Tag: advocacy networks

New Research on Issue Selection in Global Policy Networks

At long last, the journal article version* of the research my team conducted on the human security network is published (complete with color-coded tag clouds and network graphs)! International Organization has very kindly agreed to temporary un-gate the article until May 30, so check out the TUG.pdf here!

tag cloudMy co-authors Sirin Duygulu, Alexander Montgomery, Anna Rapp and I analyze focus group data to explore how elites in global policy networks make judgments on which issues are worthy of their organizations’ attention.

We find practitioners pay lip-service to a confluence of factors corresponding in predictable ways to various streams in the scholarly literature, but we also find that factors within the network are especially important:

Through a series of focus groups with human security practitioners, we examined how powerful organizations at the center of advocacy networks select issues for attention. Participants emphasized five sets of factors: entrepreneur attributes, adopter attributes, the broader political context, issue attributes, and intranetwork relations. However, the last two were much more consistently invoked by practitioners in their evaluations of specific candidate issues. Scholars of global agenda setting should pay particular attention to how intranetwork relations structure gatekeeper preferences within transnational advocacy spaces because these help constitute perceptions of issues’ and actors’ attributes in networks.

*White paper version here. Book version with longer discussion of network theory, exciting illustrative case studies and many more color graphs is out from Cornell in June. Continue reading


Human Rights Activism on the Cutting Edge

The German Justice Ministry has outlined a new draft law regulating the circumcision of children in that country, on the heels of a Cologne court’s decision that circumcision of non-consenting minors constituted a human rights violation.The decision, after a four-year-old Muslim boy experienced uncontrollable bleeding following his ritual circumcision, sparked a firestorm, with some child rights activists hailing the decisionand while Muslim and Jewish communities within Germany and abroad argued that the ruling constituted a violation of religious rights.

The new law must pass by at least a 2/3 majority in the Bundestag, and could still be challenged in Germany’s highest court. However given the ease with which efforts to outlaw circumcision have been struck down in other contexts, it would not be at all surprising if this ruling were rolled back. Indeed already religious communities in Germany have resumed preparations for circumcision ceremonies, the industry having slowed to a halt in the weeks after the Cologne decision as physicians feared criminal liability under the ruling.

This week I’m at the 12thInternational Symposium on Genital Autonomy in Helsinki Finland, where I’m conducting field research within the transnational movement to eradicate the practice of surgically altering female, male and intersex minors. From my vantage point here, the political significance of these developments in Germany will not simply be determined by whether or not the law passes. Rather, the Cologne ruling (and press coverage of it) has shifted the framing of the circumcision debate away from questions of health or gender equity and toward the tension between children’s bodily integrity rights and the rights of parents to religious freedom.


What Good is Network Theory in IR?

In between ultimate frisbee and lying around in bed sick, I managed to attend a workshop on network theory at the International Studies Asssociation.

I spent some time there thinking about different things scholars mean when they say they are doing network theory, and what is the value added to IR of this basket of approaches.

Here are some tripartite thoughts on the matter, and you can probably guess which approach I’ll be taking in my new book.

1) Network theory provides a way to describe social relations that are neither hierarchies nor markets. This approach is associated with Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink’s work on advocacy networks and continues to hold some sway among “network analytic” scholarship, like Taylor Seyboldt’s recent analysis of the network structure of the humanitarian aid community. I actually don’t buy this approach however. Hierarchies are also networks (Wendy Wong’s great new book uses network theory as a way to describe and analyze variation in the organizational structure of different NGOs, and the same analysis could be applied to firms.) Furthermore, networks can be hierarchical rather than flat. Markets are distinct not in terms of structure but substance.

2) Network theory provides different conceptual tools for measuring (and visualizing) “structure.” IR theorists talk a lot about structure versus agency and yet have tended to have a very thin understanding of what structure is, generally arrived at deductively and treating it as a constant rather than measuring how it may vary by context. Emilie Hafner-Burton, Miles Kahler and Alex Montgomery have a good overview of the kinds of tools we’re talking about, and they distinguish this approach explicitly from the “networks as organization” approach above. The problem with this approach, I think, is that it equates network “theory” with “network analysis tools” and that the use of the tools as a method for measuring or visualizing often doesn’t involve very sophisticated theorizing about what those relationships mean and how they relate to the agency of actors embedded in network structures.

3) Network theory provides a set of propositions about the sources of political outcomes that are relational rather than instrinsic to actors.
I like this approach the best because it both limits network theory to something analytically useful (that is, it’s not just another form of organization) and broadens it to include many methodologies besides social network analysis. For example, one could take the theoretical propositions associated with SNA (such as “actors with a high level of betweenness centrality will have the ability to function as brokers”) or “actors with high in-degree centrality within a network will exert greater influence over the categorical meanings within a network” and then examine the extent to which these insights hold true in different network settings by using more qualitative methodologies including comparative case studies, process-tracing, elite interview or focus groups. I think what’s most important is not that we’re able to create colorful maps or measure ties precisely, but that we’re taking relational factors seriously as causal and constitutive forces in world politics.


Clashing Networks and Foreign Policy

Anne Marie Slaughter and Dan Drezner had an interesting debate last week on the role of nonstate actors in foreign policy. AMS stakes out a “modern/liberal-social” position highlighting the role of nonstate actors, whereas DD takes a “subtle realist” view, maintaining the priority of states and national interests. DD sums up their differences this way:

I’m skeptical about the viability of transnational interests to effectively pressure multiple governments to adopt a common policy solution, and I’m super-skeptical that these groups can supply broad-based solutions independently of national governments.

