The NATO Summit Twitter Fight

The 2014 NATO Summit presents an opportunity for world leaders to sit around and solve bicker about security issues ranging ‘from fragile states to piracy, from terrorism to cyber attacks‘.

This year you don’t have to be any where near Newport to enjoy the friendly ‘banter’ and juvenile japes of the NATO summit, as many participants have taken to social media in order to communicate to audiences diss each other publicly.

One case in point being this tweet from Canada’s delegation…

In response Russia tweeted back…

If you forget about the 2600 deaths and 6000 serious injuries in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict it’s almost quite funny. #AnnexationLOLS.

To be fair, it’s kind of refreshing to see some state social media usage that isn’t dull, predictable and boring. But let’s just hope that all the delegations to the NATO summit are putting in as much thought and effort in to actually dealing with the serious issues at hand, as they are to bickering on social media.

Friday reading


  • Hot off the press: Critical Security Methods, by Claudia Aradau, Jef Huysmans, Andrew Neal and Nadine Voelkner. I’ve just ordered my own copy, and can’t wait to read it – it’s always nice to see research methods taken seriously.
  • In the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, here is an interesting article on how it would have been covered had it occurred in a country other than the US. Includes: ‘Chinese and Russian officials are warning of a potential humanitarian crisis in the restive American province of Missouri, where ancient communal tensions have boiled over into full-blown violence. “We must use all means at our disposal to end the violence and restore calm to the region,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments to an emergency United Nations Security Council session on the America crisis’.
  • The ethics of killer robots. Yes, you read that correctly.
  • Fascinating piece on translation and the relationship between the North Korean dialect and Soviet Russian. Apparently North Korean has a lot of borrowed phrases from Soviet Russian which are difficult to translate into English, but make sense when translated into Russian.

On academia/teaching:

  • Professors’ pet peeves. Includes beauties like: don’t be too cool for school, don’t fudge your formatting to make your essay look longer (I’m not an idiot), and don’t ask the professor if you missed anything important during your absence (‘Of course you missed something important!  We’re college professors!  Thinking everything we do is important is an occupational hazard.  Here’s an alternative way to phrase it:  “I’m so sorry I missed class. I’m sure it was awesome.”‘). Seriously considering printing this list out as a handout for start of term.
  • Confuse students to help them learn?
  • Great piece on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as the ultimate IR blockbuster, and some interesting ideas for using it in teaching.


PhD advice:


….and lastly, why academics really use twitter, from the always brilliant @phdcomics:



The Israel/Palestine Photoshop War

Images and perception are now widely considered as an important aspect of contemporary conflict, and some scholars even go as far as regarding images as weapons of war. Regardless of if they are weapons or not, images are being used in strategic ways on social media by both the Israel Defence Force and Palestinians in the context of the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

The IDF, have been circulating images across social media sites like twitter and instagram. These images range from photographs of IDF troops and weapons, to infographics which talk about the number of rockets fired by Hamas. The destruction of Gaza is sanitised through its invisibility.

On the Palestinian side the images tell a different story. These images are harrowing, they depict horrors that are very real; flattened neighbourhoods, grieving families, injured and dead children.

One development in this conflict that has caught my attention has been the use of images that have not simply been edited, but have been completely faked by the use of digital editing software.

For example the IDF has instagrammed these two images;

Whereas these images have been circulated by Palestinians;

These images are interesting for several reasons. Their content is completely faked; missiles and explosions have been digitally added to photographs. The similarities of these sets of images are quite revealing, both sets of images are aimed at invoking a sense of empathy in audiences.

They use similar locations; New York is used by both parties, Paris is used by one and London is used by the other. Thus attempting to address the ‘west’ by drawing upon (somewhat crassly) previous terror attacks such as 9/11 and 7/7. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the IDF haven’t tried to address audiences in Cairo or Dubai, but they have in Ireland…

What does this addressing of different audiences reveal about the strategies and intentions of the actors involved in the conflict? How are audiences responding to these clearly faked images? And what is the impact of this?

There’s potentially an interesting research project on this case here, and I think we need to consider how we account for fake content in our understandings of images and their political significance. War has never been so photoshopped.

