Posts By: benkamis


Part II of our series on cyberpeace
Cyberpeace-Logo Taube ‚digital‘: CC BY-SA 3.0 mit Nennung „Sanne Grabisch für die Cyberpeace-Kampagne des FIfF

Matthias Schulze very competently argues that ‚cyberwar‘ is not war in any way that we usually understand war. I’m sympathetic. But in deconstructing the term ‚cyberwar‘ Matthias also hopes to eliminate the term ‚cyberpeace‘ because, as the implied binary of ‚cyberwar‘, it would no longer be necessary. I’m going to argue that ‚cyberpeace‘ is more than semantic nonsense. It’s a term that makes cyberwar more salient in the public imaginary of the Internet and implicitly militarizes the discussion.

Almost too pretty to kill. CC BY-NC-SA by Elisabeth D'Orcy

Almost too pretty to kill. Source: el arma homicida by Elisabeth D’Orcy under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Most face-to-face interaction with other IR types happens at conferences, and it’s easy to break conferences down by profile and inclusiveness. The ISA annual conference is supposed to rate pretty highly on both, and almost everyone has been a few times by the end of their post-grad careers. Then there are the conferences that are high profile but less inclusive. APSA, BISA, the ISA regional conferences, and the newly constituted EISA are fairly high profile in that most IR professionals have heard of them, but they’re less inclusive in that few of us would cross broad bodies of water and long customs lines to participate.

Many have recently noticed how this concentration of conferences in the (global) North and the (ominous italics) West means that none of them are very inclusive, and the association with prestige is a problem. Even more recently, many new conferences have started popping up to be more inclusive in a global sense. These efforts to expand the scope of participation in the discourse are bound to fail, and I’m going to argue that they’re going to fail on purpose by accident. (Yes, I proofread.)

The ethical consequences of academic research in terms of its capacity to induce insecurity is an old topic of discussion that has affected various disciplines in different ways. Generally speaking, the more abstract the output of a given discipline, the less frequently it comes up in debates about what limits academics should put on their research activities.

Let’s start with the natural sciences. Ethics are such a huge topic in the highly empirical fields of medicine and biology that, when Europe says “Ethics Committee” they mean „medical ethics“, and there are entire NGOs devoted to the ethics of biological research. For their potential to inform weapons development, chemists and physicists are also generally fairly aware of the potential ethical consequences of their work in terms of security. Einstein famously regretted encouraging the American government to pursue atomic weapons research, and Robert Oppenheimer, who led that research in the Manhattan Project, could hardly bear to remember his role in creating the most destructive of weapons.

by Ben Kamis

Martin, my most cyber-literate colleague and all-around nice guy, recently posted about privacy, arguing that privacy is something categorical that can be protected or violated, not just a word to describe certain practices of divulging or withholding and always as a question of more or less. Here I’m going to reply that he’s right in a certain context, but that context doesn’t go far enough, and so neither does he. Along the way, I hope to explain some differences between how people are conceived in modern and post-modern philosophy, and why privacy is actually a huge deal with very important consequences in certain conceptualizations of security, especially in the context of cyberspace. I’m setting the bar pretty high, so I’ll try to keep it short and sweet, which also means that I’m going to be taking some huge leaps that would normally require a lot more careful argumentation. But this is definitely an important question, and the answer will hopefully be interesting.

von Ben Kamis

On 11 February, the World Fought back against Mass Surveillance. See those capital letters? They denote Things that Matter – somehow. We don’t necessarily know who ‘We’ are, what the ‘World’ is, nor whether the Mass Surveillance We’re against is the big and sexy kind run by acronymized (foreign) government agencies that We all recently learned about through Edward Snowden or the everyday kind conducted by means of cookies, computer profiles and GPS data we all send to whomever is watching in the course of a normal day’s activities, like checking Facebook, leaving the house to buy some bread or sending family pictures over the holidays via email. But ‘We’ ‘Fought’ ‘Them’, or maybe ‘It’.

As briefly as I can, I’m going to try to explain why this is bunk. In short, we are not who We think We are and nor are They, and that the Fight never happened.

by Ben Kamis

Given such phenomena as the dramatic leaks of the last decade, the vibrant and inflammatory discourse about ‚cyberwar‘ and the conflation of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement with the ‚backbone of the European economy‘, regulation of what the Internet is supposed to be and what people are allowed to do in it is always and everywhere about security, whether users like it or not. And that regulation comes from people, special people we like to think of as experts.

von Ben Kamis

Autobiographical note: I spend about two and a half hours nearly every workday in trains or train stations on my commute to enjoy the company of the other contributors to this blog and some other esteemed colleagues.  My point isn’t to highlight my own martyrdom, though I appreciate your sympathy, just that I have a lot of time to observe how very careful people, i.e. German professionals, deal with very dangerous activities, like waiting next to, climbing aboard, and standing in steel vehicles weighing several hundred tons and moving very fast as well as the perilous rudeness of their peers.

One of the things that’s often puzzled me is that, in addition to the normal Schaffner who check tickets, there is also a large contingent of railroad personnel who wear dark blue uniforms, military-style berets, Batman-style utility belts with gloves and pepper spray and the other implements of semi-official coercion, and on their backs there is a large red stripe with white lettering that reads “DB-Sicherheit”. DB, of course, stands for Deutsche Bahn, the mostly state-owned railroad enterprise, and I always translated ‘Sicherheit’ to what I always considered to be its English equivalent, ‘security’. This inference usually makes sense because many of these DB-Sicherheit personnel are well-built young men who look like Russian bouncers, and their job seems to consist of ferreting out winos, troublemakers, and Schwarzfahrer (freeriders, literally but romantically, ‘black riders’) from DB trains and stations. Many of the DB-Sicherheit personnel, however, are still patrolling the platforms with the arthritic gait of proto-pensioners and the girth you’d only expect to see in upper management. After seeing several dozen such Bahn employees who look more likely to suffer a coronary than manhandle an aggressive drunk, I began to question what kind of Sicherheit/security was really being provided here.

von Ben Kamis

Battletroll (ˈbætəlˈtroʊl) n.

  1. an Internet troll whose comments are not only inflammatory but militaristic
  2. an obscure 1990s toy figurine

Last summer my esteemed and illustrious colleague Thorsten Thiel and I were talking about possible future projects. Thorsten is an expert on democratic theory and the politics of the internet, and I know a thing or two about international law and international security. In the course of the conversation, I asked the good doctor what I thought was an obvious question:

von Ben Kamis

Many theories of international conflict explain virtually all decisions states make with reference to strategic interaction. That is, the actors are trapped in some decision matrix analogous to a member of the game theory bestiary: chicken game, prisoner’s dilemma, battle of the sexes, etc. While this makes the actors‘ decisions contingent on each other, it gives the impression that each has freedom to choose within the matrix. Some more refined approaches see the matrix itself as contingent, implying that the actors could choose a different matrix, a different definition of the situation, if they really wanted to. What both of these conceptions miss is how historically conditioned and inertial these situations are. The matrices themselves aren’t necessarily chosen; they have a history, and it might be an utterly absurd history, but that absurdity makes them no easier to change. Absurd international conflicts are not just born, they are made – often over the course of centuries.

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