My own take is that DD underestimates the extent to which transnationally-linked domestic coalitions affect policy, but that AMS takes too narrow a view of the civil society actors involved. I agree with DD that nonstate actors alone will not provide “broad-based solutions” themselves–although I don’t think that AMS would go that far anyway.

Most international issues do not pit states against nonstate actors, with each lining up on different sides of the issues. Rather, what we see are networks on each side, usually with states representing key components. Keck and Sikkink made this point years ago in a book that revived the scholarly debate on transnational relations. But the presence and importance of states in networks is often overlooked. States must be a major part of network studies because, in the end of course, they make policies.

On a day to day basis within networks, however, states are not necessarily the leading forces. When it comes to projecting the ideas and rallying the interests that go into policy outcomes, civil society actors play key roles. Acting as interest groups within states, they seek to shape governments’ preferences. Acting as NGOs across state borders and in international institutions, they exchange ideas, personnel, and money, affecting both domestic and international policy.

Notably as well, these networks are not all “progressive,” although most of the scholarly and journalistic attention has focused on human rights, environmental, and global justice groups. Rather, there is huge diversity among transnational advocates, with powerful right-wing networks fighting the left. Nor is it simply the case that conservatives ally with states to oppose changes in the status quo. In the ongoing battles that comprise most of international policy making, all sides support or reject change at certain times.

Finally, the means by which policy change happens transcend the staid “logics” of persuasion—framing, shaming, grafting, deliberation, dialogue, etc.–on which much of the literature has focused. Network members do use such tactics. But these are invariably countered by opposition networks. They smash frames and deploy their own equally resonant ones. They shame the shamers and honor those who the other side seeks to embarrass. They sever grafts while making their own.

In other words, these are policy wars, not one-sided persuasive campaigns aimed at changing state policy or public opinion. The tactics that opposing sides use extend well beyond the rhetorical. They seek to exclude one another from key institutions. They invent their own institutions to keep the other side out. They seek to silence one another’s voices. And they attack one another ferociously, for misunderstanding, misstatement, and downright evil.

I’ll take a few cases that I’ve written about in my forthcoming book. Admittedly, these are not frontline national security issues, but I’d say they are nonetheless important parts of international and domestic politics in many countries.

Gay rights has advanced tremendously in Western states over the past few decades. This has been led not by governments but movements that have effectively organized and been able to achieve political and cultural change. There has been substantial transnational interaction within the gay rights movement, with domestic groups learning from one another, receiving assistance, and exchanging personnel. They’ve also been active at the UN trying to affect policy.

All the while, however, they have faced resistance from a transnational coalition of conservative religious groups, what I call the “Baptist-burqa” network. In some countries, this has helped keep gay rights off the political agenda completely. In others, it has led to continuing conflict whose outcome remains unclear. At the international level, at least with regard to UN policy on gay rights, it has kept “progress” slow and minimal. The fight has been far from pretty, with the two networks and their national components engaging in all sorts of mudslinging and competition. The current stalemate at the UN stems from the respective power of these opposing networks, in particular their ability to affect state policy choices, even if in the final analysis it is states that vote on the policies themselves.

Small arms control is another issue pitting network against network. Human rights, gun control, and development organizations organized transnationally in the 1990s, seeking to stem the global trade in weapons. But they immediately faced opposition from a transnational coalition of gun rights groups, led by America’s National Rifle Association (NRA). The two sides, complete with powerful states on each side, have fought over controls on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALW) since then. In these battles, the nonstate actors on both sides have helped shape state policy, through both domestic and international politicking. The failure thus far to achieve significant controls stems in large part from the power of the gun network to influence ideas and policies in a number of states. This is an outcome every bit as important as policy change—and stemming significantly from civil society activism and clashes.

In other cases that AMS mentions, such as the landmines treaty and the ICC, networks of states and nonstate actors achieved much—but could have achieved much more but for the power of opposing states within larger ideological networks. The U.S. government was a major impediment to reaching the goals activists originally hoped for. But this was a U.S. government strongly influenced by NGOs and activists—and the outcomes are in large part a result of their ideas and sway.

Other interesting recent works that show the power of these kinds of networks, and especially their clash, include Orenstein’s on pension policy and Teles and Kenney’s on free market activism.

What about “major” international policy? DD puts it this way:

The kind of non-state actors that Slaughter embraces have not been shy in engaging issues like climate change, Israel/Palestine or macroeconomic imbalances — but I haven’t seen any appreciable change in global public policies as a result.

John M. Owen has written a fascinating new book arguing that clashing ideological networks have been a key basis for regime change for centuries. I’d argue that some of the most important foreign policy developments of the last decade stem from powerful civil society interests, affecting state policy. The role of neo-conservative networks in sparking the Iraq War is Exhibit A.

Regarding climate change, I see this issue not as involving a clash between powerful states and environmental groups but as one which again pits network against network. On both sides, there are an array of powerful states, corporations, foundations, and NGOs, supporting divergent views. The failure to reach agreement on climate change policy is a testament as much to network as to state power.

On Israel/Palestine, I’d argue that a major reason for the situation we now see is the power of internationally-linked domestic interests–in the US, a loose but real agglomeration of civil society groups, the Israel Lobby as Walt/Mearsheimer define it. Its activism has shaped perceptions of America’s national interest, notwithstanding increasing efforts to reshape that view by other civil society actors.

