The CSS Blog Network

In Gaza, the Worst Is Yet to Come

Watchtower in Rafah, Gaza

Watchtower in Rafah, Gaza, April 2009. Photo: Marius Arnesen/Wikimedia Commons.

There is a feeling of trepidation in the Gaza Strip these days, and since the Muslim Brotherhood—Hamas’ fellow journeyers—were ousted from power in Egypt in early July, living conditions have deteriorated dramatically. The new rulers of Egypt have launched a much-vaunted campaign against armed groups in the Sinai Peninsula and against the tunnels that connect that territory with Gaza. The latter has brought life in this tiny strip of land where 1.6 million Palestinians live—most of them in refugee camps—to almost a standstill.

Since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, the Gaza Strip has been under a strict siege. Until last month’s military intervention in Egypt, the Islamic Resistance Movement—branded a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, and Israel—was able to undermine this blockade by smuggling a myriad of products, including food, medicine, weapons, and even people, into the Gaza Strip. The two most important benefits of the tunnels were the flow of cheap fuel and other goods, and the taxes that Hamas raised from this. » More

Oversight and Intelligence Services: the Case of Switzerland

Antennas in Loèche, part of Switzerland's Onyx data gathering system

Antennas in Loèche, part of Switzerland’s Onyx data gathering system. Photo: Rama/Wikimedia Commons.

In 1989, a Swiss parliamentary committee revealed that the country’s Federal Police and Federal Prosecutor’s Office had spent decades recording the activities of 10% of the Swiss population. It seems that during the Cold War, being a member of a left-wing organization, or even contacting it, raised the eyebrows of these agencies. But they weren’t alone. In time, the Swiss postal service and even private individuals began to perform this type of surveillance.

When they were finally informed about these activities, the Swiss public was predictably shocked by the scope and scale of the “Secret Files Scandal”.  What concerned them then is what concerns everyone now – i.e., the often absent legal justifications for such activities and the inadequate democratic oversight exercised over those who perform them.

The “Insurmountable Tension”

The Swiss case, along with the recent revelations about the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) activities, points to what many analysts and practitioners have long argued is an indissoluble problem. Yes, secrecy is necessary to prevent ‘legitimate’ surveillance targets from knowing they are under scrutiny, and thereby changing their modus operandi.  At the same time, this necessary feature of intelligence work inevitably breeds a lack of transparency and needed oversight. » More

The Return of Conventional War?

Kuwaiti tanks

Kuwaiti tanks. Photo: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/flickr.

What future scenarios should NATO be prepared once the final US-led troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2014? Will a new array of threats reinforce the importance of ‘conventional’ military thinking and planning in the United States and Europe? These were among the questions raised at The Return of Conventional War?, a panel discussion hosted on 11 September by our parent organization, the Center for Security Studies (CSS).

In the following podcast, the guest panelists outline their respective positions on prospects for the return of conventional war and strategic planning. The CSS’ Martin Zapfe is convinced that after 13 years in Afghanistan and Iraq, Western militaries will increasingly turn to the more ‘conventional’ challenges posed by the likes of China and Russia. The Institute for Security Policy Kiel’s Joachim Krause sees no point, however, in thinking about conventional threats to security. Instead, the West should continue to focus upon the myriad threats and security challenges that actually exist today. » More

The Pillars of Peace

Pillars of peace. Image: Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).

Pillars of peace. Image: Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).

One of the major challenges facing the peacebuilding and development community today is how to balance short term humanitarian assistance with long term efforts to build capacity and resilience. We see this tension played out in many countries receiving significant overseas development assistance (ODA). Part of the problem is a lack of reliable data which, in turn, affects our ability to understand the effectiveness of the resources that international donors have channeled into peacebuilding efforts. This does not imply that these efforts are failing, but rather that we don’t know enough about their impact and the extent to which they are making progress towards building long-term capacity and resilience.

To help monitor and evaluate the long term progress of countries, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has developed a framework that analyzes data and attitudinal surveys in conjunction with current thinking about the long term drivers of peace, resilience and conflict. Recently launched in Geneva, the Pillars of Peace report identifies the attitudes and structures that typically underpin peaceful societies. The report shows that countries which tend to be more peaceful have a number of characteristics in common. For instance, peaceful countries are more equitable, have lower levels of corruption and higher levels of human capital. This shows that development assistance needs to look beyond short term efforts to contain violence and instead focus on the slow moving but underlying ‘Pillars’ that support peaceful societies. » More

New Collaborations for Better Maps in Crisis

OpenStreetMap - Project Haiti 4

Visualisation in OpenStreetMap after the earthquake in Haiti. Photo: ItoWorld/flickr.

Accurate and timely maps are a vital resource in contemporary disaster and crisis management. Maps are essential for identifying vulnerabilities, monitoring the effects of disasters and organizing countermeasures. Traditionally, the mapping of crises was the exclusive domain of experts, including cartographers and crisis management professionals. But with the growing democratization of information and communications technology, this monopoly is disappearing.

Recent disasters have witnessed a new generation of online maps, created by civil society actors and relying on volunteers to collect, organize, verify, visualize and share geo-refer­enced information. Prominent examples include the crowdsourced maps created in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake in 2010 and during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Although these mapping projects differed in many respects, they had a common aim – to aggregate geo-referenced information from a large number of sources in order to make that information useful for emergency man­agers as well as those affected by the crisis. » More

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