The Study of International Relations

This is a summary of my notes from 12th October 2018 in Major Approaches to the Study of International Relations at Lancaster University.

International Relations – IR – is the name of both the practice and the academic discipline.  It started after The Great War an an attempt to use reasoned debate to develop common interests.  The original IR scholars were liberal internationalists.

Sometimes it is about relations between actors, sometimes the processes.  It is transdisciplinary.  It is eclectic.

The theories help, but can always be criticised in their coverage or assumptions.  The theories let you see better, but also distort part of reality.  All the theories have merits, all have weaknesses.  One needs to be able to criticise them all.  It is a contested discipline. The theories are commensurable: they allow one to see the same world differently and explain different aspects.

Questions posed by IR:

  • Are humans egoist (devoted to their own interests and advancement) or perfectible (capable of being made perfect, improvable)?
  • Is the international system anarchical or an international society?

There are no political opinions in IR.

 

Goodbye tinyurl.com and goodbye to your spam

One of the most useful resources for spammers is the link shortening tool at tinyurl.com .  Because they provide a free service, it is great for mass spamming of comments onto blogs like this.  It also has no way of reporting abuse and that is because there is nothing in their terms of use saying you can’t use it for spamming purposes.

They actually have posts on their blog saying how to avoid spam filters.

tinyurl.com has gone from being a handy idea to become a spamming tool.

I am so fed up with spam that uses tinyurl links that I am going to configure this site to automatically flag any comments referring to it as spam and block the poster.

In contrast, bitly provides the same link shortening service but they actually respond to complaints of spam.  I know, I report them and they react.

Bye bye, tinyurl spam.  Consider yourself spam-flagged, blocked and deleted.

Do cartoons cause bullying?

Looks Good On Paper is a slightly spicy cartoon strip on GoComics.  This one is typical:

A cartoon dog blowing up a cartoon cat

It prompted some discussion about cartoon violence ‘back in the day’ and whether it really caused any harm.  And whether the newer sanitised cartoons have made things better.

“The new cartoons haven’t taught kids not to be bullies”

It’s not the cartoons. Superheroes use violence to do what they want, the TV cops use violence to deliver justice, many movies based on righteous anger-driven violence, the news is full of governments using violence to achieve their aims.

We now know the police going in to schools to show kids knives and other weapons does not deter them, it makes them frightened that everyone else is tooled up and results in them being more likely to carry knives.

We know gun sales go up after every mass-shooting is publicised and guns are glamourised in the media.

Despite almost all of us living peaceful lives from day to day – that is most people’s reality – the media is packed with images and stories about violence, often suggesting it is how people are getting what they want, need or deserve.

I don’t think Jerry making Tom trip on a rake or Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff have much influence on a young mind compared to that lot.

Sowing the seeds of a century of hatred and conflict

From a comment on GoComics:

“between them, hamas and the israeli forces have sowed the seeds of another century of hatred and conflict…”

Not sowed the seeds. It is already a well-established and ancient forest of hatred and conflict. It has been fed and watered frequently with bitterness and blood since before records began.

They like it this way. It is embedded into people’s culture and lore, into their tradition and values.

It can be changed, but not until: they want it to change; the rest of the world stops interfering to make it worse; the privatised arms industry is dismantled or otherwise not allowed to profit from provoking war; the women say “enough!” (which is hard when the cultures suppress women’s voices); they recognise that people with different value and beliefs are equal; they accept compromise and forgiveness over vengeance; they accept mistakes and harm are caused on all sides; they convince one another that getting along without bloodshed is what they want; they recognise that everybody has to live somewhere; they accept we are not entitled to anything when we are born other than what we are given by other people and that means someone else has to go without so we must share.

In the above ‘they’ means ‘everyone’ and anyone who says otherwise is part of the problem and not ready for change.

It can be done, and has been done many times around the world. But this one is particularly tricky.

“i’ll stick with what i said, thanks. yes, the conflict has gone on for a long time and both sides have scuppered solutions that have been suggested along the way. but what i said above was that the two sides have given the conflict renewed life with their latest actions…”

Yes, you are right. I did not mean to imply I disagreed.

between them, hamas and the israeli forces have sowed the seeds of another century of hatred and conflict” and “the two sides have given the conflict renewed life with their latest actions

Absolutely.

The ‘leaders’ on both sides with their desires for violence, and those external to the area who provoke and promote it, are terrible people. They are also spineless cowards since they do not take any risks themselves.