The end of all this interaction may not be easily predictable, certainly not in the way that structural realists purport to predict outcomes. Henry Farrell makes this point in talking about cross-border “contagion” and the unpredictability of policy outcomes that result. The “contagion” metaphor, however, with its overtones of hot zone diseases spreading spontaneously and uncontrollably only explains part of what is happening.

Often there is deliberate, strategic interaction among like-minded groups within different states. They seek to shape policy both within their own and other states, using demonstration effects at home or abroad to push for their own favored policy outcomes more broadly. True, as HF states, we may not be able to predict outcomes as easily as in a billiard ball world. But I agree with AMS here that we need to pay attention to these interactions.

Where I differ with many who highlight transnational relations is in their taking too narrow a perspective on the groups, networks, and tactics involved. To reiterate, these networks centrally involve states, sometimes politicians, sometimes bureaucrats. There is not a full-scale power shift to nonstate actors. Second, these networks by no means push only “progressive” solutions to global problems. Rather, there are conflicting networks following and often deepening the ideological divisions of modern societies. Finally, because the stakes are so high for the groups involved, the tactics they follow are bare-knuckled and hard-hitting—just like politics in any other sphere.


Book Review: “The Possibilities of Transnational Activism”

Among the books I’m digesting this month as I work on my manuscript is this gem from Thomas Richard Davies – a case study of the transnational disarmament movement in the interwar period. I especially like two things about this book. First, it deals with a case of campaign failure, as the movement clearly did not meet its goals of general disarmament. This sets Davies’ book apart from most of the transnational advocacy literature that focuses on successful campaign. But secondly, he uses his case very self-consciously as a lever to explore the merit of extant hypotheses about campaign success and failure.

Davies begins by culling a set of hypotheses from the earlier case literature on TANs, detailing factors said to facilitate and impede campaign success, and dividing these analytically between characteristics of the international environment, the national environment, the activists and the issues (not so different from the typology I’m developing in my book, except that he doesn’t examine the impact of network structure on campaigns). He then asks whether any of these both help to explain the outcome in the disarmament case and are not refuted by the wider case literature.

Simply making the effort to test these hypotheses is a contribution – as he rightly points out, the correlates of campaigns success are often asserted but rarely demonstrated by comparison to unsuccessful campaigns. He concludes that of all the variables suggested by scholars, only one that is both constant across the case literature and sensible in the context of his case study: the promotion of a consistent/coherent framework for action:

Essentially, the interwar disarmament campaigners faced a dielmma to which all activists have to respond if achievement of their goals requires a change in public attitudes to an issue: without international public support activists cannot persuade governments to adopt their goals; but if these goals require a change in public attitudes the support will not be forthcoming.

When faced with this problem, activists have a choice between two options: i) conducting a programme of education until public support for their goals reaches critical mass; or ii) fudging their propaganda in order to give the impression of mass public support for their objectives which in fact does not exist. The interwar disarmament campaigners made the fundamental mistake of choosing the second option.

Exactly how this panned out in the disarmament case I’ll let you read the book to find out, but I find the narrative quite compelling and can see analogues in contemporary efforts like the small arms campaign, in which advocates have disagreed over the nature of the problem and the nature of the solution and are thus particularly vulnerable to being undermined by counter-campaigns, as Cliff’s new book will show.

I do have to say I think Davies may overstate his case a bit: while it is extremely useful to apply extant theory to a specific case as rigorously as he’s done, I don’t think you can confirm or refute a general argument on the basis of one data point. It’s true that he also draws on a wider array of cases, but he doesn’t study or code them systematically in the way that he studied his single case. I also wonder whether interwar campaigns are really comparable with the type of transnational organizing that has gone on since 1990, with the benefit of the Internet and a significantly altered normative environment.

But the book is an excellent read on a case that’s been neglected by TAN scholars, many of whom have focused on post-Cold War campaigns. And the practical implications of Davies’ findings bear overstating, as they imply the single most important indicators of campaign success is completely within the norm entrepreneurs’ control.
This is in stark contrast to the perceptions of practitioners with whom I have spoken for my book project, many of whom tend to see themselves as highly constrained by their political opportunity structure. Davies book by contrast provides a simple and powerful recipe for “getting it right,” and shows that whether or not campaigners do this can make all the difference.


Visualizing the Correlates of Global Issue Creation

My big work-related task this month is to pull together my focus group findings into something approximating a theoretically relevant conference paper. I like to start with visualizations.

This chart is derived from a code scheme we developed to categorize human security practitioners’ responses in focus groups to the question: what factors facilitate or inhibit the emergence of new issues on global policy agenda? Answers fell into five broad buckets, and this is an overview of the contents of the various buckets and how they relate to one another and to the extent literature on advocacy networks. Of most interest to my project is the highly central yet largely under-theorized category “network effects.”

Reactions on either the chart, the theoretical argument embodied here, or the data very welcome.

Also, a bleg: do any readers know of user-friendly visualization software to make a graph like this interactive? I’d like viewers to be able to move their pointer over a code-name and see the code definition, and over a code bucket and see a frequency distribution of associated codes.


International Justice Scholars and Advocates: One Big Happy Principled Family?

David Bosco posted “The Case for Impunity” today on his Foreign Policy blog, The Multilateralist. The central issue in the post is whether the ICC’s intervention in Libya has prolonged the conflict, by taking away Gaddafi’s option to go into exile, and whether international justice can credibly deter war criminals. I nodded my way through the first few paragraphs, until I got to the end. Bosco makes a sweeping claim about “international justice advocates”:

“It’s a bit disconcerting that international justice advocates rarely acknowledge the possible downsides of international judicial intervention or grapple with the evidence that cuts against their predictions. In sectors of the human rights community, there’s a messianic faith in the value of international justice. And that’s fine if the argument is essentially based on principle: justice is right, impunity is wrong, consequences be damned. But the justice movement makes the argument both on principled grounds and on consequentialist grounds. They have an obligation to honestly confront some of the possible negative consequences.”

