The current debate on agenda-setting provides two explanations for why new issues such as immigration or abortion are politicized in Western democracies. Some argue that new issues are driven by new conflict lines in the electorate; others claim these issues garner political attention by being easily integrated into existing conflict lines or cleavages. Speaking as part of the CIS Colloquium series at ETH Zurich last Wednesday, Christoffer Green-Pedersen positioned himself in the second camp.
It has been an exciting New Year for High North policy in the Scandinavian countries. In the annual Foreign Policy Declaration last Tuesday, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt reiterated the government’s intent to push its new Arctic Strategy as one of its core foreign policies. To the west, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Garh Störe announced Oslo’s new project of drilling for petroleum (together with Russia) in the northern parts of the Barents Sea. In the south, Denmark’s Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal appointed the country’s first Arctic Ambassador, Klavs A. Holm, previously an emissary to London, Singapore and the EU.
The Arctic is the new buzz word in Scandinavian corridors of power. All three states have now drawn up comprehensive strategies articulating their vision for the region. But are their visions compatible? While Scandinavian states are often considered politically indistinguishable (and have pledged themselves, as signatories of the “Nordic Declaration of Solidarity,” to govern in respect of their common heritage) their geographical differences could bring them into competition over the Arctic.
For 14 weeks (from November 2011 to February 2012), the ISN Staff worked through the first phase of a three-phase Editorial Plan. Phase 1 sought to answer, in a kaleidoscopic way, a basic overarching question – is the international system undergoing systemic and irreversible change? Indeed, an overarching change that is transforming how we conduct international relations and maintain our security architectures. (For those of our readers who are educators and might be interested is using our bundled, user-friendly Phase 1 topics for classroom purposes, please see the Dossiers portion of our website.)
Scratching our heads over the structural changes we detected in the international system inevitably raised follow-on questions for us, including an especially important one – if transnational political and security dynamics are irreversibly changing, what impact do such changes have on existing power dynamics? That will be the overall focus of Phase 2 of our Editorial Plan, which will begin on April 2. In the meantime, while we collect our breath and gather our thoughts, we’d like to “play jazz” for 5 weeks. That means we’d like to follow our muse and look at a grab-bag collection of subjects that we hope will tickle both of our fancies. So, if you are interested in regional cooperation in Asia, upcoming elections, graphic novels and cartoons, digital games, and some free-floating content – all from an international relations and security standpoint – then please play jazz with us before we begin our discussion about power dynamics in the international system starting on the second of April.
Asia’s rise as a locus of international financial and economic power only increases the need to better understand how changes in important structural factors impact security dynamics. In that context, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses held its 14th annual Asian Security Conference in New Delhi this month. The goal of the gathering, entitled “Nontraditional Security Challenges – Today and Tomorrow,” is “to capture the complex issues involved in Asia’s emergence as the new locus of international affairs in the 21st century and India’s emergence as a factor in the continent’s evolving economic, political and security dynamics.”
The IDSA, an ISN Partner, is an Indian think tank devoted to the study of global strategic and security issues. The organization is funded by the Indian Ministry of Defense, but functions autonomously. It has brought together academics, policy analysts, and officials from government and multilateral organizations, from various Asian countries as well as other parts of the world every year since 1999 to debate upon issues pertaining to Asian affairs.
Opening remarks at the conference were made by IDSA Director General Dr. Arvind Gupta, with a keynote address by Shri Shivshankar Menon, the national Security Advisor to the Indian prime minister. A special address was given by Roza Otunbayeva, former president of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. This meeting addressed the issues of water security, climate change, natural disasters, energy security, transnational crime, and financial and economic security. Each of these challenges has a related impact on food, water and energy resources, as well as implications for national economies and the movement of people, all of which fall between the short- and long-term and consequently are contributing factors to traditional security threats.
The IDSA is at the forefront of an effort to narrow the perception gap between about the relationship between non-traditional and traditional security issues. The hosting of this conference by an India-based organization is highlighted by the fact that India sits at the cross-roads of several important gateways to global power centers: including for energy, economic and trade hubs, sea lanes of communication, and maritime power. This point was highlighted by Ajit Doval in the closing plenary session of the 2011 ISF here in Zurich. Certainly in the case of Asia, the emergence of new threats and the changing context of regional security issues will increasingly become the centerpiece of policy and research agendas around the world.
The internet and the web have changed the way we do business, learn, communicate, live and even think – a development apparent to many people. What is not so well known is that the internet has also started to change the scientific landscape in various – arguably profound – respects.
Rather than outline all these changes, I’m going to elaborate on one specific issue — one which really stands out, since it provides us with the chance to undertake completely novel scientific activity: “big data”. The term “big data” refers to very large sets – containing gigabytes of data and beyond – which can be accumulated from all over the internet, be it via online news, forum discussions, Youtube comments, product reviews, blog posts or social media traffic.
A very interesting aspect of this kind of data is that it is social data, produced by humans using the web as their medium of communication. It is the intrinsic accessibility and openness of the web that is essential in this respect: These qualities not only allow others to read, comment, reply or share what you write, post or upload – they also allow researchers to take a deeper look at what is actually ‘going on’. Often referred to as “Computational Social Science”, it is a newly emerging field with the possibility of substantially increasing and altering our understanding of how societies work.