There was something more honourable in the days of feudalism and before, when the kings and princes and dukes and chieftains stood amongst their lines. They knew if they were defeated, they would at best be ransomed but as likely killed. And those doing the fighting did it eyeball to eyeball and saw the pain and screaming and blood for themselves. And then came home too ashamed to talk of what they had done.

Politicians now send others to do their dirty work. Safe and rich and powerful and the more people die, the greater they believe their military fantasy. And the more support they get. It is obscene: more sickening than a mass murderer who at least stabs people themselves. Even the sickos who shoot schoolkids in America have the decency to look at their targets and risk being shot themselves. Even they are less contemptible than cowards in tunnels who send suicide bombers to kill women in shopping queues. Or rich men in palaces who send bombers against hospitals and tanks against children.

And the contempt I feel for these ‘people’ will be as nothing compared to the hate and angst and despair felt by orphans, widowers and other relatives of their victims. And we know there can never be justice against the leaders, they always get away with it.

And people – through a lack of empathy and imagination, people with full bellies and nice homes – wonder why other people – starved, widowed, robbed of everything and with no access to justice – resort to terrorism.

Not until the citizens themselves – the women, the widowers, the conscripts, the reserves – refuse to allow it to continue will it stop.

The 1960s line was “Suppose they gave a war and no one came”.

Hopefully, this will be Israel’s Vietnam with the IDF troops going home afterwards traumatised at what they have done, and the atrocities being revealed and realising they were not war heroes after all but victims themselves. Forming an Israeli branch of Veterans For Peace, campaigning for conscientious objection and becoming a generation of pro-peace activists as so many ex-soldiers do after an unfair war.

Hopefully, it will be the Gazan Northern Ireland, where the women find a voice to tell their sons and husbands that this has to stop, that they do not want or need vengeance and just want to live peaceful lives. That there is more honour in working together with one’s enemy for a common good than losing more sons and husbands for a principle. Ultimately forcing the opposing sides to grow up and find a way to tolerate one another.

Hopefully, it will be the Israeli citizens’ Ukraine, realising the world knows their government has done a wrong thing and they have been lied to. That they are considered responsible for what their leaders did by the rest of the world, and not want it to happen that way again.

Hopefully, it will be the businesses’ South Africa, where those who want to make money realise that peace and reconciliation, trading with each other and the world, is better financially for all concerned. On realising the sanctions being imposed by citizens and organisations boycotting Israeli goods and goods from the occupied territories hurts their profits. So they demand a change in government policy, one that supports free trade through peaceful co-existence.

When will Middle East conflict end?

From a social media post:

“Hamas and the Israeli forces have sowed the seeds of another century of hatred and conflict…”

Not sowed the seeds. It is already a well-established and ancient forest of hatred and conflict. It has been fed and watered frequently with bitterness and blood since before records began.

They like it this way. It is embedded into people’s culture and lore, into their tradition and values.

It can be changed, but not until:

  • they want it to change;
  • the rest of the world stops interfering to make it worse;
  • the privatised arms industry is dismantled or otherwise not allowed to profit from provoking war; the women say “enough!” (which is hard when the cultures suppress women’s voices);
  • they recognise that people with different value and beliefs are equal;
  • they accept compromise and forgiveness over vengeance;
  • they accept mistakes and harm are caused on all sides;
  • they convince one another that getting along without bloodshed is what they want;
  • they recognise that everybody has to live somewhere;
  • they accept we are not entitled to anything when we are born other than what we are given by other people and that means someone else has to go without so we must share.
  • In the above ‘they’ means ‘everyone’ and anyone who says otherwise is part of the problem and not ready for change.

It can be done, and has been done many times around the world. But this one is particularly tricky.

It is International Women’s Day today.  I wonder how many will be killed in conflict today.  Probably about 10 to 20 in Gaza, some more in Yemen, some more elsewhere.  Does anyone keep count?  Perhaps someone should.  How’s that for a global metric?

This Land is Mine

This simple 3½ minute video This Land is Mine is a superb explanation and demonstration of who started the fighting in Israel, who is right and who is wrong.

This video should be put out instead of the news one day.

If I was working with children, I’d use it as the key part of a discussion.