I don’t completely disagree, but these statements are goading.

First, who are we talking about here? Are advocates only NGOs and human rights activists, or are scholars also advocates? Whether you call it a “field,” “network,” or “epistemic community,” there’s some sort of community of NGOs, policy experts, scholars, etc. that has coalesced around this central issue of international or transitional justice. But we’re not all on the same page and the fissures are cross-cutting.

Of course, the likes of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) fall more in the principles camp. See HRW’s Selling Justice Short report, which counters arguments that justice has negative consequences for peace. Also, see the ICTJ’s recent short video on “Peace vs. Justice: A False Dilemma” (and my response to it here).

But we can’t ignore local level advocacy. Take civil society actors in Northern Uganda and Kenya. In Uganda, local religious organizations and human rights advocates have been highly skeptical of the ICC as it arguably has entrenched conflict by removing incentives for the LRA to negotiate. In contrast, Kenya’s strong civil society has been actively supporting the ICC and has pressured both the Court and national political elites for trials of the “Ocampo Six,” arguing that without such trials violence could resume around the next presidential election.

The United Nations, the central policy and negotiating forum for international justice, discursively promotes that peace and justice are mutually reinforcing, but in practice (and thanks to Security Council politics) takes an ad hoc and selective approach that belies any consistent commitment to principles or consequences.

In terms of scholarship, the principles vs. consequences dichotomy has mirrored the justice vs. peace dichotomy and overlaps with arguments about deterrence effects. For example, the scholarship of Jack Snyder and Leslie Vinjamuri (see here and here) is illustrative of the consequentialist side, and the work of Kathryn Sikkink and others who argue there is a “justice cascade”(see here, here, and here) is illustrative of the principles side. The few that make the case that international justice can deter, such as Payam Akahvan, do so arguing that if we commit to justice in principle it will have the desired consequences of preventing and ending conflict. But certainly these and other international justice scholars have shown empirical evidence that actors pursue, or not pursue, justice for both principled and consequentialist reasons.

Second, the potential negative consequences that advocates should confront need not be conflated with instability writ large. The when, where, and how of international justice can have a variety of perverse and unintended consequences. For example, international trials can displace or delegitimize local judicial processes and actors, reinforce collective guilt and innocence (if both sides are not held accountable), forestall reconciliation (if low-level perpetrators are not held accountable), and reinforce perceptions of judicial colonialism.

So we’re not one big happy principled family.

(cross-posted at Global Transitional Justice)


New Research on Global Agenda-Setting

A couple of years ago I wrote a post entitled the “Top Twelve Emerging Human Security Issues of the Next Decade.” Those of you who have followed my writing know I’m especially interested in candidate issues that for one reason or another get neglected relative to others that end up being more prominent in global policy networks.

As many of you know, this is part of a longer book project on the politics of issue selection in advocacy networks. Since blogging from me will be slow for the next few months as I make headway on the book version of what I’ve found on that score, I thought I’d at least leave you with the slick glossy report version of a piece of the project: our descriptive findings from focus groups with human security practitioners.

We’ve written that report so as to be fun and easy to read by non-academics, but as an academic let me just highlight an interesting finding we downplay in that report, on the composition of the human security network itself. Roland Paris some years ago critiqued human security in a classic essay, arguing that human security is nothing more than:

“the glue that holds together a jumbled coalition of ‘middle power’ states, development agencies and NGOs – all of which seek to shift attention and resources away from conventional security issues and toward goals that have traditionally fallen under the rubric of international development.”

Well, we operationalized the network empirically by studying survey citations to different organizations by individuals on human security mailing lists, and by studying hyperlinks between websites associated with the term “human security” and then coded nodes in the network according to thematic expertise and organizational type:

To me, these results suggest that Paris was both right and wrong. He was right about the human security network being a jumble of issue sub-networks. But he was wrong about development displacing security. What we are seeing is a fusion of and synergy across generally distinct global policy communities. In that sense human security creates cohesion among these disparate sectors precisely because it is a master frame, constituting a new landscape where issues at the intersections of these “silos” can be brought into relief. (Although it doesn’t always happen. More about that when the book is done…)


On Why There is No International Law Against Using Very Large Rocks in Battle

I have a new article in the journal International Organization entitled “Vetting the Advocacy Agenda.” It tries to explain why some issues get noticed by transnational campaigners and others don’t, using weapons advocacy as a focal point of study. Key argument: it matters which organizations take up the issue; the global agenda is as much a function of structural relations within advocacy networks as of relationships between advocacy groups and states. You’ll need an institutional subscription to access the article online, or you can read the proofs version here. Abstract below.

While a number of significant campaigns since the early 1990s have resulted in bans of particular weapons, at least as many equivalent systems have gone unscrutinized and uncondemned by transnational campaigners. How can this variation be explained? Focusing on the issue area of arms control advocacy, this article argues that an important influence on the advocacy agenda within transnational networks is the decision-making process not of norm entrepreneurs nor of states but of highly connected organizations within a given network. The argument is illustrated through a comparison between existing norms against landmines and blinding laser weapons, and the absence of serious current consideration of such norms against depleted uranium and autonomous weapons. Thus, the process of organizational issue selection within nongovernmental organizations and international organizations most central to particular advocacy networks, rather than the existence of transnational networks around an issue per se, should be a closer focus of attention for scholars interested in norm creation in world politics.

