Day: February 9, 2010

The World According to Realists or, “Never Go In Against a Sicilian When Death is On the Line”

In World Politics yesterday we covered the Peloponnesian War, the Melian Dialogue, and the security dilemma as an introduction to realist theory. Students played a version of the 2-person non-iterated prisoner’s dilemma game developed by my former professor Robert Darst, with the winners receiving candy and the person with the lowest possible grade receiving an extra credit point toward their final grade. The students learned that the incentive structure in the game is a powerful causal variable affecting outcomes: when the game is structured so as to reward rational, self-interested behavior, cooperation becomes foolhardy, even if your intentions are noble. Realists would say this reflects the nature of the international system under anarchy.

Then again, game theory also predicts that if you change the parameters of the game you change the possible outcomes. The clip above from The Princess Bride demonstrates the basic idea of game theory, and also how changing the nature of the game is the best way to get what you want. But there’s many a slip between cup and lip – between manipulating perceptions within the context of the same parameters and changing the game itself. Unfortunately, realists are not optimistic about the latter happening unless a world government is established.

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Overcoming Fears of Unicorns and Rainbows

U.S. Southern Command (SOCOM) is using a new transnational information sharing system in the All Partners Access Network (APAN) to coordinate its efforts with hundreds of NGOs and dozens of IOs in Haiti. It is a one-stop coordination platform that allows real-time questions/requests on resources and Information Sharing. SOCOM has been sharing imagery of bridges, transportation networks, and even public disturbances to facilitate responses and coordinating communication among NGOs and other relief agencies.

Likewise, dozens of NGOs and other networking organizations like Crisis Mappers have been crowd sourcing a wide range of information requests on APAN. Last week, they crowd sourced exact locations of hospitals and other medical facilities throughout Haiti and the Dominican Republic to determine available beds for post-op care and recovery of those treated in mobile surgical units. The mapping platform Ushahidi, which was started by a couple of Kenyans in the aftermath to the political violence in Kenya in 2007, began compiling mapping information in Haiti via Twitter tweets and media reports less than 24 hours after the earthquake. SOCOM relied extensively on this mapping to determine areas of need and to prioritize which transportation routes to clear.

It’s hard to measure the effectiveness of this effort, but it seems that Information Sharing is coming of age. Just over a decade ago, when Sarah Sewall assumed the post of first DASD for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance there were very few mechanisms for coordinating US military and NGO efforts — and even fewer in real time. This was not simply because of limited technology, but because of deeply embedded organizational cultures the promoted distrust and disdain of one another. The military has often referred to the relief agencies and NGOs as the “unicorns and rainbows” community.

I guess the next step will be to watch and see if the Pentagon can take some of this information sharing and overall coordination experience in Haiti and integrate it into the stabilization and reconstruction efforts in the Balkans, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan — the levels of coordination each of these efforts have been severely lagging.

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