 

ICC, ICJ and World Court confusion

I have seen comments saying Vladimir Putin should be taken to the World Court.  Individuals are not taken there, it is not that sort of court.  Instead it should be to the International Criminal Court (ICC). ‘World Court’ is the common name for the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The International Court of Justice is a United Nations organisation. It exists to settle questions of international law and give legal opinion on disputes between nations. It has said what Russia is doing in Ukraine is wrong. It is a panel of judges who give an opinion: any action has to be taken by nation states.

The International Criminal Court  is a very different body. Although it is an intergovernmental organisation, it is not part of the United Nations. It exists to prosecute individuals for matters such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It can issue arrest warrants, try people and has a detention centre.

It issued an arrest warrant for Putin on 17th March 2023 for the situation in Ukraine.

Confusingly, both are based in The Hague, Netherlands.

Press release about Putin’s arrest warrant.

 

Artificial Intelligence – the threat

There’s a 9 to 5 cartoon with someone holding a banner:

Down with “Artificial Intelligence”.
Bring back “Natural Stupidity”.

Someone commented:

That’s the exact reason that artificial intelligence is so popular.

Sadly, though, it is only a tool.

Thinks: “I have the solution to society’s problems! It’s This Stupid Thing. We must do This Stupid Thing!

Then go to your AI such as ChatGPT and ask it for all the good in This Stupid Thing, all the reasons This Stupid Thing might help society, how to convince people to support This Stupid Thing and how to counter arguments against This Stupid Thing.

By carefully phrasing your questions (‘prompting’), you can get whatever answer you want.

You are then ready to propose, promote and implement This Stupid Thing.

You even get your AI to write press releases and social media posts promoting This Stupid Thing. It will create memes and fake photos of people protesting in support of This Stupid Thing. It will give you the sound bites and catchphrases for the trolls to repeat.

Whereas wicked and stupid people currently have to find corruptible or evil or spineless people to help them implement stupid ideas, AI has no conscience at all. And it won’t tell the papers what happened or publish a book revealing your secrets.

And you can be absolutely sure that political parties, corporations and hostile states are already very experienced in doing the above.

Believe me, AI will magnify “natural stupidity” to new heights.

Yep. Yep, yep, yep, yep, yeppity yep.

There are almost no controls in place yet; we don’t even understand what the real threats will be.

It’s like the first days of the motor carriage. “Think of the harm it might cause, and all the disruption to existing businesses and people” “Sod all that, think of the profits!”

Car manufacturers still resist proper seat belt designs. Tobacco companies still promote cancer sticks. Governments and corporations really could have fixed spam email thirty years ago. Governments and banks could have done much more to prevent online fraud which funds serious crime and terrorism.

But while it is only the little people suffering and there’s profit to be made, meh, who cares?

With the existing setup, we suspect we are being lied to but struggle to find the truth (and those who leak the truth get locked up). When AI gets being used in anger, we won’t have a clue what is true any more.

Russian disinformation about Ukrainian Nazism

Someone was alluding to Russia’s claim that the invasion of Ukraine was to tackle Ukrainian Nazism.

If we had called out Zelensky, American support for Ukraine would not have been there and America would be involved in one less “New War[s]”.

In direct reaction to that comment, I spent three hours reading up on Zelensky, accusations of Nazism in Ukraine, accusations against military units and political parties in Ukraine and comparing what has been said from different sources. I read up on the American position, the Israeli view, the view of Ukrainian Jewish groups and the Jewish international media.

I have no axe to grind here, it was genuine impartial curiosity.

Apart from Russian disinformation, there is nothing of any significance in what this person was alluding to. Various media, government, NGO and social groups have looked at what had been going on in Ukraine regarding Nazism, far right politics, treatment of Jews,involvement of Jews in Ukrainian government and military and the like and concluded there was nothing going on that is unusual for 21st century Europe.

The American government did indeed discuss and analyse the accusations about Zelensky and Ukraine and concluded the accusations did not stand up and decided continued support was the right thing to do. This decision was later supported by Jewish academics, media and Ukrainian Jewish groups.

So, what this person was wishing for, did indeed happen, and it concluded continued American support for Ukraine was appropriate.

In short, the reason for the Russian invasion of Ukraine was false.

The reflective part of this is that I am so pleased I did my undergrad and Master’s degrees.  Between the lecturers, librarians and other support and training I had, my already-existing research skills were strengthened by the ability to find counterarguments, be open-minded, evaluate sources, understand political and media biases and find an answer for myself in which I can be confident.  Although my conclusion above is lightweight and unreferenced, in three hours I covered a heck of a lot of different sources very efficiently.  I’m please I can do that.