I’ll have some findings on that latter written up in book form in the next year or so, Gods willing.(This of course means the larger project is still in progress, so feedback on this short early version quite welcome.)


Good Norms, Bad Norms

I am reading a fascinating new addition to the literature on the influence of transnational advocacy networks in world politics: Mark Lawrence Schrad’s The Political Power of Bad Ideas. Essentially a history of the prohibition movement, his broader theoretical point is that transnational advocacy networks not only influence governments into doing what they should (like banning landmines and the recruitment of child soldiers) but also, sometimes, into making bad policies. His book is interesting because most case studies of advocacy networks focus on worthwhile campaigns that succeeded – abolitionism, women’s sufferage and the like – rather than either good ideas that failed or bad ideas that succeeded.

To Schrad, prohibition is a uniquely illustrative case. He details the nineteenth century’s temperance movement as an early example of transnational activism, and traces its influence on the epidemic of prohibition policies across the globe. I haven’t finished the whole book, which includes in-depth comparisons of U.S., Swedish and Russian policies on alcohol, but I’ve read enough to recommend it to those interested in global civil society.

Of course the book doesn’t preach about current issues, but it does invite certain questions about other, comparable bad ideas that have taken root globally in recent years.


Monitoring the NGO Sector

Kevin Jon Heller at Opinio Juris says NGO Monitor should practice what it preaches when it comes to transparency about donations from government funders. The dialogue in comments on this and older threads is illuminating and raises some interesting questions about the accountability of the NGO sector. Like Heller, I would like to see greater transparency from both Human Rights Watch and NGO Monitor.

I think it’s a shame that NGO Monitor is so policitized by its emphasis on Israel because the general argument it makes is quite cogent: who watches the watchers? The NGO sector of global civil society is supposed to be promoting accountability by states, but is largely ungoverned itself. Various academic studies have demonstrated that while NGOs may genuinely be altruistic, they’re also self-interested bureaucracies whose behavior is closely related to that of firms. William DeMars’ recent book is a useful example. I don’t think this is an indictment at all; it just means they we probably need to think about governance mechanisms for the NGO sector just as the NGO sector wants to strengthen global governance mechanisms for states.

For example. If and NGO claims not to take money from governments, should that include only direct donations, or indirect channels as well? (At issue here is Human Rights Watch’s receipt of donations from the Dutch government through OXFAM Novib, reported by NGO Monitor, for example.)

On the other hand, why shouldn’t NGOs take money from governments? Why shouldn’t governments fund human rights work? (I was recently at a conference where Bert Lockwood, editor of Human Rights Quarterly, pointed out that if the human rights movement had a day’s worth of the US defense budget it could do a lot more good than it already does.) The problem of course is the risk or perception that political strings would be attached, but this need not be the case, any more than National Science Foundation funding for research should be assumed to render scientific research “US biased.”

What ought to be attached are standards for reporting and accountability to the public. Just as with scientific research these standards are (in theory) based on norms governing the scientific enterprise, rather than the political concerns of the government, the standards applied to NGOs should be drawn from human rights law, not from donor priorities. NGOs (and NGO-watchers) should be expected to make the case that their work meets these criteria. And this should be demanded not only by governments who fund human rights work but also by private citizens – that human rights NGOs stay true to the work they claim to be doing.

[cross-posted at LGM]


Foreign Funders Should Donate More Wisely

James Ron has a guest post at Steve Walt’s blog about the problems of NGO dependence on Western funding. His argument is a logical extension of his earlier work with Alex Cooley on the negative externalities associated with the political economy of the NGO sector, and it also builds on newer scholarship critically assessing the relationship between domestic NGOs, targets of influence, third-party governments and private donors.

Ron offers an answer to the question in the title of his post: no, foreign funders should not stop donating to local human rights NGOs, but they should donate more wisely:

To build a locally sustainable and legitimate NGO sector, Western donors will have to provide smaller grants, and will have to condition their funds, whenever possible, on matching local monies. They will also have to spend money on boosting NGOs’ capacity to raise funds locally, connect with local stakeholders, and adjust their message accordingly.

If donors and NGOs don’t break their unhealthy co-dependence, civil society outside of the West will never be sustainable.

I think it’s an interesting argument. It’s too bad that because he happens to use the current backlash against human rights NGOs in Israel as an example, commenters at Foreign Policy are obscuring his wider point with a lot of partisan accusations about being an “Israel-basher.”

The post isn’t about Israel per se; it’s about human rights advocacy generally. And the point is that NGOs in any country are vulnerable to the claims that they are simply lackeys of outsiders if they secure their funding from foreign donors instead of building strong networks of support within their own societies. As Sally Engle Merry has written, human rights advocacy is often most powerful to the extent that local groups create strong ties within their cultural context, rather than being perceived to import money and ideas from “outsiders.” This is a general finding; why should it constitute “Israel-bashing” if Israeli NGOs turn out to be vulnerable in precisely the same ways as women’s organizations in Afghanistan or religious organizations in Mali?

[Cross-posted at the new Lawyers, Guns and Money. Come check us out!]


