Viewing entries tagged
military

Democracy 2.0 - Asking the People in Syria for their Input


Before taking any further steps in Syria, why not ask the people in Syria what they want to happen?Sounds outlandish, but with a little imagination and some basic technologies, its completely possible.  It even has a precedent.

Many city governments such as in New York City have discovered the value of combing the landscape for metrics and using this data for city management while organizations like Datakind specialize in extracting and interpreting information from neighborhoods. From mapping the spatial distribution of poverty at the World Bank to Kenyan citizens reporting violence with tools like Ushahidi, lots of organizations have discovered the value of obtaining and leveraging local level information to make informed decisions.

The technologies used to collect and organize this data do more than provide a picture to experts. These technologies also open the floor for broader participation.  I am in no way saying that technology solves all problems, but as a tool for communication, it can make voices heard that would have otherwise remained in the shadows. 

At this moment the world is in panic and American's are distraught over the decisions regarding Syrian intervention.  The decision making process is reliant now upon the influence of popular opinion, congressional interests, media storms, intelligence collection, international agreements, and back room discussions.  Yet among all the talk, the most important voice has been excluded from the conversation - the voices of people living in Syria.

Engaging an entire national population, let a alone a population under pressure from the horrors of war, is no easy task. But it is possible, at least to a degree, to use a mobile phone technology like rapidsms for citizens to vote by text message just like popular tv programs that ask audiences to vote for their favorite performer.  I was informed this morning by a friend with family in Syria that the mobile communications infrastructure in Syria is not steady, but over the last year it has been working off and on.   With a little ingenuity it would be possible to create a window for voting and to filter messages.  A little bit of scripting and it is possible to cancel multiple-votes from the same number and even to map the distribution of votes across the landscape. 

A simple text message voting system will not capture popular opinion of everyone in country, but it can provide a statistically viable sample.  More significantly, implementing a tool such this could refigure the entire future of foreign policy and global security.  International policy makers already have the tools at their disposal to engage those populations most affected by military intervention, leaving imagination as the only missing piece to the puzzle.

Architecture, Conflict, and Urban Planning Publications


In the last few days, as I've finished writing my upcoming piece on the Architecture of Conflict and Militarization in Somalia, it occurred to me that more attention needs to be brought to some of the books published on this subject.  Scholarship within this domain is still in its infancy, however, there are a few works that merit special attention, either for their groundbreaking  investigation or their brilliant analysis.  Below are the three I've most recently read, although the list is far from comprehensive.

Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation
Eyal Weizman 2007

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Adrian Parr, author of Hijacking Sustainability, and I am very glad to have followed her advice.  Hollow Land has become my favorite book in several years, as Weizman masterfully illustrates how the military history of Israel has been channeled through urban planning and architecture for territorial expansion and the oppression of the Palestinian people.  Well research and artfully written, Weizman traces the use of new settlements, zoning laws, inequitable developments in infrastructure, and architectural design as mechanisms of control.


Stephen Graham 2010

Graham traces the development of the city as a conflict zone, identifying trends of surveillance and militarization within the urban fabric.  Overall, this book has rather 'high-tech' demeanor, something akin to the aesthetic of Blade Runner.  Written in a straightforward, academic manner, Graham efficiently illuminates the integration of terrorism, militancy, and security within the urban and economic geography of the contemporary world.




Robert Bevan 2007

Although war always creates collateral damage to the environment, Bevan argues that contemporary warfare has increasingly targeted Architecture as a means to defeat the enemy.  With a great deal of focus on events in Yugoslavia and the actions of totalitarian regimes within China and Afghanistan, Beven identifies the role of Architecture and its destruction within the social consciousness.  He further investigates  the inherent processes of destruction within modern efforts to reconstruct the post-conflict landscape.




