information with cloud based computing and the automated analysis of big data.

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Could There Be War in South Asia?

A sinister mixture of geopolitical changes, nationalist sentiments, and election campaigns now has the potential to generate one of the world’s most dangerous security crises.

On 14 February, a terrorist attack in Pulwama in the Indian state Jammu & Kashmir killed more than 40 Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) paramilitary troopers. This was the deadliest terror attack witnessed in decades of the insurgency in Kashmir and was carried out by the Pakistani based group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

A furious India promised revenge, while Pakistan denied involvement. India immediately took steps to isolate its neighbour politically and economically and Indian PM Narendra Modi made clear that there would be a military response. On 26 February, Indian aircraft bombed targets behind the Line of Control (LoC) that separates the two nuclear powers in the disputed region of Kashmir. The two countries disagree about the effects of the airstrikes and the conflict took a new turn when it appeared that Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan Vartaman had been shot down and taken into custody by Pakistan. The pilot was soon returned in what PM Imran Khan called a peace gesture.

What is the larger historical and geopolitical context of this latest flare in the conflict between India and Pakistan?

What is the larger historical and geopolitical context of this latest flare in the conflict between India and Pakistan? South Asia is home to almost two billion people, or a quarter of the world’s population. The region can be analyzed as an international political system that consists of the countries India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan. In addition, China, Iran, Russia and the United States are involved as third parties to varying degrees. But the international system that comprises South Asia is in a state of change.

Kashmir / Nations Online

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A Book that Looks Like an Encyclopedia

Write about a book that has been particularly important for me? A difficult task! In those formative youthful years when one is attempting to shape one’s identity, in the profession as well as in society, many books and articles exert an influence – now in one direction, then in another. I could have mentioned Johan Galtung’s Forsvar uten militærvesen [Defence without armed forces] (1959) which contributed to my conversion to pacifism, as well as to my becoming a peace researcher.

Or Erich Fromm’s The Sane Society (1955), which almost turned me into a Utopian socialist. Or Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), which made me aware that atrocities could be committed by bureaucrats.

Or my first sociology textbook, Erik Allardt and Yrjö Littunen’s Sociologi (1962), which used an example from Paul Lazarsfeld to introduce five ‘self-evident truths’ on the first page, only to go on to reveal that all the assertions were empirically incorrect.

Or of course Aschehougs konversasjonsleksikon, the encyclopedia that I grew up with, or the expanded version, Store norske leksikon, that was my children’s childhood companion.

Or I could simply have capitulated and said (which is true) that I am a slow reader and not particularly patient, so that I was influenced significantly more by articles than by books.

However, I have chosen Human Behavior: An Inventory of Scientific Findings by Bernard Berelson & Gary A Steiner (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964). This book attempted to summarize everything that – at the time of its writing 50 years ago – was considered reasonably certain knowledge in the field the authors call behavioral science, with a primary focus on psychology and sociology. They catalogue this knowledge in the form of 1,045 findings, grouped into 14 chapters.

So, this is not a book for reading from cover to cover, but rather a resource for looking things up and use as an aid within one’s areas of particular interest. Its similarity to a dictionary may help to explain why I fell for it. Another explanation is that my copy of this book was a gift from my mentor, Johan Galtung, when I started working at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) as a research assistant in 1964, the same year as Human Behavior was published. At about the same time, Galtung wrote a lyrical review in Dagbladet, where he described the book as an example of ‘a book that concludes one epoch and introduces the next’ (1).

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ISIS Women Hoping to Return Home Are Met with a Cold Shoulder from State Officials

The media has yet again turned its attention toward the women of ISIS.

Currently ISIS only occupies one square kilometre of the so-called caliphate they once had, and as the final battles to regain former ISIS-controlled territory are unfolding, more and more ISIS fighters’ wives or widows have ended up in refugee camps all over Syria and Iraq. These wives and widows no longer have a caliphate to look to and many are reaching out to their home countries for assistance to return home. Many do so with the hope of providing a better life for their children.

Nouri Mosque in Mosul after being retaken from ISIS, Dec 2017. Photo: Antoine Glédel / Tasnim News / CC BY-SA 4.0

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Climate Change and Conflict

Does global warming really increase armed conflict? Recently, a new study joined a wave of research (e.g., here and here) that seeks to illustrate the effects of climate change on political violence. The most recent study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change and conducted by Guy J. Abel and colleagues, demonstrates that climate change… Read more »

What Do the Afghan Peace Talks in Moscow Mean?

The talks in Moscow between the Taliban and Afghan opposition politicians reflect a new world order, in which Russia is recognized as a global superpower. Even though the Afghan government remains on the sidelines, the talks may become an important part of the unpredictable Afghan peace process.

A ceremonial march at the onset of Soviet troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, 1986 (the last troops left on 15 February 1989). Credit: RIA Novosti archive, image #644463 / Yuriy Somov / CC-BY-SA. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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This Week in South Sudan – Week 6

Monday 4 February South Sudan and Uganda formed a join technical border committee to address and resolve border tensions. Tuesday 5 February The UN envoy for South Sudan, David Shearer, said fighting in South Sudan “has diminished greatly” since the signing of the revitalised peace agreement. The parties of the revitalized peace agreement agreed to… Read more »

Russia Is Set to Support Maduro to the Bitter End

All smiles during Maduro’s first visit to Russia in January 2015. Photo RIA-Novosti

Russia has positioned itself as the main supporter of Nicholas Maduro regime in Venezuela, taking the risk of turning a crisis in a far-away country into an embarrassing political defeat. Official propaganda has amplified this issue, so that 57 percent of respondents in a recent poll confirmed that they were following the developments, but only 20 percent of those who were interested believed that the US “provocation” was behind the crisis (VTsIOM, February 8). While Russia’s firm stance could turn out to be a mistake, it is determined by more than just “friendly feelings” toward Venezuela, so the appeal of US National Security Adviser John Bolton to Russia to change its course would hardly be heard. A third of readers of the business-oriented daily Kommersant tend to believe that frustrating the US policy is the main motivation of Russia’s course, but in fact, there are at least four underlying drivers in it.

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