The CSS Blog Network

The Solferinos of Today – Views from the Field

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the event that lay the foundation for international humanitarian law and humanitarian aid. The grueling battle of Solferino saw the launch of Henry Dunant’s campaign that resulted in the four treaties of the Geneva Conventions setting today’s standards for humanitarian law.

This year also marks the 90th anniversary of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions.

The ICRC, which owes its existence to Solferino, commissioned an opinion survey about the needs and expectations of people in eight of the most troubled places in the world (Afghanistan, Colombia, DRC, Georgia, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia, the Philippines).

Not surprisingly, the study concludes that armed conflict causes extreme widespread suffering. Almost half of the people surveyed have personal experience of armed conflict. Numbers are topping in Haiti, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Liberia, where almost everyone is affected. Around half of the people with conflict experience are displaced or have lost contact with a close relative. Almost one-third have lost family members.

Contrary to what we probably would expect, people in these eight countries are optimistic about the future. All the same, anxiety and sadness rises and trust declines as a result of conflict.
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The Media – a Hostage’s Friend or Foe?

The story of The New York Times journalist David Rohde’s escape from his captors in Afghanistan raises interesting questions about the role of the media in hostage takings. As has been widely reported, the major media outlets displayed a high level of solidarity by keeping mum about Rohde’s capture for 7 months. By resisting their natural urge to report the hostage taking of one of their peers, the international journalism corps honored the request of Rohde’s family and The New York Times not to make the story public.

Some commentators refer to this “media blackout” as a mere case of “professional courtesy.” They point out the double-standard of journalists seeming to be more concerned about a hostage’s safety when the victim is a member of their own profession. At the same time, they freely report on the hostage taking of aid workers, soldiers, or tourists.

The intriguing question here is, however, did this “media blackout” strategy work in Rohde’s case? We have no way of answering this question. After all, Rohde did not get released. He escaped his captors. » More

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.

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