Violence Taking Place: The architecture of the Kosovo Conflict
Andrew Hersher 2010
Hersher has worked for the UN Tribunals in Kosovo, examining the manner in which architecture was explicitly appropriated, destroyed, and utilized as a tool of war and power.  I've only recently picked up this book and haven't gotten too far into yet, but already, I can say it is highly recommended.

al-Shabaab's Economic Advantage



Repost from http://hornofafrica.foreignpolicyblogs.com/ by Mitchell Sipus 
Saturday, April 2 7:23 pm EST

Many are familiar with the origin of Somalia’s protracted conflict in the fall of Said Barre’s regime in 1991 and the resulting competition for political control among warring clans.  Yet the conditions of warfare in Somalia have evolved dramatically since that time as the impact of the conflict upon the local geography, the role of humanitarian regimes, and the new found utility of globalization technologies have transformed the nature of Somali warfare.  Not only do tribes fight for territorial power, but factions also battle to control transit and communication infrastructure and points of entry (such as ports and air strips), and to control the inflow and distribution of foreign aid.  The conflict has evolved from a war for political power into a war of capitalism and enterprise.  Tribal leaders are not only warlords, but  entrepreneurs, seeking to capitalize on the geo-political degradation of their nation.

In 2006, when Harakat al-Shabaab began to extend its mandate beyond its original role as the implementing partner of the Union of Islamic Courts, the political system founded by civil society to stabilize the nation under sharia law, al-Shabaab expanded this new model of armed group enterprise.  Receiving funds from global remittance flows, investing in banks to profit from remittance transactions, creating propaganda materials for sale, and later investing in legitimate businesses are fundamental to the workings of al-Shabaab's militant force.  In addition, affiliations with al-Queda and the demand of payments from aid agencies can be interpreted as actions rooted far more rooted in capitalism rather than decisions based on shared/conflicting ideologies.

Ultimately, much of al-Shabaab’s work can be attributed to profiteering, and to extend the model, one could interpret acts of terrorism outside of Somalia as the exportation of a commodity, wherein the resulting conflict is creates new markets for control and profit.  Considering the limited export base within Somalia, a country most known for nomadic pastoralism, piracy, and warfare, the most profitable and peaceful pathways are severely limited.  For example, without a functioning regulatory government to oversee the health and quality of animals stocks, adjacent nations such as Saudi Arabia have no desire to import possibly diseased or contaminated animals.

Without the necessary internal infrastructure to capitalize upon traditional economic assets, the export of conflict quickly becomes the most viable means toward economic success.  To destabilize adjacent regions creates new geographies for exploitation, displays the capacity and power of al-Shabaab among local and distant communities, and creates new points of intersection between armed groups and outside humanitarian actors.

From an economic point of view, acts of regional terrorism  by al-Shabaab, such as bombings in Nairobi, have the prospect of offering only positive prospects for Shabaab as it reinforces their economic base and their image of power.  As African Union forces are already in Somalia, and thus regional nations already participate in the conflict, Shabaab cannot likely accrue greater risks through its actions, only greater economic advantage.  To interpret regional terrorism as a process of phased market expansion, it also explains why acts of terrorism by al-Shabaab have been focused in Kenya and Uganda and have not extended very far elsewhere.  To conduct acts of terrorism in America, for example, will most likely operate at a loss and not created desired profits because it would not have the desried destabilizing impact upon American geography.  Furthermore, to attract greater global attention may ultimately undermine the existing capacity of al-Shabaab who could not contend with American military forces.  Regional terrorism therefore only extends the conflict and its resulting opportunities for profit within a manageable geographic space.

Arguably, the capitalist spirit is the greatest asset of this organization.  To undermine the power of al-Shabaab is not a matter of reinforcing security as much as it is a matter of reducing their economic export potential and thus limit the scope of their market.  Yet as many their market inputs are widely distributed through the migrant diaspora via remittance flows and the outputs are concentrated in the chaotic battlefields of Somalia, a network-centric approach faces tremendous obstacles.  Perhaps a greater means to confront and undermine this force is to examine its weaker components, such as its organizational structure, logistical corridors, and ideological basis.