Interdisciplinarity Solves Complex Problems and Saves Lives

Author:  Adan E. Suazo, National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago

If the Ebola outbreak in West Africa taught the world anything, it is the need to interlink public health, environmentalism and human security matters to ensure sound crisis response mechanisms.

That was the clear conclusion of three days of talks held by experts in the fields of environmental science, conflict analysis and public health who gathered in Montreal, Canada earlier this year to discuss the research avenues that would lead to a better understanding of the real challenges of the 21st century.

As one of the members of the organising committee, along with Loyola Sustainability Research Centre (Concordia University) Director Peter Stoett, one of our reasons for creating such a venue was the realisation that the countries most affected by the Ebola crisis were also states recovering from the legacy of civil war (as in Sierra Leone and Liberia).

Research suggests that such fragility tends to reduce economic opportunities for local communities, which generally leads to the creation of alternative economic activities that put substantial pressures upon natural resources. This is coupled with the environmental degradation caused by the machinery of armed conflict itself, which puts additional burdens on natural resources to sustain the war effort. Along with environmental degradation, war often leads to the breaking of public health institutions, which weakens the State’s ability to respond to the immediate aftermath of conflict, and often results in civilian populations becoming increasingly vulnerable to the spread of diseases.

Under such conditions, how can the State secure sufficient capabilities for the effective provision of public health services?

This is a key question at the on-going 71st United Nations General Assembly, where the above-mentioned issues are bound to be front of mind for leaders and delegates.

What the conclusion of our discussions in Montreal shows however, is that the complexity of our world, and the intricacy of our global processes demand that the environment, conflict and issues of public health be approached as inseparable concerns.

As I, and colleagues at the Montreal gathering, expressed in The Lancet Global Health journal recently, there are no easy assurances about social, environmental and health security within the context of the increasingly acute effects of climatic change and natural disasters.

We wrote that the conceptual disaggregation of these fields “must be met by broader collective action and political will, at local, national and international scales”. Such an integrative approach is already bearing important fruits in the research community, with significant investments allocated for the creation of institutes such as Future Earth, the New Zealand Institute for Pacific Research and our own National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS) at the University of Otago, where interdisciplinary research on matters of conflict, environmental decay and health are currently paving the way for results-based decision-making, both in New Zealand and abroad.

One important finding in my research at NCPACS suggests that local violence over access to freshwater supplies is becoming more frequent amidst a progressively interconnected and interdependent world.

While advocates of the free market continue to lobby for the opening of financial (and arguably political) borders, it is crucial to understand the effects of these trends on our economic, social, political and environmental systems, and the only channel that will allow such thorough insights is one that is completely holistic and that seeks to approach issues as complex, multidimensional phenomena. In face of complex problems, we must endeavour to find dynamism in our solutions.

  • Adan E. Suazo is a doctoral researcher at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (University of Otago), and Associate Member of the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre (Concordia University). 
  • This article was published as an op-ed of Otago Daily Times on 28 September 2016.

Dunedin Sleep-out 2016

by Caitlyn Hart.  NCPCS Masters Candidate 2016

In winter 2016, I took part in the Dunedin Sleep-out in an attempt to raise awareness for the homeless in our city. It just so happened to be one of the two coldest weekends of the winter so far, and the forecast was for snow and below freezing temperatures throughout the evening. I spent the entire day asking anyone who would listen whether it was too late to pull out, or whether I would be a terrible person if I didn’t show up. The general consensus was that I should ‘flag’ it; it was too cold and I would surely make myself sick.

Fortunately, I was able to pull myself together; if people had no choice but to do this every night, surely I could handle one evening in the cold. We arrived to some generic house music, while cameramen were getting set up for our live cross. It’s fair to say I avoided live television that evening (I was wearing four pairs of pants and three hoodies). As the night progressed we saw multiple creative acts; from acoustic guitar and to solo artists, to comedians and dance crews, and were happy to boogie away in the background as the soup was being heated.

