All posts filed under: Security

Agnès Bun’s Invincible Summer

Meeting Agence France-Presse photojournalist Agnès Bun is a disarming experience. She looks younger than her age, but her youthful appearance belies an intensity forged in her frequently dangerous and sometimes harrowing line of work. As we talked about her career and her reluctant memoir, There’s No Poetry in a Typhoon (translated from the French by Melanie Ho), she spoke quickly and wasted few words, which made our interview a challenge and a pleasure. What is a reluctant memoir? It’s one written as a result of benevolent pressure from her peers and admirers, who implored her to aggregate a series of blog posts she had written for the AFP website about her experiences in the field. Eventually, she agreed but she hasn’t looked back since. “I wrote most of the chapters in one go,” she says, “and I haven’t reread it since it was published.” She isn’t the type of person to be detained by self-aggrandizement—she seems to be endowed with more humility than egoism. Instead, she reports and moves on. But sometimes her work leaves …

Anxiety About Immigration is a Global Issue

Much has been written about anti-immigrant sentiments in the West in recent years. Brexit, Trump’s election, and the moderate success of political movements hostile to immigration in countries like Italy, Germany and Sweden have provoked much admonishment of Western societies by various intellectuals and commentators, usually of leftist leanings. What has not received much attention are contemporary attitudes to immigration in countries outside the Western hemisphere. What do Nigerians, Indians, Turks and Mexicans think about migrants coming to their countries? This we don’t hear much about. Two recent surveys on the issue provide interesting results. Pew Research queried respondents in 27 nations across six continents, asking whether they felt their countries should let in more immigrants, fewer, or about the same as they do at present. In European nations like Greece and Italy that have had huge influxes of migrants in recent years, the numbers wanting fewer or no more immigrants were high—82 and 71 percent respectively. But in several other Western countries, including some perceived as being hostile to immigration, people are more sympathetic …

The Pitfalls of Too Much Security

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. —Benjamin Franklin Earlier this year, my mother fell and broke her hip, requiring emergency surgery. The hospital at which the operation would take place was one to which I was no stranger. One of the specialists whom I saw as a child had been located there, so I had visited it many times growing up. This time, though, the sight that awaited me when I walked in the front door was very different from all those times before. What had once been a spacious corridor was now blocked off by gates. Visitors (and presumably outpatients) waited in line at a security desk where they stated their business at the hospital, showed their drivers’ licenses, and were issued temporary ID cards that they scanned at the gates to gain entry. Being familiar with the arguments made by Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, I knew that it was highly …

What We Talk About When We Talk About Immigration

My father moved to the UK from Iran in the 1970s to study engineering when he met and married my mother, who is from a small town in the Welsh valleys. Many people from that town would not have met a non-white person before they met my father. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, my parents made the eminently sensible decision that they would build their life together in Wales and not Iran. To this day my father remains the hardest working person I know. He always worked two jobs, became a successful engineer and I recall watching him take part in publicity photos in the 1990s as the first non-white retained fireman in Wales, which he went on to do for 25 years. He is by any measure a credit to his community and can easily be held up as a model for “integration.” However, he is just one person. I sometimes wonder how different things might have been if there had been even one or two other Iranian families living on our street. …

Google’s China Ambitions Threaten U.S. National Security

A month before the 2024 elections the Chinese dictator issues an ultimatum to the U.S. president: Abandon defense of Taiwan or Google will politically destroy you. If your navy does not immediately leave the Taiwan Strait, Google’s algorithms will send each American the news articles that would make them the most likely to vote against your party. But why, you might ask, would Google ever help China blackmail the American president?  Google has probably discussed altering search results to influence U.S. elections. The tech giant is also probably willing to censor information in China as the price of admission to that country’s market. It doesn’t seem too great a leap forward to imagine Google biasing search results in the U.S. to appease the Chinese Communist Party. While today China might be satisfied putting spy chips on hardware used by American tech companies, in the future it could use its economic power to dictate what these businesses do during times of international crisis. I don’t blame Google for being willing to bend its ethical standards to …

Resolving the Venezuela Crisis: Is There a Case for Outside Military Intervention?