The Top 12 Emerging Human Security Issues of the Next Decade

The human security advocacy network – a conglomeration of NGOs, IOs, state ministries, think-tanks, and independent opinion-makers working in the areas of development, human rights, humanitarian affairs, conflict prevention, environmental security and arms control – has generated a lot of new attention to emergent threats to individual freedom from fear and want in the past ten years. As the tag cloud below shows, landmines, child-soldiering, genocide, trafficking and climate change are just some of the human security issues that have been most prominent within this network lately.*

But what about the human security problems that did not get sufficient attention on this advocacy agenda in the last decade, and consequently suffer from neglect by global policy networks? To which pressing problems might human security advocates turn their attention in the next ten years?

To find out, this past fall I conducted six focus groups with a 43 global civil servants drawn from organizations identified as being prominent in the human security network, as part of an NSF funded project on global agenda-setting. Among the questions asked was: which important global social problems in these thematic clusters had received too little attention by human security professionals to date?

Some of the most frequently mentioned and interesting answers – issues that these practitioners see as pressing, neglected, and candidates for stronger advocacy in the next decade – are below the fold.

1) Opthalmic Care in Developing Countries. Good eyesight seems to many like a luxury in countries riven by malaria, HIV-AIDS and river-blindness, but as a health and development priority it may be one of the most important ways to help improve the lives of individuals in the developing world: according to the NY Times, a WHO study last year estimated the cost in lost output at $269 billion annually.

2) Gangs. Human security organizations pay a great deal of attention to armed political violence, but they tend to stress violence carried out by states, either in wars per se or against their civilian populations. And emerging attention to non-state actors tends to focus on terror groups or militias. Local violence not aimed at capturing the state but rather at holding turf in contestation with other local armed groups – and the role of gangs and cartels as parallel governance structures in many places now competing with states – is being overlooked by analysts and advocates of human security. In Mexico, for example, drug cartels bring in 20% of Mexico’s GDP, control significant portions of Mexico’s territory, possess their own armies. Columbian cartels are experimenting with submarines. Threats to human security in zones where these actors have a foothold are more complex than “combatting crime” or “preventing human rights abuses by states.”

3) Indigenous Land Rights. Perhaps this issue will get a bump with the release of James Cameron’s Avatar. While indigenous people have their own UN treaty process and the right to participate in UN processes, indigenous issues are relatively marginalized within the human security network, occupying little agenda space among organizations working this these areas. Since it is now becoming clear that many of the policy initiatives to stem climate change will negatively impact indigenous populations, perhaps the indigenous voice in world politics will get a little louder in the next few years.

4) Space Security. In 1967 governments signed the Outer Space Treaty, effectively demilitarizing the Moon and other celestial bodies and prohibiting the placement of nuclear weapons in orbit. Yet the treaty does not prohibit the placement of non-nuclear weapons in orbit, and according to the Center for Defense Intelligence, today space is becoming highly militarized as governments race to build anti-satellite weapons and space-based strike capabilities. These developments are prompting a movement to promote a new treaty on space governance. So far this idea has have limited impact in global policy circles, but it may an idea whose time is arriving. A recent report from Project Ploughshares argues that even the civilian uses of outer space represent human and environmental security risks, such as that posed by mounting orbital debris. And with the discovery of a perfect location for a moon colony being touted as one of the New Year’s top stories, the relationship between outer space and human security is bound to become more prominent in the next few years.

5) Role of Diasporas in Conflict Prevention. Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer may have attracted ire for their treatise on the Israel Lobby, but human security practitioners spoke repeatedly of the wider issue of which their case is a putative example: the impact of outsiders, particularly diasporas, in intractable conflicts worldwide. Focus group participants spoke of the role played by financial transfers and propaganda from ethnic brethren safe abroad in inciting violence within countries that puts civilians at risk and contributed to a spiral of violence – an argument also put forth recently by scholars at United Nations University. They also bemoaned the lack of a strong international norm against outside governments fomenting rebellion within states when it suits their purposes. It’s easy to see why such an ethical standard would go against the interests of some powerful states, but it’s also clear that such a norm might serve a useful conflict mitigation function.

6) Workers’ Right to Organize. The right to unionize is enshrined in human rights law but besides the International Labor Organization, very few human rights advocacy groups pay much attention to the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain with the companies for which they work, or the responsibility of states to ensure this right is not violated. Organizations central to the human security network might follow the lead of smaller NGOs like the International Labor Rights Forum to address not only “humane working conditions” as defined by Northern advocates, but the right of workers’ to advocate on their own behalf about the concerns most pressing to them.

7) Waste Governance. It’s not sexy like climate change but it’s a significant environmental issue for billions of people worldwide. The safe disposal of human waste products is a prerequisite for human health and environmental well-being, yet in places like Africa, populations are rapidly urbanizing often in the absence of effective waste management architecture. As the International Development Research Center recognized ten years ago, this issue will need to become a priority for development organizations and donors in the next century.

8) Sexual Orientation Persecution. Gay, lesbian and transgender individuals worldwide face violence, stigma, and numerous forms of discrimination. Last month, the Ugandan government began considering legislation that would make homosexuality a capitol offense in that country; that they are now reconsidering this provision under pressure from donor governments points to the effectiveness of a strong international response to such human rights violations. Yet it has only been in very recent years that sexual orientation persecution has been recognized by mainstream human rights organizations as an issue meriting serious advocacy, and to date far too little attention has been paid to this very pervasive and widespread form of discrimination.

9) Water. Depending on who you ask, access to a sufficient clean water is a health issue, a development issue, a human right, and increasingly at the root of territorial conflicts globally. While the issue of water is already on the human security agenda, many focus group participants were adamant that much greater global attention and advocacy is required in the next decade to create genuine and inclusive governance over water as a planetary resource.