I spent a few hours of my evening helping out at the stall selling merchandise and answering questions as people walked past. The most common comment I heard over the course of the evening was “but we don’t have any homeless in Dunedin” … This is the moment when the problem became clear to me. We need more awareness of the homelessness problem, not only in Dunedin, but the whole of New Zealand.
It was gratitude I felt as I arrived home and jumped back in to my warm, electric blanket heated bed for a few hours of shut eye before work. What hit me the most, as I reflected on the night that had been, was not how much I had learned about the experience of homelessness, but that I had enjoyed my evening… While I’m glad I took part in the experience, I want to stress that homelessness is not fun. In reality, the homeless do not have constant entertainment, an endless supply of hot soup, coffee and tea, warm Kathmandu sleeping bags, enough food and goodies and a friend by their side to make the night enjoyable. In reality, most of the time they are cold, lonely and hungry.

It is estimated that there are around 42,000 people moving between temporary and insecure accommodation such as garages, garden sheds, cars and caravan parks. Please take any chance you have to raise some awareness, even if it is simply educating the person that tells you there are no homeless people in Dunedin, or New Zealand doesn’t have much of a problem.

Grounded: Fortune Theatre, Dunedin.

13 August – 3 September 2016

Review by Rosemary McBryde

Provocative, disturbing, challenging.  Grounded by George Brant (staged at the Fortune Theatre, Dunedin), is a play that should inspire the audience to vigorous debate about the morality of war, particularly war that can be fought remotely using the technology of UCAVs  (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) or drones.

Grounded, a high-tech, one-woman show brilliantly performed by Claire Chitham, is the story of an unnamed female fighter pilot who takes a temporary break from the US Air Force to have a baby. Returning to work after three years absence, she is posted to the Nevada Desert to fly drone missions and carry out ‘personality strikes’ over Afghanistan and Iraq.  Furious at the reality of swapping the thrill and freedom of her beloved ‘blue’ for the frustration and disconnection of life in the ‘chair force’, she sits in an air-conditioned trailer staring at the ‘grey’ on her screen for 12 hours at a stretch.

In Grounded, the audience journeys with the fighter pilot as she resists, accepts, embraces and finally is forever changed by her experience of killing at no personal risk to herself, from a time zone 12 hours behind her target yet only 1.2 seconds away from wreaking destruction more reminiscent of a computer game than ‘boots on the ground’ warfare.

I am reminded of the 2015 visit to NCPACS of Laurie Calhoun, author of We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age.   Laurie’s writing argued that the short-term tactical benefits of lethal drones are outweighed by the dangers they pose to individual liberty and democracy.   After seeing this play, I would also posit that the dangers posed by drones are not just to those unfortunate enough to be in front of the cross hairs.

Banning Deforestation and its Implications for Peace

Author:  Adan E. Suazo, National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago

Adan E. Suazo is a doctoral researcher at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (University of Otago), and Associate Member of the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre (Concordia University). 

Adan’s work focuses on the integration of environmental considerations in the study and implementation of peace processes. 

 

Norway’s Standing Committee on Energy and Environment recently put forth a recommendation to the Norwegian Parliament in favour of a ban on products that may have contributed to deforestation in their countries of origin.  The recommendation comes at a time when the Norwegian government is already investing substantially on conservation efforts in a number of key jurisdictions.  While this recommendation signifies an important step forward in relation to the healthsome management of forests, and overall biodiversity conservation efforts, it also has significant repercussions for the establishment of sustainable systems of peace.

Forests are important units of analysis to consider in the context of peace and conflict research, for within their systemic confines one may find the sustainment potential for war and peace alike.  Forests provide food, water, shelter and important ecosystem services to communities worldwide, which amount to an estimated 1.6 billion people.  They are also home to crucial flora and fauna, which together contribute to the continuation of natural nitrogen and hydrological cycles, themselves essential for the sustainment of human life.  Through the responsible management of forests, peaceful coexistence can be attained for the populations inhabiting their vicinities.