For the past four years, in plain sight of the world’s media, and just a few hours by plane from the world’s most powerful democracy, a criminal regime has been inflicting a humanitarian catastrophe on its own people, provoking widespread hunger and impoverishment, the spread of disease and death, and an exodus of Biblical proportions to neighboring countries that threatens regional stability. The national health system has collapsed, fostering the outbreak of infectious diseases, which, given the flight of millions of the country’s citizens abroad, poses a growing health risk to the continent. (Polio, long ago eradicated in the country, has returned.)  The same regime’s most senior members (as well as those of lower rank) have been credibly accused of narcotics trafficking and personally profiting therefrom. Even relatives of the president have been involved and given long prison sentences. The regime also commands a police force implicated not only in the drug trade, but in kidnapping, extortion, and corruption. Not surprisingly, the population it is supposed to protect is left subject to the highest homicide …

In Defence of Combat Robots

Next week in Geneva, diplomats will assemble to discuss Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). The precise definition of LAWS is contested but the Pentagon speaks of “weapons that once activated can select and engage targets without further human intervention.” Activists striving for a ban on LAWS call them ‘killer robots,’ language some find emotive but which is nevertheless useful for grabbing headlines. To illustrate, Disney/Lucasfilm’s K2SO is a ‘killer robot’ as is R2D2. In the Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, K2SO—a reprogrammed Imperial droid fighting for the Rebel Alliance—kills about a dozen Imperial Stormtroopers with a grenade, a blaster, and his bare robot hands. More pertinently, existing systems like Aegis and Patriot running in ‘auto-fire’ mode also qualify as LAWS under the Pentagon’s definition.  Unsurprisingly, nations fielding Aegis and Patriot think that banning LAWS would be premature. Some analysts have suggested that we drop the word ‘lethal’ and speak instead of non-lethal as well as lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS). In what follows I will discuss AWS or ‘combat robots’ that can deter, capture, wound, or kill. A …

The World According to Realism

The late political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argued in the 1993 Foreign Affairs article “The Clash of Civilizations?” (later expanded into a book with the question mark removed) that post-Cold War conflict would precipitate over differences in identity, religion, and culture. Fareed Zakaria, a former Huntington student, wrote of his mentor’s thesis, “While others were celebrating the fall of communism and the rise of globalization, he saw that with ideology disappearing as a source of human identity, religion was returning to the fore.” Huntington was writing in response to the argument of another former student, Francis Fukuyama, that a Hegelian “End of History” was upon us. In the heady days following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Huntington held the minority opinion that geopolitics and power still mattered, and worried that American foreign policy was entering a new era of history with its eyes half shut. Stephen Walt points out that at the time of Huntington’s article liberal internationalism was ascendant, al Qaeda was a minor threat, the Middle East was healing, and America was king. …

Toxic Masculinity and Gender Equity in the Australian Defence Force

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is comprised of the three military services: the Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Army, and the Royal Australian Air Force, all of which have been subject to increasing criticism in recent years for being dominated by straight white men. This, it is alleged, makes them, ipso facto, a petri dish for ‘toxic masculinity.’ That allegation has been lent apparent weight by the reporting of multiple gender-related scandals including the ADFA sex scandal, Jedi Council, various hazing rituals, death symbols, and HMAS Success, to name a few. Some of this criticism has been so strident that past and present military leaders have had no choice but to commission reports and inquiries into standards and practices within the ADF, and to implement various culture change initiatives including Pathway to Change, New Generation Navy, Adaptive Army, and New Horizon. All of these initiatives place significant emphasis on greater integration of women into the respective services but offer limited reasoning other than catch-phrases like ‘diversity,’ ‘equity,’ and ‘modernising.’ All three services are now working toward …

Hashtags and Terror Narratives in Toronto

On April 15, 2013, hours after the Tsarnaev brothers set off explosives at the Boston Marathon, the #bostonstrong hashtag went viral on Twitter. A week later, at the first home Red Sox game following the tragedy, the Fenway Park public announcer declared, “We are one. We are strong. We are Boston. We are Boston strong.” Since then, the same meme has been adopted by numerous other cities in the wake of local tragedies—including my own, Toronto, which proclaimed itself #TorontoStrong following a deadly van attack that took 10 lives in April. The idea that communities become stronger in the wake of mass murder is attractive. And sometimes, it’s even true—because outside threats stimulate a spirit of collective defiance and solidarity. But many acts of mass murder are perpetrated by mentally ill killers who have no political motive. In these cases, tragedies can actually widen fissures within society, because different factions co-opt the crime to advance their own agendas. Collective strength can exist only when citizens have a sense of common purpose. On Sunday, Toronto suffered …