Friday links: Gaza and R2P

This week, there’s been a debate over the relevance of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to the ongoing situation in Gaza. One of the central ideas underlying the R2P concept is the argument that as part of sovereignty, states have a responsibility to protect their civilian populations, and in turn the international community also have some responsibility to both assist the state in this endeavour and to (potentially) intervene if the state fails in its responsibility to protect.

The status of Gaza is a key factor in this debate: if it’s considered to be part of the state of Palestine, R2P does not apply as it focuses on intra-state violence, not inter-state conflict.  If, however, Gaza is considered to be occupied by Israel (as many argue), R2P may well be applicable.

The lack of international action, whether justified through the Responsibility to Protect, Security Council resolution/s, or any other means, shows the continuing weakness of current frameworks when it comes to actually tackling violence. The eyes of the world are on Gaza, and the international community appears powerless. Whether or not R2P is used, something clearly needs to be done. On Monday, the UN Security Council called for a ceasefire, but beyond this little seems to be happening.

In one of the pieces above, Rieff argues that the lack of international community is part of the problem, as action is difficult when there is no international moral consensus. However, while there is never likely to be complete consensus Israel seems to be rapidly losing support and suggesting there is no international community overlooks growing international outrage. Action is not simple, as Bellamy’s piece clearly shows. It is, however, necessary, whatever form it may take.



Four boys playing on a beach in Gaza, killed by an Israeli strike on 16 July.

iSecuritization? China says the iPhone is a threat to national security

In what I am shamelessly calling iSecuritization, Chinese Central Televison (CCTV) have said that the iPhone is a threat to national security. This is due to the ‘frequent locations’ feature, which Apple states is used in order to ‘to learn places that are significant to you’.

If you’ve got an iPhone it’s worth checking out. Frequent locations is turned on by default and it’s currently tracking your movements. Have a look at your frequent locations and realise how creepy your iPhone is by following these instructions.

CCTV state that frequent locations amounts to a threat to national security as, according to one researcher quoted in the Independent, ‘if this information was accessed on a large scale it could reveal a country’s economic situation and “even state secrets”.’

Unfortunately my frequent locations don’t reveal anything half as interesting.

photo (1)

But regardless of how uninteresting my activities may be, frequent locations and the fact it’s turned on by default does draw out some interesting issues in regards to surveillance and security (which Zygmut Bauman and David Lyon cover in detail).

Apple say that they have ‘never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers, and we never will’. And I guess that’s good news. Apple is tracking your every move by default and might not be sharing it with governments, but what can they do with it themselves? Frequent locations may not be a threat to national security, but is it a threat to yours?

Friday reading

Some interesting things from the last few weeks:

On international relations and security:

  • Man-up Mr Snowden! Masculinities and national security’ – interesting piece by Klaus Dodds on how gender has been used in the Snowden dispute
  • How Google moves international borders discusses conflict zones which leave Google ‘in-the-middle’ of border disputes. As a result of legal pressure, Google maps actually show different borders depending on the domain name you use to search (so (China) gives different results to (India), for example). To give an example from the article: ‘If you look at Arunachal Pradesh, one of India’s 29 states, from the Indian version of the website you will see the border that its government believes to be correct. View the same region from within China and it appears as “South Tibet” under Chinese control. From within the UK you see both borders marked with a dotted line to indicate that there is a local dispute’. The article has great graphics where you can drag a marker to view disputed maps side by side.
  •  An older piece, but fitting with the previous: why Google maps gets Africa wrong. Spoiler-alert: it’s about the Mercator map…


On academia:

Some interesting links

Some interesting things we’ve come across this week:

  • America’s hip-hop foreign policy: an interesting read from the Atlantic discussing the role of rap in the war on terror. Apparently America is dealing with ‘jihadi rap’ by sponsoring ‘good muslim hip-hop’. The discussion of how rap has been used both to radicalise and in turn as a tool of diplomacy is particularly interesting.
  • Yugoslavia as science fiction: discusses art from the former Yugoslavia and the way in which it’s being viewed today, with a fascinating discussion of what this implies about the post-Yugoslav space today.


