The CSS Blog Network

This Week at the ISN…

It's week 38 on the ISN's editorial calendar, Photo: Leo Reynolds/flickr

We’ll be highlighting the following topics:

  • In ISN Insights on Monday, The Diplomat correspondent Eddie Walsh examines how concerns about the changing balance of power in the Asia-Pacific are fuelling a debate in Australia about the potential acquisition of new air capabilities
  • On Tuesday we explore enforcement archipelagos and island geographies
  • On Thursday we’ll discuss different conceptions of the border
  • In Friday’s ISN Podcast, Dr Daniel Kübler discusses the challenges facing megacities

And in case you missed any of last week’s coverage, you can catch up here on: India’s anti-corruption campaign; the utility of think tanks; US-German relations; national and transnational terrorism; and troop withdrawal in Afghanistan

Passport-Shaped Boxes

Male/Female Sign

Gender: depends which way you look at it, photo courtesy Brian Suda/flickr

Humans like to categorize and classify things – it helps make life easier. Well, at least some people’s lives. For others, trying to squeeze themselves into these boxes is nearly impossible.

So the news that Australia has decided to allow people to select “X” as a gender on their passports – as opposed to M(ale) or F(emale) – comes as welcome relief to the transgender and intersex communities. Back in 2009, the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission undertook a study into the issues surrounding the legal recognition of sex and gender in official documents.  The participants’ comments were enlightening.

It surprised me to find that Australia is not the first state to (officially) acknowledge gender possibilities beyond the simple male/female dichotomy. Other groups have already successfully petitioned for an alternative choice: in India, the hijra can use “E” for ‘eunuch’, and in Bangladesh they can choose “Other”.

However, being able to choose this third option in Australia is currently restricted to those able to support their claim with a doctor’s statement. Why should this be the case? The Yogyakarta Principles state that it should be an individual’s self-defined identity which matters. Indeed, it got me wondering why on earth gender needs to be listed in a passport at all.

In the Australian Human Rights Report mentioned above, the main concern was apparently “national security”. Australian senator Louise Pratt stated that this reform “was a major improvement for travelers facing questioning and detention at airports because their appearance does not match their gender status.” But why does that matter? Surely it is more critical that their face matches the photo. So once more, why does gender need to be listed in a passport?

But, since we’re playing the categorization game, which box would you put internationally renowned model Andrej Pejic in — so as to no longer pose a threat to national security?

Update (20 Sep): It seems that the UK government is now asking itself the same question on whether gender needs to be listed in a passport, in a move spearheaded by the Liberal Democrat party. The Home Office’s Identity and Passport Service (IPS) said in a statement: “IPS is considering the gender options available to customers in the British passport. We are exploring with international partners and relevant stakeholders the security implications of gender not being displayed in the passport.”

A Reading List on: Terrorism

The threat of terrorism is evolving. As the world becomes more and more globalized, the capabilities of terrorist groups become increasingly worrying. Over the past decade thousands of people have died as a result of extremist violence and cities such as New York, London, Madrid, Moscow, Mumbai, Bali, Lahore, and Baghdad have all experienced the harsh sting of terrorism first hand.

Unfortunately, there are very few signs which suggest that the recent wave of terrorism will be receding anytime soon. While groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Qaeda have been severely weakened, other groups such as Al-Shabaab have multiplied drastically.  Furthermore, increasing numbers of ‘lone wolves’ (such as the attempted ‘underwear bomber,’ Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan) present a different kind of threat.

This syllabus aims to give some insight into the security threat posed by national and transnational terrorism. » More

Workshop Tackles the Question: What is the Role of Business in Conflict Zones?

a rusty fence on the beach

Transnational corporations could play a more proactive role in volatile, unstable environments. Photo: Salem Elizabeth/flickr

Within the last 20 years, the role of non-state actors – such as individuals and civil society organizations – within the international system has grown markedly. Consequently, new scholarly debates have emerged that seek to examine the role of non-state actors in today’s complex environments. In particular, the activities, actions, and even social responsibilities of business actors operating in conflict zones are increasingly being scrutinized.

On the one hand transnational corporations (TNC) in search of either cheap labor or access to extractive resources are moving more and more into developing, transitional economies where they are often confronted with challenging environments. To illustrate, the more recent uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) brought political risk to the doorstep of the TNC’s working in the region. Indeed, operating zones that were once relatively stable have become  volatile – not only forcing local residents to flee but local and international businesses (mostly in the oil and gas sector) to suspend operations. The impact of this has been most significant in Libya where, due to the violence between government and opposing forces and damage to energy infrastructure,  oil production has fallen from 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) to roughly 60,000 bpd.

Needless to say, the major role that TNCs often play in host operating environments has led to a growing awareness within the international community that business actors can be more proactive about achieving peace and security objectives in more volatile, unstable environs. Such awareness is illustrated in the various legal approaches that increasingly seek to hold multinational corporations accountable for their actions in host countries – especially corporations based in Western democracies that operate in states with weak governance structures. On the other hand, at the local level, the idea of tailored economic development achieved within the context of conflict dynamics has also gained support. Here, especially, the question of the role that local business actors play both in the conflict as well as in peacemaking objectives becomes central.

To further examine the activities, responsibilities and actions of TNCs, as well as local businesses, operating in conflict-prone, political risky areas, a scientific workshop will be convened by the Center for Security Studies (CSS) / ETH Zurich, swisspeace, and Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt (PRIF/ HSFK). This meeting will take place on 13-14 November 2011 at the Europa Institute in Basel – bringing together an intimate group of roughly 30 experts to present papers and debate findings from various academic perspectives such as political science, anthropology, peace and conflict studies, business ethics, and law. Following this workshop, on Tuesday, 15 November 2011 swisspeace will hold its annual conference in Bern to continue with the discussion from a more practical point of view. Though the workshop is restricted to invited speakers, the conference in Bern is open to the public.

Combined, this unique workshop-conference approach is anchored by 2 core objectives – first, to bring various experts and interested parties together to exchange ideas and insights in an intimate setting and, second, to facilitate new research on the role of business actors in conflict that bridges science with policy. Conference proceedings will be published on the swisspeace website and selected papers from the workshop will be published in an edited volume. For more information contact Jennifer Giroux.

Think Tanks: Useful or Useless?

The Thinker Statue

Thinking: Worth the Effort? Photo: marttj/flickr

Next Tuesday, September 20th, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is hosting a one-day conference under the provocative title, “Can Think Tanks Make a Difference?”, as part of its 10th anniversary celebrations.

When institutions celebrate such occasions, the tone can sometimes become overpoweringly self-congratulatory; CIGI – a think tank – instead decided to put itself in the ‘line of fire’. Active in the innovative thinking business, they are utilizing this opportunity to reflect on how think tanks operate, and how they achieve influence.

» More

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