Unfortunately, however, the qualitative and quantitative integrity of forests may become compromised for the sake of prolonging the duration of war efforts, and/or deepening their effects.  This misguided use of forest resources has been most evident in intra-state armed struggles.  While conflict diamonds have traditionally taken analytical predominance due to their revenue-generating ability, the illegal trafficking of timber has also contributed dramatically with supporting rebel military activities in civil wars such as Liberia’s.  It has been similarly documented that Cambodia’s forest cover decreased from 75% during the early 70s to 35% in the mid-90s due to illegal logging activities put forth by the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and the Khmer Rouge.

The wholeness of forest systems are similarly affected by the deroulement of military campaigns, where forests that exist within the jurisdictional authority of an adversary may become direct military targets or bystander victims of the movement of infantry and use of weaponry.  For example, Ecuador and Peru inflicted substantial damage to rainforest systems during their armed struggle over the disputed Condor mountain range in the mid 90s.  Likewise, the United States’ use of roman ploughs in South Vietnam resulted in the destruction of an estimated 325,000 hectares of forests.  Whether the degradation of forest resources is caused by the direct or indirect effects of war, the long-term implications of their devastation are vast, and carry forth negative consequences for human systems and processes.

Norway’s ban on deforestation arguably presents itself as a policy bridge that effectively provides practical significance to already-existing normative principles of environmental conservation, including initiatives such as REDD+.  Its importance however transcends the realms of conservation, and effectively amalgamates key environmental and human dimensions of existence that in turn, bear important implications for peace.

Overall, the ban helps in three ways: it defeats the antiquated view that strong economic performance and environmental health are unrelated processes whose effectiveness and stability come at the expense of the other.  This is a side effect of what the academic community is currently coining “eco-apartheid”, whose effects include a conceptual segregation between human-made institutions and the natural environment.  Secondly, and as specified above, it supports and solidifies the implementation of international normative principles of environmental conservation.  Finally, it helps in preserving our institutional ability to maintain a favourable renewable resource supply and demand balance.  This is especially crucial at a point in our collective existence when dwindling volumes of renewable resources are becoming less capable of meeting the increasing demand structures imposed by forces such as population growth, urbanization and globalization, a resource imbalance that could exacerbate pre-existing economic, social and political conditions, which may in turn lead to increased instances of violence.

Simply put: by preventing the indiscriminate destruction of forests, one is also preventing the generation of human-induced renewable resource scarcity, and contributing to the regeneration of our institutional ability to alter the natural resource supply and demand balance in favour of peaceful coexistence.

Movie Review: The 5th Eye.

written by Kyle Matthews, Masters Candidate of Peace and Conflict Studies

As a participant at protests at and against the Waihopai spy base, just outside of Blenheim, in the mid-1990s, and intending researcher of the nature and history of that protest movement, the release of this movie just fell in my lap with perfect timing and the right hint of outrage.

The spy base has two satellite dishes (hidden behind white covering, hence looking like large golfballs) that intercept communications travelling via satellite. They’ve also been

Waihopai base satellites

accused of monitoring the internet cable that crosses the Pacific. The organisation that runs them, the Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB) is a highly secretive organisation, linked with theire quivalents in Australian, Canadian, British and American equivalents in an ex-Cold War spying network called Echelon, that harvests much of our communications looking for terrorists and undesirables. It’s also been used for New Zealand’s economic benefit, spying on trade negotiators.

The GCSB does not appear in the film, but the movie is about their actions, the legislation that governs them, the government that oversees them, and the activists that protest against them. Further information about the spy base and Echelon is available in Nicky Hager’s Secret Power, and the web site of the Anti-Bases campaign Converge.org.nz.

The filmmakers began following the story in 2008, coincidentally filming the annual January protest at the base three months before three Catholic ploughshares activists broke through the fences and security to puncture the covering over one of the dishes. This means that the movie skims over the previous twenty years of the history of the base and the protests against it very quickly. The film frequently returns to the “Waihopai Three” as they tell their almost comical tale of cellphone incompetence, trucks crashing in ditches, and cutting wires in hope, but with a passion driven by a strongly held belief that the base supports the global “war on terror” and is complicit in the murder of innocents in Iraq and other places in the world.