Acknowledgements: the first two pieces were kindly forwarded from @laurence_cooley and the last one was spotted via the always excellent @caiwilkinson!


China ‘declares war’ on pollution: what does it mean?

On 5th March, China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang opened the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress. These speeches tend to be full of the usual, ‘expected’ and generally repetitive bureaucratic language. However, this time Li’s speech was a little out of the ordinary: it explicitly declared a ‘war on pollution’ – an unexpected choice of words which suggests the issue is increasingly considered one of security. This blog has already talked about China’s ‘Airpocalypse’, and whether or not deteriorating air quality should be considered a security issue. The government has been considering and implementing a range of measures to deal with urban pollution, and with up to 500,000 people dying early each year from air pollution related illnesses action is desperately needed. Li’s speech, in declaring war on pollution, took the debate to another level. Xinhua reported Li as stating that ‘Smog is affecting larger parts of China and environmental pollution has become a major problem, which is nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development’. Miao Xuegang, a deputy to the National People’s Congress, called Li’s declaration “a letter of commitment from the government”.

Premier Li Keqiang on March 5, from TIME

The statement is ‘the highest-level acknowledgement yet of the enormous challenges China faces’, directly recognising the seriousness of the issue. The language is reminiscent of securitization theory’s suggestion that when issues are declared issues of security and supreme priority, they can be dealt with differently – allocating extra funds and enabling emergency measures. It suggests the government is taking pollution seriously, and it will be interesting to see how far the it will take this – the Airpocalypse will likely remain a popular topic in Chinese media, and with rising numbers of environmental protests it will be difficult for the government to shirk responsibilities. The biggest obstacle, however, remains economic development. It is widely seen as the cause of China’s pollution problems, but Li’s speech also reiterated a commitment to keeping economic growth at 7.5% and it is difficult to see how this will enable a serious improvement in pollution levels. Ai Nanshan, from Sichuan University noted that “you can not get a beautiful GDP figure at the cost of environment”. This is clearly a puzzle the government has yet to solve.

Despite the Rumble of Russian Tanks the Main Weapon in Ukraine is Information

This is an article by our friend Dr Victoria Hudson, research associate in Politics and International Relations at Aston University and was originally published at The Conversation.

“In the information age, success is not merely the result of whose army wins, but also of whose story wins.” The words of Harvard scholar Joseph Nye have been borne out in Ukraine.

At the moment, the Moscow narrative appears to have the upper hand both in Crimea and in Russia – where the Putin government has moved recently to stifle dissent.

Footage and photographs of thousands of jubilant Crimeans celebrating through the night after an overwhelming vote to secede from Ukraine carry an emphatic message. As one headline in Russia, quoted by the BBC, trumpeted: “Crimea is now returning to Russia.”

Each development in the rapidly unfolding crisis has been chronicled by media professionals and citizen journalists on social media. Each of the key parties to the debate spins a contrary narrative, grounded in different world views. Which account proves more convincing will help to determine which political outcomes are ultimately accepted as legitimate; not only in Ukraine and the West, but in the international community more broadly.

When the Crimean parliament declared independence from Ukraine, its members refused to recognise the interim national government which they perceive as having seized power following a fascist coup-d’état. The pro-Western opposition claims Yanukovych’s alleged order to shoot on protesters rendered the former president unfit to rule.

In the run-up to the Crimean referendum – and in its immediate aftermath – the competing narratives were just as starkly opposed. The pro-Russian side argues, with a degree of justification, that the overwhelming vote has been a reaffirmation of Russian sovereignty in Crimea, since the region was transferred within the Soviet Union in 1954 by Khrushchev, who did not foresee Ukraine becoming an independent state. In the West, the vote has been dismissed as illegal under Ukraine’s constitution and international law.

But this struggle is not only about “the facts” but increasingly about the power over their interpretation and the capacity to disseminate that view effectively.

Information war

In the information war of the past weeks, Russia has scored several bullseyes. Kremlin-backed English-language channel Russia Today first released an intercepted call between assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to Kyiv, Geoffrey Pyatt, in which the interlocutors discussed their views about the future of Ukraine. While the Western media has focused on the profanities used to express frustration with the EU, the greater scandal is actually the empowered tone with which they discussed their preferences among the opposition leaders, who are condescendingly abbreviated to “Yats” and “Klitsch”.