10) Familization of Governance. During the 2008 Democratic primary, some Democrats voted against Hilary Clinton for no other reason that this: they believed no political system was served by members of only two families – the Bushes and the Clintons – ruling a country for nearly two decades. Yet the US is hardly the worst country in the world when it comes to the monopolization of state power in the hands of a few wealthy families. In many countries, democracies and dictatorships alike, apportioning some high-level positions through kin networks rather than through merit is so common as to be a taken-for-granted aspect of political life that rarely raises an eyebrow. In some cases, such as North Korea and Syria, the entire state is inherited. Participants in my focus groups pointed to the pervasive and largely unchallenged rules of the game that allow this to occur globally and discussed the ways in which it prevents political reform in many places – not just in governments but in international institutions as well. An anti-corruption agenda for the 21st century should include some focused attention to this problem.

11) International Voting Rights. The international community likes to talk about democracy promotion, but this is normally couched in terms of creating accountable, transparent and inclusive institutions at the state level. Not much attention has been given to democratizing political processes at the global level. Some practitioners argue that more attention might be given to inclusiveness within global institutions, or international voting rights on key issues that affect not only states but also individuals. A recent book by OXFAM’s Didier Jacobs lays out this argument more forcefully and shows how it could be institutionalized.

12) Impunity for Death by Neglect. As of 2005, the International Criminal Court can try and punish individuals found guilty of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and forced displacement. But governments enjoy impunity for deaths worldwide that result from benign neglect of their citizens, rather than intentional atrocity. Half a million women die due to pregnancy or childbirth and 11 million children under five die from preventable diseases each year, not because any leader wished it but simply because resources are channeled to palaces instead of hospitals, to militaries instead of health clinics. As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, those on the front lines of the human security community argue for a more expansive notion of impunity, and new mechanisms to incentivize leaders to create a fairer, safer world for all.

Question to readers: what issues do you feel should receive greater attention by human security advocates in the coming decade?

*(For more on how this graph was generated see this post.)


Human Rights Watch: Between Two Worlds

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein lit a fire under human rights activists yesterday with his NYTimes op-ed yesterday, criticizing the organization for its focus on Israel rather than more autocratic regimes in the Middle East.

His argument is really about organizational mandate and issue selection: faced with the need to select among the many abuses competing for intention, how should a group like Human Rights Watch prioritize its activity? Bernstein argues it should focus on closed societies, not open ones:

At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform.

That is why we sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity in human rights. We wanted to prevent the Soviet Union and its followers from playing a moral equivalence game with the West and to encourage liberalization by drawing attention to dissidents like Andrei Sakharov, Natan Sharansky and those in the Soviet gulag — and the millions in China’s laogai, or labor camps.

Human Rights Watch issued a rebuttal yesterday:

Human Rights Watch does not believe that the human rights records of “closed” societies are the only ones deserving scrutiny… “Open” societies and democracies commit human rights abuses, too, and Human Rights Watch has an important role to play in documenting those abuses and pressing for their end.

To some extent this debate hinges on a tricky distinction between human rights law and humanitarian law. Human rights law governs what a state may do to its own people; since the movement has typically focused on civil and political rights, it makes sense to pay greater attention to non-democracies whose very governing structures violate the rules, than flinging barbs at violations on the margins of already free, democratic societies.

But humanitarian law governs what a state may do to the enemy in time of war, and it is humanitarian law that is relevant to the reporting on Israel that Bernstein is primarily addressing, as well as much reporting on the US. With respect to IHL, this distinction (if valid at all) breaks apart entirely, as the openness of domestic institutions has little bearing on the record of countries in war: militaries of democracies are no less likely to abuse noncombatants in time of war. In fact, Alexander Downes has found they may be more likely to do so.

In short, whatever the merits of Bernstein’s argument with respect to human rights (further picked apart by Michael Yglesias) it pretty much falls apart completely for IHL.

I think the tension Bernstein points to highlights HRW’s tenuous position at the interstices of two separate networks – human rights and humanitarian law. As Stacie Goddard points out in a recent study, betweenness of this type positions an actor to play a useful brokering role in international society, contributing to the development of new norms and ideas, and also increasing one’s influence within and between networks. However this latest PR snafu also highlights the disadvantages of being caught between two worlds with two different standards for human security agenda-setting.


Regime adaptation and anti-regime collective action

Mark Beissinger, in a fantastic article entitled “Structure and Example in Modular Political Phenomena: The Diffusion of Bulldozer/Rose/Orange/Tulip Revolutions” (abstract), develops an account of what he terms “modular revolutions”:

In the study of collective action, the notion of modularity has often been applied to the borrowing of mobilizational frames, repertoires, or modes of contention across cases. The revolutions that have materialized among the post-communist states since 2000 are examples of a modular phenomenon in this sense, with prior successful examples affecting the materialization of subsequent cases. Each successful democratic revolution has produced an experience that has been consciously borrowed by others, spread by NGOs, and emulated by local social movements, forming the contours of a model. With each iteration the model has altered somewhat as it confronts the reality of local circumstances. But its basic elements have revolved around six features:

1) the use of stolen elections as the occasion for massive mobilizations against pseudo-democratic regimes;
2) foreign support for the development of local democratic movements;
3) the organization of radical youth movements using unconventional protest tactics prior to the election in order to undermine the regime’s popularity and will to repress and to prepare for a final showdown;
4) a united opposition established in part through foreign prodding;
5) external diplomatic pressure and unusually large electoral monitoring; and
6) massive mobilization upon the announcement of fraudulent electoral results and the use of non-violent resistance tactics taken directly from the work of Gene Sharp, the guru of non-violent resistance in the West.