As a history of the last eight years however, it is comprehensive and convincing. Interspersed with the personal tale of the three activists and their successful legal cases, are the blundering around the arrest of Kim Dotcom for copyright breaches, the illegal spying by the GCSB on him and dozens of other New Zealanders and residents, and the progress of the amendment bill to legalise these actions. Numerous experts were represented, notably Secret Power author Nicky Hager, defence and intelligence expert Paul Buchanan, Otago Politics Department’s Robert Patman, and the Peace and Conflict Centre’s own Richard Jackson.

The movie is activist, and certain moments must be taken with that in mind. The appearance of Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden at Kim Dotcom’s “Moment of Truth” event in Auckland in 2014 is not assessed critically. The timespan I felt also did not do justice to the work of the Christchurch-based Anti-Bases Campaign, who have been putting themselves on the line every year for decades now to raise the issues that the ploughshares protesters and Edward Snowden finally brought to the front page consistently. However you can only show on film what you have.

Parliament scenes were noticeably lower in quality – presumably they have been ripped from the internet rather than accessed in full quality – the crowd sourced budget has driven these minor imperfections. At the time that Wright and King-Jones began filming this story, Edward Snowden was an unknown.

However his revelations about the Echelon spy network and the power of their harvesting of phone, internet and other communications have brought this story to amongst the most crucial for the twenty-first century. Privacy, its breaches, the war on terror, big data, whistleblowers, and what has been termed the ‘post-truth’ nature of politics in the modern world are issues that keep bubbling to the surface. In a world where the fractious relationship between Capitalism and Communism has subsided, the relationship between citizens and their government is the new area of debate, and the movie engages with this challenge fully, telling a captivating story for the informed and those seeking to know more.

The 5th Eye is being screened at the New Zealand International Film Festival, but they hope for a general release, and are confident of a screening on Maori Television in time. Highly recommended.

The 2016 American Presidential Election and its Foreign Policy Implications

12-1pm

Wednesday 17 August

Burns 2

 All Welcome

BIO:

Derek Shearer Stuart Chevalier Professor

Derek Shearer
Stuart Chevalier Professor

 

Ambassador Shearer is the Stuart Chevalier Professor, Diplomacy and World Affairs at Occidental College, and heads the McKinnon Center for Global Affairs. He served in the Clinton Administration in the Commerce Department, and then served as Ambassador to Finland (1994-97). After diplomatic service, Amb. Shearer was a fellow at the Economic Strategy Institute and then at the Woodrow Wilson Scholars Center in Washington, DC. He served as a foreign policy advisor to Vice President Gore during the 2000 Presidential campaign and to Senator Hillary Clinton in the 2007-2008 Presidential primary contests. Amb. Shearer is a well-regarded political commentator, having provided contributions to a number of publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune.

Award-winning production

Grounded1

Through a unique collaboration with Otago Polytechnic design students, Grounded offers audiences an immersive, digital theatre experience about a fighter pilot’s struggle with motherhood, marriage and being “grounded”. The central character is played by Claire Chitham, a renowned and loved New Zealand actor.

When an unexpected pregnancy grounds an F16 fighter pilot, she is repurposed to flying remote-controlled drones in the Middle East from an air-conditioned trailer in the desert outside Las Vegas.

Instead of soaring through the blue, she is now sitting in the grey – working twelve-hour shifts hunting terrorists on screen by day and being a wife and mother by night. As the pressure to find a high-profile target builds, the boundaries between the desert where she lives and the one she patrols half-a-world away begin to blur.

Winner of a coverted Fringe First award (2013), this is a haunting, extraordinary and topical play about war, family and empathy.

Fortune Theatre Company

Environmental Uncertainty and Dynamic Peace: The intersection of the PhD projects of Suazo and Tobia

By Adan Suazo and Nick Tobia

Nick Tobia: So, Adan. You’ve been here a few weeks now. How is the research coming along and exactly what are you doing?

Adan Suazo: My project focuses on the relationship between environmental variables with demand structures in peace processes. In current paradigms on peace negotiations, I argue, anthropocentric variables occupy the entirety of the imaginable demands and concessions available to conflict parties. By anthropocentric, I refer to those variables that are fully within the purview of human conception, control and intervention. Such variables are expressed in familiar phraseology: how much territory to surrender, secede, or autonomize; when, how and how many armed fighters to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate, and; what kinds and how much power to share? In all of these, the common thread is the supremacy and primacy of human institutions.

