Rapid technological advances are making drones cheaper, more accessible and highly adaptable. Once the exclusive preserve of the world’s most advanced armed forces, unmanned platforms are now being used by civilian actors for a wide range of applications. Yet, while members of the technical community have tended to emphasize the opportunities that this technology offers, their counterparts in international relations and other fields have increasingly raised questions about the legal, ethical, humanitarian and security implications of unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Against this backdrop, ETH Global and the ISN recently hosted a one-day conference that brought together over 160 experts from the fields of robotics, environmental science, law and ethics, and international relations and security. Since ETH Zurich is considered one of the world’s leading ‘competence centers’ in the field of robotics systems and control, its activities offer a glimpse into emerging UAS technologies and their potential social impact in the future.
A quarter of a century has passed since the end of the Cold War. In the West, a new generation of leaders is in power, most of whom had little personal involvement in the East-West standoff that defined international politics for most of the post-1945 era. By contrast, Russia has been under the stewardship of a leader who came of age politically with the fall of the Iron Curtain. Mikhail Gorbachev recently warned that a new Cold War is emerging. But what, if any, are the links between the events of 1989 and Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014? Can we make sense of Europe’s renewed confrontation with its eastern neighbour by peering into the past? Reflection on the events of 1989 sheds light on those of 2014 in two ways: by illustrating how Vladimir Putin’s personal experiences of the end of the Cold War have shaped his foreign policy priorities, and by highlighting the importance of Mikhail Gorbachev’s acceptance of the Helsinki principle in shaping the post-Cold War European order.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has long been a function of the North American security environment. Initially established during the Cold War, NORAD was intended to fulfill a homeland defense role by looking outwardly to identify and interdict threats approaching Canada and the United States. In the post-9/11 period, NORAD’s focus has evolved and the institution has shifted from looking outwardly to include participation in homeland security operations taking place within the United States and Canada. NORAD’s participation in North American homeland security operations has resulted in the redefinition of the institution’s role in defense and security operations. In recent years, NORAD has provided airborne security at major sporting events, government conventions, and other large public gatherings. This homeland security support role has been buttressed by the institution’s appropriation of popular cultural icons, such as Santa Claus and Superman. These examples are symbolic of a broader shift away from strategic defense, towards a public relations’ role. In the post-9/11 period, NORAD’s primary function has been to affirm U.S. dominance over North American skies, and to convey to the public audience that the potential for future terrorist attacks remains a threat to domestic security.
Earlier this year, Dilma Rousseff replaced the chiefs of the armed forces for the first time as President of Brazil. The most anticipated was her pick for the influential position of Army Commandant. Rousseff’s choice raised a few eyebrows because she broke with the established practice of appointing the most senior officer for the job. It unexpectedly fell to candidate General Eduardo Dias da Costa Villas Bôas, just third in terms of seniority, to lead a fighting force of nearly 190,000 active personnel. With eight years ahead as the most senior commander of Brazil’s military, Villas Bôas will have to address several challenges if he expects to cement Brazil’s status as a major world power.
Following the gruesome murder of First Lieutenant Moaz al-Kasasbeh, Jordan has reportedly launched more than 50 airstrikes in three days in Syria, marking a dramatic increase in its direct military action against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. King Abdullah II has said his nation will continue to fight ISIS until it runs out of “fuel and bullets.”
Jordan’s decision to avenge the death of its airman has now become central to the debate on how to combat terrorism in the region. Jordan has always been a close ally against extremism; however, the death of Kasasbeh has ushered in a level of direct military engagement as yet unseen from our Arab allies. This heightened engagement from Jordan is exactly what is needed to combat the spread of ISIS in the region.