Beissinger also contends that not only do anti-regime movements learn–and derive inspiration–from past revolutions, but that regimes learn as well; in fact, they take proactive steps to disrupt the processes that lead to successful “color revolutions.”

Regimes have adapted by preventing adequate election monitoring, particularly by western organizations such as the OECD; in consequence, there’s no independent authority around to declare elections fraudulent. They’ve gone after independent media and otherwise attempted to limit the ability of regime opponents to coordinate with one another or get their message to the broader public. And so on and so forth. (We’ve even blogged about this kind of thing a bit in the context of Russia’s last national election).

Beissinger’s conclusion on this front is pessimistic for the success of future “color revolutions.” Regime adaptation, he argues, will outpace the strategies and tactics of democratic (or, at least, anti-regime) movements.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because we’re seeing a stunning example of such adaptation in Iran: access cut to social networking technology and websites (including, possibly, Tehran Bureau), cutting cell phone communications, as well as a media blackout that extends, apparently, to jamming BBC reports, shutting down foreign media bureaus, and throwing out foreign journalists. They’ve deployed a massive presence in Tehran (and presumably in other major cities); some of their security forces as roving the streets on motorcycles in an attempt to quickly, and brutally, crack down on unrest.

In at least one respect, the true facts about the Iranian election–which we are unlikely to ever know–are secondary to a basic fact: we’re seeing a vivid example not only of regime adaptation to a particular “revolutionary” process, but also strong evidence–at least so far–that modern communications technologies have failed to tip the balance when it comes to “networks” against “the state” to the degree that many, many scholars, pundits, and social theorists have claimed.

Which, oddly enough, is what my recent book concludes is a “lesson” of the Reformations Era for the present period.


Robot Soldiers v. Autonomous Weapons: Why It Matters

I have a post up right now at Complex Terrain Lab about developments in the area of autonomous weaponry as a response to asymmetric security environments. While fully autonomous weapons are some distance away, a number of researchers and bloggers argue that these trends in military technology have significant moral implications for implementing the laws of war.

In particular, such writers question whether machines can be designed to make ethical targeting decisions; how responsibility for mistakes is to be allocated and punished; and whether the ability to wage war without risking soldiers’ lives will remove incentives at peaceful conflict resolution.

On one side are those who oppose any weapons whose targeting systems don’t include a man (or woman) “in the loop” and indeed call for a global code of conduct regarding such weapons: it was even reported earlier this year that autonomous weapons could be the next target of transnational advocacy networks on the basis of their ethical implications.

On the other side of the debate are roboticists like those at Georgia’s Mobile Robot Lab who argue that machines can one day be superior to human soldiers at complying with the rules of war. After all, they will never panic, succomb to “scenario-fullfillment bias” or act out of hatred or revenge.

Earlier this year,Kenneth Anderson took this debate to a level of greater nuance by asking, at Opinio Juris, how one might program a “robot soldier” to mimic the ideal human soldier. He asks not whether it is likely that a robot could improve upon a human soldiers’ ethical performance in war but rather:

Is the ideal autonomous battlefield robot one that makes decisions as the ideal ethical soldier would? Is that the right model in the first place? What the robot question poses by implication, however, is what, if any, is the value of either robots or human soldiers set against the lives of civilians. This question arises from a simple point – a robot is a machine, and does not have the moral worth of a human being, including a human soldier or a civilian, at least not unless and until we finally move into Asimov-territory. Should a robot attach any value to itself, to its own self preservation, at the cost of civilian collateral damage? How much, and does that differ from the value that a human soldier has?

I won’t respond directly to Anderson’s point about military necessity, with which I agree, or with his broader questions about asymmetric warfare, which are covered at CTLab. Instead, I want to highlight some implications for potential norm development in this area of framing these weapons as analogous to soldiers. As I see it, a precautionary principle against autonomous weapons, if indeed one is warranted, depends quite a great deal on whether we accept the construction of autonomous weapons as “robot soldiers” or whether they remain conceptualized as merely a category of “weapon.”

This difference is crucial because the status of soldiers in international law is quite different from the status of weapons. Article 36 of Additional Protocol 1 requires states to “determine whether a new weapon or method of warfare is compatible with international law” – that is, with the principles of discrimination and proportionality. If a weapon cannot by its very nature discriminate between civilians and combatants, or if its effects cannot be controlled after it is deployed, it does not meet the criteria for new weapons under international law. Adopting this perspective would put the burden of proof on designers of such weapons and gives norm entrepreneurs like Noel Sharkey or Robert Sparrow a framework they can use to argue that such robots could not likely make the kind of difficult judgments necessary in asymmetric warfare to follow existing international law.

But if robots are ever imagined to be analogous to soldiers, then the requirements would be different. Soldiers must only endeavor to discriminate between civilians and combatants and use weapons capable of discriminating. They need not actually do so perfectly, and in fact it is common to argue nowadays that it is almost impossible to do so in many conflict environments. In such cases, the principles of military necessity and proportionality trade off against discrimination. And the fact that soldiers cannot necessarily be “controlled” once they’re deployed doesn’t mitigate against their use, as is the case with uncontrollable weapons like earlier generations of anti-personnel landmines. In such a framework, the argument that robots might sometimes make mistakes doesn’t mean their development itself would necessarily be unethical. All designers would then most likely need to demonstrate is that they are likelier to improve upon human ability.

In other words, framing matters.


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