NT: I see where you are going with that. How then do you perceive environmental variables? Are these beyond anthropocentrism of current negotiation paradigms?

AS: In terms of the quantitative nature of their biophysical availability, I would say that there has been a proven decrease in the amount of renewable resources that currently falls outside of human manoeuvrability.  A good example to give is freshwater, which in many cases around the globe has fallen beneath generally-acceptable levels.  My concern is that climate-driven scarcity will produce an environment of uncertainty within which peace research and practice must balance structures of supply and demand.

NT: I take this to mean that environmental variables, which potentially inform the demand structures in negotiations, are uncertain. Does this mean now that demand structures in a certain negotiation are susceptible to this uncertainty?

AS: My immediate answer is yes, based on the overall trends that are altering demand structures around the world, namely population growth, urbanization and globalization.  Peace processes operate within these spheres, and it is important to understand how societal demand structures may seep into the exercise of balancing supply and demand paradigms within a peace effort.  An additional concern to take into account is related to the temporal nature of a post-conflict redistribution process: Will redistribution schemes hold on a long-term basis given the above-mentioned reduction in renewable resources?

NT: Ah! Since peace processes are, in a sense, a process of redistribution, then attention to the temporal dimension opens current peace negotiations to future and distant redistributions in yet uncertain and unknowable conditions.

AS: I think the literature on environmental security tends to neglect the likelihood of post-conflict revisionism as a real plausibility.  As it stands, the literature’s focus lies on the immediate mechanics of peace, whereby it seeks to understand a peace effort as a fixed phenomenon that will cement the longevity of peaceful coexistence.  To assume that conflict parties will be content with such a redistribution scheme on a long-term basis is inaccurate, in view of the real possibility that less bartering manoeuvrability (less supplies) will lead to more disagreements in a post-conflict setting.  This is, I think, where our research comes together, in that your framework allows for the plausibility of creating analytical tools for the study of post-conflict behaviours, which is something that is currently not envisioned by the literature.

NT: I think you’re spot on. In my project, I question the ability of post-conflict societies to undertake new ‘redistributions’ through mechanisms established at a definite and certain temporal moment – a peace agreement. While typical peace processes contemplate future and several instances of post-conflict redistributions in the form of political resolution, all such resolutions operate also as reinforcing endorsements of a fixed political order established in fixed peace agreements.

AS: Jaha! Not only do environmental variables change over time…

NT: …but even actors, their relationships with other actors who themselves are in flux. Naturally, their demands evolve as well. In my project, the focus is on the actors and the broader negotiation structure itself. A perennial issue that our liberal peace paradigm grapples with, for example, is the problem of splinter groups, and how to prevent splintering. Yet in my approach, cycles of splintering and coalescing are a natural political phenomena that occur when we contemplate collective identities, whether in the context of armed or unarmed groups. How does the fluidity of collective identities modify negotiation structures, and the subsequent validity of ostensibly fixed peace agreements in the post-conflict setting?

AS: Therefore, foundational political orders established in peace agreement must themselves be susceptible to the flux that affects environmental variables, collective identities, and the ever changing demands of societies.

NT: Exakt! That is why your ideas on the uncertainty behind projections of environmental variables cast this cloud of unknown contingencies for which ‘fixed’ peace processes can never fully anticipate.

Thanks for sharing your research with us, Adan. Looking forward to seeing its development over the length of your PhD tenure.

Adan and Nick are both PhD researchers at the NCPACS. Coincidentally, they are also alumni of the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Research Poster Prize

In the 2016 Postgraduate Research Poster Competition, Joe Llewellyn (a PhD candidate at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies) was recognised as one of the best in the Division of Humanities. Well done Joe!

You can see the posters selected by different divisions at the LINK.