 

10,000 dead children in Gaza? Really?

From someone in a social media discussion:

85,000 children dead in Yemen due to their civil war. More than 10,000 dead in Gaza since October.

Which got the reply:

The 10,000 number for Gaza is an exaggeration. Hamas is a terrorist organization that pulls numbers out of a hat. The only way the 10,000 could be accurate is if they are counting their teenage soldiers as children.

My response:

1) HOW MANY DEAD CHILDREN?

It is so unusual to have precise numbers in a conflict it made me doubt the figures too. So I did some light research. Checking with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the medical, reporting and conflict resolution sectors, plus the UN and independent aid agencies gives some insight.

These figures are validated, verified and the records independently checked. Trusted news organisations have looked into how they come about and are content.

The US government challenged the numbers because israel’s were one tenth of the Palestinians’ numbers. Israel was wrong and released much bigger numbers nearly the same as the Palestinians were giving out.

The numbers you see online of total deaths and child deaths and confirmed and trustworthy.

The IDF claims they are killing just two civilians for each combatant. They give no more details at all than that. The US says the IDF has killed between 5000 and 9000 Hamas combatants, meaning a ratio of between 1:2 and 1:4. Let’s assume the IDF figure is accurate, and not as flawed as their previous numbers.

Let us also pretend that ratio applies to the use of child soldiers, regardless of how young so including babies.

That means there are at least 6,600 confirmed civilian child deaths.  Is that an acceptable number?

By the way, teenage soldiers are still children. Child soldiers are victims too.

2) ACCURACY OF THE NUMBERS

The principal source is the Gaza’s Ministry of Health (MoH). On the face of it, probably the least reliable of sources since it is run by Hamas. However…

In December, when the MoH reported 15,899 dead, the Times of Israel reported the IDF confirmed 5,000 combatants + 10,000 civilian = 15,000 deaths. So the IDF is giving similar numbers. This is far higher than the Israeli government had been claiming in November; it is the Israeli government that has had to revise its reporting, upwards by a factor of ten! It later said this was because they were providing numbers of confirmed terrorists, not Palestinians. This discrepancy was used by Joe Biden to erroneously say the MoH figures were wrong.

MoH uses a centralised computer system with each hospital providing details of each casualty and corpse. They release figures every few hours. When the US queried the details in October, the MoH provided the raw data including names, ID numbers and so on. At that time it was 6,747 named dead and 281 unidentified.

The data is shared with the totally separate health ministry in the West Bank. It confirms the numbers itself and says it trusts the figures provided. The ID numbers for Gaza, West Bank and Israel are held by the Israeli Population Registry Office and so can be validated.

The MoH has a long track record of being reliable, according to the World Health Organization and the UN. In conflicts in 2008, 2014 and 2021, the MoH’s figures at the time matched the UN’s own subsequent investigation figures to within 4%. Israel’s own figures for the 2014 war were 2125 killed, UN said 2251 and MoH said 2310 – so within 9% of Israel’s estimate. When Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem tallied up deaths in 2014, it made it 2185 (9% fewer) but said such differences were “fairly normal” and down to different ways of counting.

3) WHO TRUSTS THE NUMBERS?

Médecins Sans Frontières confirm the numbers (plus detail attacks and airstrikes on medical facilities and staff).

Airwars – a charity that investigates civilian deaths in conflicts – has done a specific analysis of scores of these records to check them and confirmed them. They have now checked and independently confirmed the details of over 900 of the bodies.

The charity Every Casualty Counts studies death tolls in wars and they say all they found was one person recorded twice in the data.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analysed the data statistically, such as correlating ID numbers and age, and could find no evidence of falsification.

Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director: “These figures are professionally done and have proven to be reliable”.

The Guardian newspaper, generally considered a very reliable source for such information, are content the numbers are realistic. The BBC has also investigated and reported on the numbers with the same conclusion. Ditto for Reuters.

Note that these numbers are only the known deaths. They do not include people missing or bodies still buried under rubble and not reported. The Palestinian Red Crescent and US government’s assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs say the numbers must be higher than those published.

It is also only confirmed dead. Tens of thousands have had hospital treatment, many with life-changing wounds. That will include children, and have created orphans.