Game of Thrones – the Middle Ages and Today

Every generation has its own concept of the Middle Ages. Game of Thrones is a fantasy drama, but it also reflects the present, viewed through the prism of the Middle Ages.

From Middle-earth to Westeros

Many young people today picture our distant past in a way that is strongly influenced by The Lord of the Rings. There the battle is between good and evil and – except in the case of some turncoats (such as Saruman) and certain conquered lands – the battle fronts are clear. This reflected Tolkien’s own experiences, both in the trenches during World War I and as he composed his epic work in the shadow of World War II. Tolkien took inspiration from Beowulf, The Elder Edda and The Kalevala to describe a human universe that is a battle between the forces of good and evil, between freedom and tyranny, between individuality and regimentation.

All hope depends on the ruler Daenerys Targaryen. Still the most important and complex figure of the Middle Ages is the advisor – here represented by Tyrion Lannister. Photo: HBO

“I don’t believe that giants and ghouls and white walkers are lurking beyond the Wall. I believe that the only difference between us and the Wildlings is that when that Wall went up, our ancestors happened to live on the right side of it.”Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, Season 1

A battle between such forces is still taking place today, but with the major difference that the battle fronts are mutable. Western interventions designed to liberate regions such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya from dictators and extremism have had the opposite effect: violence is increasing, security is being eroded, and extremists are growing ever stronger. One may do evil despite good intentions.

Accordingly, it is not surprising that Game of Thrones, the latest epic narrative to be set in an imaginary past, is a tale where heroes and villains swap roles, where good people often suffer defeat, and where “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”, to quote Bernard of Clairvaux.Read More

A Venezuelan Incident: Maduro and the Politics of Latin American Drones

Photo: CSIRO / Wikimedia Commons

On 4 August 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s speech at a military parade in Caracas was interrupted by the sound of two explosions. Maduro’s camp immediately claimed that the explosions resulted from a failed assassination attempt by drones carrying explosives. Although the nature of the incident remains disputed, and is being described as “an apparent” assassination attempt, this event sheds light on new types of security challenges that result from the growing presence of drones in Latin American airspace.

The incident can either be interpreted as evidence that a political assassination with weaponized miniature drones is possible, or that political actors (whoever they may be) consider such a scenario to be “believable”. In the latter case, these political actors thus end up conferring credibility to the idea, which in turn kindles certain political and popular responses and imaginations.Read More

Decolonization Gone off the Rails

This summer we have had the opportunity to read about the campaign to ‘decolonize academia’: the call to improve the representation of non-Western voices in the curricula of Norwegian educational institutions.

Photo: Otto Haeckel, German East Africa, 1906. Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin

The supporters of this campaign justify it on the basis that it will challenge ways of thinking in the sciences and humanities that were formed during the colonial era. The motives behind the campaign are good. An academy consisting of researchers from diverse backgrounds will help boost the competition between ideas that is crucial for scholarly progress.

It is therefore sad to see the campaign now running down a blind alley, by promoting a radical form of epistemic relativism: an attack on scientific objectivity in the guise of advocacy on behalf of marginalized groups. Read More

Challenging Everyday Nuclear Insecurity

Founded in 1982, Faslane Peace Camp in Scotland clams to be the longest lived of its kind. Crammed into a small roadside verge, the brightly coloured and ramshackle caravans of the camp are located just a few hundred yards from the razor-wire fences of Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, home to the British Trident nuclear… Read more »

We researched Russian trolls and figured out exactly how they neutralise certain news

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Russian “troll factories” have been making headlines for some time. First, as the Kremlin’s digital guardians in the Russian blogosphere. Then, as subversive cyber-squads meddling with US elections. While there has been much sensationalist talk about troll brigades, there have also been thorough… Read more »

What Became of the Norwegian Peacekeeping Forces?

For nearly 20 years, Norway has prioritized contributing to NATO-led operations over UN peacekeeping forces. At the same time, recent research shows that increased commitment to UN operations has a conflict-reducing effect.

Photo: Forsvaret

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first Norwegian UN soldiers’ departure to Lebanon to serve in UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon).

Apart from the Independent Norwegian Brigade Group in Germany in the aftermath of World War II, the UNIFIL effort represented the largest and most wide-ranging contribution that Norway has made to international operations. Over 20,000 Norwegians were involved. In April, this anniversary was marked in various places in Norway. At the same time, we know that Norway currently has fewer than 100 personnel engaged in UN peacekeeping operations. What has become of the Norwegian peacekeeping forces?

Norway has been an active contributor to international operations since the end of World War II, but the nature of its involvement changed after the end of the Cold War, when the number of operations in which Norway participated grew significantly.Read More

This Week in South Sudan – Week 31

Tuesday 31 July The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North led by Malik Agar praised progress towards a negotiated settlement in South Sudan. Wednesday 1 August The People’s Liberal Party urged Sudanese mediators to intervene for the release of activist Peter Bier Ajak in South Sudan. Friday 3 August President Salva Kiir promoted his wife Mary Ayen… Read more »

How Do We Decolonize Peace Research?

This is a guest blog post by a student who attended this year’s Peace Research course at the International Summer School 2018.

The imprint of war on my life and on those of other young people living in the Global South is the reason I chose to participate in the peace research course at the PRIO Summer School. When my family escaped Sierra Leone’s civil war in 1994, I was fortunate to study abroad in several countries where I developed cross-cultural perspectives that have been integral to my work as a peace scholar. Attending the International Summer School has been another great opportunity to travel to Norway for the first time and to visit a world-renowned institute where I could further explore some of my doctoral research questions on education, gender and conflict.

Summer School 2018. Photo: Marit Moe-Pryce / PRIO

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Producing Reliable Data for SDG 16: The Case of Conflict Data

In 2015, the United Nations stated unequivocally in the last progress report for the Millennium Development Goals that “conflict remains the largest obstacle to development”. Yet, reducing conflict and violence in the world was never a target in and of itself under the MDGs. This changed with the inclusion of Goal 16 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

SDG 16 calls for the world to achieve peaceful societies. The UN World Data Forum represents a welcome opportunity to take stock of where we stand today in terms of data and statistics on conflict and violence in the world, and of what we know about how data on violent conflicts can be used to monitor and inform discussions about sustainable development.Read More

This Week in South Sudan – Week 29 and 30

Monday 16 July Ugandan President Museveni called for European countries to ease sanctions on South Sudan. Daily Monitor: “South Sudan Talks: A Lasting Peace or Marriage of Convenience?” Wednesday 18 July President Salva Kiir sacked the foreign affairs minister Deng Alor Kuol and appointed Nhial Deng Nhial to the position. The UN Security Council imposed… Read more »