IMG_2016-08-08 11:11:42

Maodun and Ceasefires

 

By Liesel Mitchell and Nick Tobia

Nick: In one of those forays into lateral thinking, I had chanced upon the concept of maodun in Chinese philosophy. It literally means spear-shield, and references the symbols of an invincible spear and an impenetrable shield. In Western-oriented binary logic, a spear that penetrates anything cannot exist where there is a shield that is impenetrable to anything as well, and vice versa. In orientalism, however, there is such a thing as four-cornered logic which allows us to transcend binary logic. These corners of logic accommodate four possibilities: the proposition of the spear alone is true; the proposition of the shield alone is true; both are false; and both are true. Particularly on the last corner, wherein the spear and shield exist simultaneously, maodun is most clearly understood as contradictory unity. The most familiar illustration of maodun is the simultaneously Communist and Capitalist character of modern-day China. A frequent extension of this is the One Country, Two Systems policy of Deng Xiaoping, most visible in the unificationof Hong Kong with mainland China. A peek around similar fields of philosophy and logic yielded scholarship on dialetheism and paraconsistent logic, both of which also contemplate the simultaneous possibility of contradictory propositions.

The concepts of maodun, dialetheism and paraconsistency are essential to my project that challenges the binaries that are embedded in liberal peace logic. The primary target of the challenge is consensus, understood both as a modality of decision-making in peace negotiation and as a decision that terminates the negotiation. In both instances, consensus grapples with a participation conundrum of inclusion and exclusion, both in its negotiations and its applicability in post-conflict society. Is it at all possible to imagine peace processes that are both inclusive and exclusive at the same time? Is it possible to imagine peace agreements that are both final in the sense of decisiveness, yet at the same time contingent? Is it possible to imagine resolutory decisions that embody both agreement and disagreement? How do these imaginings generate new possibilities for consensus-seeking and decision-making in peace processes?

Years ahead of finding the answers to these questions, I ran into Liesel Mitchell, in the kitchen and we found ourselves talking about maodun while setting the time in the new microwave. Her brief ruminations on the idea of maodun and paraconsistent logic yielded a staggering insight.

Ceasefires are considered mere intermediate stages, or navigation points on the way to a final negotiation destination – peace agreements. Ceasefires by themselves, curiously, also represent a paraconsistent event that embodies both the agreement and disagreement of conflict parties. A ceasefire, as in the case of the Koreas, is both an official state of war and an enduring though precarious peace. Understood in these terms, I ask if is there something in ceasefires that can inform us on the manner by which we conduct our peace processes, both in negotiations, in the nature and form of agreements, and the post-conflict peacebuilding? If ceasefires are maodun, can peace negotiations and agreements also be maodun? Indeed, there are still many questions to ask and answer.

Liesel: While peace agreements exclude groups in order to reach consensus, ceasefires only work by inclusion. By acknowledging there is agreement between warring parties (to cease the armed conflict), it allows disagreement to remain on the table. Can a ceasefire offer a far broader scope of possibilities for all parties within the space that is ‘disagreement’, than the narrow door of peace agreements?

As Nick puts so eloquently, peace agreements are seen as the “final destination” yet we are overly concerned with a destination that doesn’t exist. The process of disagreement is the destination, and it is through the push-pull contradictory space of maodun that ceasefire can uncomfortably offer a point in the ongoing process where agreeing to disagree may be allowed to exist.

Some may consider ceasefires to be a deadlock, which implies there is no movement. However to use the case of the two Koreas again, since the ceasefire in 1953 there have been varying levels of engagement across the DMZ that separates the two. At times this has grown peaceful initiatives between the two countries, and at other times communication and negotiation has broken down. But nothing is static in this space of maodun, and maybe it’s more helpful for terms of agreement in peace negotiations to be seen as ‘constructive conflict’ rather than ‘peace agreement’. Therefore, does the perceived ‘deadlock’ of a ceasefire actually offer something quite different from the ‘lockdown’ of a peace agreement by allowing for exploration of ‘constructive conflict’?

Nick is a new NCPACS PhD researcher on the subject of Agonistic peace. Liesel belongs to the founding cohort of NCPACS postgraduate students, and is at the cusp of earning her doctorate degree in nonviolent discipline.

Editor encouragement:  A philosophical discussion that encourages, perhaps even begs, for participation.  Please feel free to comment below.