Although often mentioned and cited, the opium problem in Afghanistan has rarely been given a human face. The New York Times recently put up a fascinating and informative slideshow that illustrates the real effects of the global heroin/opium epidemic on the population of the country that is known to be the source of the international scourge. It shows faces, realities and fates in a country where opium is readily available and an attractive escape for those at the bottom of an already-fragile socio-economic ladder.
In a time where numeric and statistical models of reality are in crisis, there are still people that think that re-packing expert judgment using a formula somehow makes the underlying assumptions more valuable. The Russian Center for Policy Studies, for example, offers what it calls “the Dow Jones of International Security”, an index that “is meant to demonstrate the extent to which the international security situation differs from the “ideal” (…) at each point in time.”
According to the Center, the index is based on a complex methodology that is characterized by “its comprehensiveness, robustness, and clarity.”
The following formula is used to calculate your security:
According to the Center’s methodology page, the factors above include “the threat of global nuclear war, the number and intensity of local conflicts, the type of political relations between various countries and international organizations, the intensity and scale of terrorist activity, the stability of the global economy, and the threat posed by man-made catastrophes and epidemics.”
Now the question is, how does the Center collect its data to calculate the security index?
“It is calculated on the basis of expert analyses of the probability of the occurrence of one or another global or regional event that would have a direct impact on international security. Each such event is given a certain score on the scale we have developed.”
So the index is basically based on expert judgment which is quite unreliable:
The problem with the index above also seems to be that perception of the current security situation is treacherous. For example on 10th September 2001 the West, especially the US seemed to be quite a safe place to most analysts. However, one day later the West was perceived as a side in a global war against a violent ideology. Nicholas Taleb’s “black swans” or random events with high impact, make an analysis of the current security situation much more difficult. It would be interesting to know how the Center’s experts had rated the probability of a global event one week before 9/11.
To be fair, the Center of Policy Studies is just doing what other political risk and even market analysts of big banks are doing: Selling their predictions by highlighting the value of expertise. As long as the marketing works and people really believe that accurate mathematical predictions of the future or even an accurate model of the present realities are possible, they will sell their products and the industry will continue to grow.
In what I think is a very good piece of international affairs analysis, Daniel Möckli of the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich comments on the new US policy on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Möckli talks to Swiss-German radio’s Echo der Zeit, Switzerland’s flagship news program, on the impact on Israel of Obama’s policy .
“There are signs that US policy on Iran takes a direction, which does not necessarily meet Israeli interests” says Möckli. “Israel is obviously unsettled”. The interview comes at a time when Israel’s president Shimon Peres voices support of the new US approach, even though the prime minister and his government are tough on Iran and the Palestinians.
Möckli also comments on the Swiss government’s engagement in the Middle East. According to him, the Swiss government has decided to no longer mediate between Iran the West on the nuclear issue, due to domestic political reasons. “I personally regret this, because we’ve been very successful there”.
Daniel Möckli has been a guest of ISN Podcasts, where he discussed Swiss Mideast policy. A policy brief he wrote on Switzerland’s controversial policy in the region can be accessed through the ISN’s Digital Library.
As I read a news piece on smoking in China on the website of a Finnish newspaper I thought, for a brief second, that it was April Fool’s. This was a joke, right?
The article said the provincial government in Hubei in China had set a quota for civil servants to smoke at least 230 000 packs of local cigarettes a year. And if they did not reach this quota or decided to smoke another brand instead, they would be fined.
With a note of regret, Kishore Mahbubani predicted that East Asia would not be a priority for the new US administration. In an article published in May 2008, the dean of the Lee Kuang Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore heralded an Asian century in which the US is struggling to find its place:
“No country did more than the United States to spark the rise of East Asia. But paradoxically, America is among the countries leas prepared to handle the rise of East Asia. Evidence of this will likely stream in as soon as a new US president assumes office in January 2009. The president’s schedulers will begin to fill his or her calender with “must attend” events such as Group of eight meetings and a US-European Union summit. The schedulers will fill the “optional” column with events such as visits to Tokyo and Beijing, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summits, and meetings with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). If this happens, it will demonstrate that Washington’s priorities continue to be decided according to old mental maps. Few US policy makers seem aware that Western domination of world history is over – that we are moving into an Asian century […]”
Mahbubani must be surprised by the new US administration, which decided to send their Secretary of State and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to what he supposed to be second-rate destinations in East Asia: Tokyo, Jakarta, Seoul and Beijing are the capitals Clinton will be visiting on her first trip abroad this week.