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Swiss Security Policy Takes Shape on Online Platform

This is unique even for Swiss standards of direct democracy. Before drafting the 2009 Report on Security Policy, the first security white paper in ten years, the Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) called on more than 40 experts, politicians and interest groups to give their input. What is more, the DDPS invited all citizens to comment on those hearings, using a moderated discussion platform. This website, SIPOL WEB, was set up, maintained and moderated by the Center for Security Studies (CSS) and the International Relations and Security Network (ISN) at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich.

Prof Dr Andreas Wenger, Director, Center for Security Studies (CSS)

Prof Dr Andreas Wenger, Director, Center for Security Studies (CSS), Photo ZVg, ETH Zurich

Prof Dr Andreas Wenger, director of the CSS, is satisfied with the outcome. “All in all we counted more than 8500 visitors to the website, of which 150 contributed actively. We are very happy with the results, because what matters is the quality of the comments and not their number. The contributions to SIPOL WEB were mostly extensive, well-founded and remarkably substantial. This is the difference between this website and other blogs and discussion forums. The contributions exceeded our expectations.”

Now it is for the government to meet the expectations of its citizens and actually take into consideration their opinion. The 2009 Report on Security Policy is due by the end of the year.

BBC Monitoring @the ISF

Kris Wheaton is an assistant professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania and is attending the 8th International Security Forum going on now in Geneva.

Mr Wheaton is also a prolific writer, posting his thoughts and tips on intelligence and international security at his blog, Sources and Methods. He has kindly allowed us to crosspost his liveblog entries from the ISF.


BBC Monitoring headquarters / photo: robinhamman, flickr

BBC Monitoring headquarters / photo: robinhamman, flickr

I had a chance to visit with the good folks at the BBC Monitoring booth at the ISF conference. For those of you unfamiliar with BBC Monitoring, they are the branch of the BBC that acquires and translates raw news and other reports from around the world.

They have been doing this since 1939 and made their intial fame in WWII translating German news broadcasts. Since then, they have grown substantially and now provide translation services in over a hundred languages through their subscription service.

I had the great good fortune to be asked to give a speech at the BBC Monitoring HQ (see image to right) a number of years ago and, as a result, I got a chance to actually see their operation. It is quite impressive. They pull in info from all over the world and rapidly and professionally translate and distribute in whatever form you want.

Conceptually, at least, it is pretty straightforward and simple. What makes BBC Monitoring different is that they are so frightfully good at it. Want an example? Check out their case study of last year’s Georgia crisis.

Related Posts:
Live-blogging The ISF!

Liveblogging the ISF

Kris Wheaton is an assistant professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania and is attending the 8th International Security Forum going on now in Geneva.

Mr Wheaton is also a prolific writer, posting his thoughts and tips on intelligence and international security at his blog, Sources and Methods. He has kindly allowed us to crosspost his liveblog entries from the ISF.


Kris Wheaton / photo: Sources and Methods

Kris Wheaton / photo: Sources and Methods

All this week I am in Geneva, Switzerland attending the International Security Forum (ISF). The ISF is a biennial conference designed to discuss “ways to increase communication and cooperation between institutions engaged in research related to international security worldwide.

The conference this year has a strong (for me, at least) intel orientation. The theme is “Coping With Global Change” and the whole first day will be dedicated to the question: which new challenges are looming over the horizon? (Uhhh…that’s our job, isn’t it?)

The conference has a really interesting line-up of speakers and panels. For example, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martti Ahtisaari, and Deputy Director for Energy and Environmental Security in the Office of Intelligence and Counterintel at the Department of Energy, Carol Dumaine, will make two of the keynote speeches.

I am here as a guest of the wonderful people at The International Relations and Security Network (ISN) and The Center For Security Studies CSS, two of the many sponsors of the forum. My own modest contribution to the event is a short presentation on “Open Sources And The Death Of The Intelligence Cycle” (Yes, you read that right — death. And if it is not dead yet, by the end of my presentation, people are going to want to kill it…).

I am going to lug my computer around with me and see if I can do a bit of live-blogging. I will probably not be able to cover most of the panels as Chatham House Rules are in effect but, as with all good European conferences, there are lengthy coffee and lunch breaks and I may be able to corner a few people and capture their insights for you.

As always when I cover these type events, if you look at the schedule and see something or someone interesting, drop me a note or post a comment and I will try to sit in on the presentation or get a few words with the speaker, at least.

ISN Weekly Theme: International Security Forum

We’re well in the throes of getting ready for the International Security Forum (ISF), happening at the International Conference Centre Geneva (CICG) 18 – 20 May. This year, the gathering of IR and security researchers and professionals will tackle the topic “Coping with Global Change.”

Check out the ISN Special Report Safeguarding Security in Turbulent Times for views from Nayef Al-Rodhan, Anne-Marie Buzatu, James A Lewis, Alyson JK Bailes on issues to watch during these changing times.

Emmanuel Clivaz’s Private Contractors on the Battlefield, an ISN Case Study, examines the he emergence of private military contractors and the theoretical components of the flexibility-control balance in a theater of war. You can find it in the ISN Digital Library.

And the latest addition to our Links Library is The SecDev group, an operational consultancy focused on countries and regions at risk from violence and insecurity.

The Dow Jones of International Security

Courtesy of Isobel T /Flickr

Courtesy of Isobel T /Flickr

In a time where numeric and statistical models of reality are in crisis, there are still people that think that re-packing expert judgment using a formula somehow makes the underlying assumptions more valuable. The Russian Center for Policy Studies, for example, offers what it calls “the Dow Jones of International Security”, an index that “is meant to demonstrate the extent to which the international security situation differs from the “ideal” (…) at each point in time.”

According to the Center, the index is based on a complex methodology that is characterized by “its comprehensiveness, robustness, and clarity.”

The following formula is used to calculate your security:

Formula as presented on the Russian Center for Policy Studies' Website

Formula as presented on the Russian Center for Policy Studies' Website

values2
Screenshot: Center for Policy Studies site

According to the Center’s methodology page, the factors above include “the threat of global nuclear war, the number and intensity of local conflicts, the type of political relations between various countries and international organizations, the intensity and scale of terrorist activity, the stability of the global economy, and the threat posed by man-made catastrophes and epidemics.”

Now the question is, how does the Center collect its data to calculate the security index?

“It is calculated on the basis of expert analyses of the probability of the occurrence of one or another global or regional event that would have a direct impact on international security. Each such event is given a certain score on the scale we have developed.”

So the index is basically based on expert judgment which is quite unreliable:

Philip Tetlock pointed out in his book “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” that some 82’000 expert predictions that he tracked for two decades where only a tiny bit more reliable than random guesses or monkeys throwing darts at a board.

The problem with the index above also seems to be that perception of the current security situation is treacherous. For example on 10th September 2001 the West, especially the US seemed to be quite a safe place to most analysts. However, one day later the West was perceived as a side in a global war against a violent ideology. Nicholas Taleb’s “black swans” or random events with high impact, make an analysis of the current security situation much more difficult. It would be interesting to know how the Center’s experts had rated the probability of a global event one week before 9/11.

To be fair, the Center of Policy Studies is just doing what other political risk and even market analysts of big banks are doing: Selling their predictions by highlighting the value of expertise. As long as the marketing works and people really believe that accurate mathematical predictions of the future or even an accurate model of the present realities are possible, they will sell their products and the industry will continue to grow.

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