This Week in ISN Insights…



It’s week 22 on our editorial calendar, Photo: Leo Reynolds/flickr


The ISN is pleased to offer you a special, expanded edition of ISN Insights this week, dedicated specifically to coverage of the International Security Forum (ISF) taking place 30 May-1 June 2011, in Zurich:

* On Monday, we take a closer look at the stalled state of US-Iranian relations, and envisage a world without nuclear weapons, with articles, respectively, from Dr John Limbert, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the US Naval Academy, and Alyson JK Bailes, Visiting Professor at the Univeristy of Iceland and former Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

* Tuesday’s focus on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 offers selections from Dr Paul Pillar, Visiting Professor and Director of Studies at the Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown University, and Dr Lorenzo Vidino, Visiting Fellow at the Center for Security Studies (CSS), ETH Zurich.

* We’ll offer up on Wednesday an article on managing China’s rapid rise by Dr Kerry Brown, Head of the Asia Program at Chatham House, and a piece by the CSS’ Dr Myriam Dunn Cavelty, on developing a more realistic cyberthreat assessment.

And in case you missed any of last week’s coverage, you can catch up here on: the 20-year anniversary of Operation Solomon; opinion polls and IR; the challenges facing the new European External Action Service (EEAS); and understanding Pakistan’s nuclear rationale.

Talking Security in Zurich: ISF 2011 Starts Monday

Old warrior Hans Waldman watches over Zurich while security experts discuss the future of conflict. Photo: courtesy of Zurich Tourism/flickr

Zurich is famous for its bankers. But next week a different crowd will also populate the city: more than 400 academics, civil servants, military officials and journalists from dozens of countries are expected to gather at the Kongresshaus for the International Security Forum (ISF 2011, 30 May – 1 June). Ueli Maurer, Switzerland’s minister of defense, will open the conference on Monday.

The organizers of the ISF’s ninth edition, entitled “Regional and Global Security: Meeting Tomorrow’s Challenges Today”, have reacted to recent world events and dedicate the first plenary session on Monday to the revolts and revolutions in North Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula.

Will Egypt regain its natural role as the prominent regional leader? How would a change of regime in Syria affect the regional picture? Will the move towards more pluralistic political systems strengthen or weaken US influence? These are some of the questions that will be adressed by the keynote speakers John W Limbert (US Naval Academy), Volker Perthes (German Institute for International and Security Affairs, SWP), Yossi Alpher (bitterlemons publications) and Fawaz A Gerges (London School of Economics and Political Science).

Nuclear weapons, the migration-security nexus and public-private cooperation are on the agenda for Monday afternoon. The Forum will get more intimate on Tuesday: Invited participants will join one of several thematic tracks, ranging from “9/11 plus Ten” to “State Failure / State Building”.

Negotiating Biodiversity and the Business with Genes

Not the most biodiverse place: artificial creatures in Nagoya, photo: rumpleteaser/flickr

Eric Johnston called it “the most important conference you never heard of”:

You would think that a conference that was once billed as a meeting designed to come to an agreement  on a “Kyoto Protocol” for all living things would get just a bit more media respect. Or public attention.

And indeed, having just returned from Japan, I am surprised how much less media coverage COP 10 is getting outside its host country. It was by chance that I stumbled over COP 10 when in Nagoya last week and it took me a while until I understood the meaning of the acronym, which was all over the Japanese media: COP 10 stands for the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Given the technical and complex nature of the issues at stake, lay people may find it difficult to understand let alone explain what’s going on in Nagoya. However, the International Year of Biodiversity should provide reason enough to make an effort.

The most contentious issue at the conference is a possible compensation paid by drug companies to indigenous people for using and patenting their knowledge on the medical use of natural resources.

I give the word again to Eric Johnston of the Japan Times:

  • Should we offer some sort of compensation to indigenous peoples for medicines from their traditional lands already on the market?
  • Should we sign contracts directly with them so the next time a drug company is hiking through a biodiverse rich environment, they’ll be doing so with the approval of whoever lives on the land those plants come from?
  • And how do we determine, legally, whether the knowledge of how to manipulate those plants came from ancient oral traditions or a peer-reviewed article in a scientific magazine?
  • And if payments are to be made to indigenous peoples, how are they to be paid, and what does this mean for drugstore prices in developed countries?


ISN Partners’ Copenhagen Specials

Image by CCAC North Library / flickr
Image by CCAC North Library / flickr

My colleagues and I have seen an impressive surge in publications on climate change in the run-up to the Copenhagen Summit.

This demonstrates just how widely relevant the issue of climate change is. Across geographical and thematic research focus, a large part of the ISN’s partner institutes have published on the topic in the last few months.

Here is a small selection of what has come across our desks recently:






  • … and for many more, see publications classified under ‘climate change’ in the ISN digital library.

Global Media Forum Day 2: What is InJo?

GMF opening address by Director-General of Deutsche Welle Erik Bettermann / photo: Cristina Viehmann, ISN
GMF opening address by Director-General of Deutsche Welle Erik Bettermann / photo: Cristina Viehmann, ISN

Innovation Journalism” (InJo) – the word combination does not yield any Google search results before 2002.

The term was truly – and academically – introduced in 2003 by Stanford Professor David Nordfors, his main point being that journalism and innovation are each other’s driving forces.

Today at the GMF workshop offered by Stanford University, we took the concept of  “Innovation Journalism” apart.

How do we define journalism?

If you have a look at the Oxford definition of the word “journalist”, you find the message defined by the medium: newspapers, magazines, radio and TV. By offering such a definition we are bringing Marshall McLuhan back in, and we don’t necessarily want to do that. Strangely enough for our perception, the word “internet” does not appear in the Oxford definition.

Today’s medium is separated from the message, i.e. the content. A new definition of a journalist should refrain from this occupation’s relation with a medium and focus on the audience, Nordfors says. Journalism is all about offering issues of public interest to the broader audience.

And what do we mean by innovation?

Innovation is more than inventing. It’s the process of creating and delivering new value. As defined by Nordfors, innovation stops being exclusive and elitist. For him, innovation is a “language thing,” not a “tech thing.” It’s mostly about language, Nordfors argues, because any new product needs a name, a definition, a business model and a narrative. And all these things are made of pure words.

Innovation and journalism – the missing link

Innovation journalism can be understood in two ways: It’s journalism that covers innovation; but it can also mean journalism that is innovative.

Why is it important for journalists to cover innovation?

To answer this question, Nordfors builds a bridge between democracy and innovation. Democracy implements ideas in society, innovation plants ideas on the market. In the end, innovation also plays an important public role in shaping societal behavior. To exemplify this latter thought: the iPod is deciding how we will relate to music in the future. It’s not parliaments that decide that. The link between democracy, innovation and journalism is that journalism, according to Nordfors, is key for connecting the innovation economy with the democratic society.

And what is innovation in journalism?

To picture this, think of a refurbished newsroom. Traditional newsrooms use strict categories such as science, technology, business, politics and culture. Now, how would you categorize a story, appropriate to postmodern times, relating simultaneously to particle accelerators and modern ballet? Would such a story actually exist?The point is: innovative journalism should write such stories. Journalism crossing categories is innovative.