In a second diplomatic exchange leaked by Russia Today, Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet was heard to tell the EU’s high representative Catherine Ashton: “There is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition”. Both parties to this conversation have since sought to reframe it as a discussion of a conspiracy theory, rather than an “assessment of the opposition’s involvement in the violence”.

While question marks hover over Russia Today’s objectivity, not to mention the provenance of the intercepted dialogue, the recording has provoked a storm of debate on social media. Despite the fact that such disagreements about the origins of the crisis have filtered through into the mainstream Western press, there is a prevailing sense that such core questions have been displaced on the agenda by escalating current events.

Meanwhile, both sides have delved into the shadows of Nazism in rhetorical support of their position. The Russian side points to the radical right-wing elements in the interim government to discredit the opposition movement as “Banderivtsi” in reference to Stepan Bandera, who is reviled by Russia as the leader of Ukrainian collaboration with the Nazis.

For its part, the opposition, along with Hilary Clinton, has sought to equate the probable presence of Russian forces in Crimea with Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938. While the moniker “Putler” and gaudy visual memes of the Russian president with a superimposed toothbrush moustache are social media-friendly, the more powerful move in evoking the trope of appeasement, as before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, lies in its emotive appeal to European powers to take punitive action against Moscow.

Such is the volume and velocity of recent events, keeping abreast of political developments is not conducive to balanced, evidence-based judgements. And the emotional content of much of the coverage from both sides has done little to foster critical reflection on events. While the USA and Russia trade accusations of disinformation, EU hesitancy to act against Russia might be seen not simply as an indicator of weakness or fear of the rebounding consequences of economic sanctions, but as a sign of backstage misgivings about the information emerging from Kiev.

To build a steady foundation for peace acceptable to all Ukrainians, including those in Crimea, and in order for the fledgling Ukrainian government to legitimise its rule, justice must be done and be seen to be done. The EU should press for the urgent, independent investigation of all criminal acts, against both protesters and state representatives.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Kitten’s Law, Internet Research and The DARPA Pet Photo Contest

Godwin’s law is an internet adage that asserts that the longer an online discussion goes on, the more likely  some kind of comparison with Hitler or the Nazi’s will be mentioned. It’s pretty much a bonafide, objective truth – just read the comments section on your average political article on any major news site.

Recently I’ve been thinking that there’s another internet law, and rather than Nazi’s this one involves kittens, dogs and other animals. I propose that “as internet research grows longer, the probability of coming across animal pictures approaches 1″ —​ that is, if your research  takes into account the internet (regardless of topic or scope), sooner or later you’ll come across a picture of cute animals.

I think we should call it ‘kitten’s law’ (‘Crilley’s law’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it). What got me thinking about this was a recent conference on the topic of ‘social influence in the information age’ hosted by the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Science Technology Laboratory. As such, you’d expect it to be a very serious affair with no room for lolcats. But no, within the first 3 minutes of the keynote speech, an image of a kitten popped up. Throughout the day I saw a further 4 cats in various presentations. And today…

Well today I came across the DARPA Pet Photo Contest. Quite possibly one of the weirdest things to have ever happened on this planet. Ever.

DARPA is the American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and  is responsible for developing military things like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, stealth boats and the terminator, *ahem* I mean ‘robots featuring task-level autonomy that can operate in the hazardous, degraded conditions common in disaster zones’. Or the post-apocalyptic world after Skynet launches all the nukes.

Anyway, the photo contest involves DARPA employees submitting ‘pictures of their pets in costume, with patriotic and science themes strongly encouraged’. Meet the winner, Freddy.

Here’s the runners up:

And my personal favourite, Henry.

So there, even when you’re researching something niche and ‘serious’ like how various political actors use contemporary digital technologies to claim legitimacy for violence you’ll come across animal photos. In fact maybe part of the answer to my research question is that they use lolcats and dog’s dressed up as robotic IED detectors, but as much as I’d love to write a chapter (read: whole thesis) on this I’m not sure it would actually fly. Maybe I should just stick a photo of a kitten in there and call it a day?!