What will a Trump Administration Mean for Conflict Around the World?

Co-Founder at Lynx Global Intelligence

 

Little appears certain within the incoming administration, policy-wise. “Predictioneering” will prove especially difficult considering the president-elect’s lack of government service record, exacerbated by waffling on issues like climate change. For the purpose of analysis, let’s assume “conflict” a unitary measure*, which will either increase or decrease during the next four years.

Conflict around the world will decrease:

 Trump has expressed a willingness to act in a way that appears pragmatic to some. His selection of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State is nothing less than an overture to long-standing geopolitical frenemy, Russia. In keeping with Trump’s assertions about Putin’s greatness, the choice firms up what looks to be a warming in relations between the two nations. While this may produce a peace dividend of sorts for both countries (especially Russia), it is precisely this selectivity in friend-making that could raise the specter of conflict elsewhere. Nevertheless, a focus on pragmatic, pro-business cabinet members is a plus. Pragmatism leads to compromise, avoiding conflict and war.

Conflict around the world will increase:

 While a direct warming of relations with a former foe may prove beneficial in the short-term for Russia, the new relationship will come at a cost, certainly to those who inhabit Russia’s immediate periphery. As the residents of Crimea can surely relate, Russia’s willingness to use force covertly has not been meaningfully checked by the West. Residents in Syria will mirror that same sentiment, but regarding the overt use of violence to achieve political ends. The less willing a US president is to provide leadership that stands up to war crimes and the instruments of armed conflict, it becomes more likely nations will feel at liberty to commit such crimes. Globally, a selective preference for Russia as a partner will alienate the Chinese. China seeks pragmatic, long-term partnerships, not ignorance (see: Trump Taiwan call) or prolonged conflict. Preference towards Russian interests could come at the expense of relations with America’s second largest trading partner, China (following peaceful Canada at #1). Ignorance and a lack of respect for protocol, especially in diplomacy, raise both tensions and the risks a tactical mistake will be made, sparking war. That reality unfortunately promotes the idea that global conflict may increase in years to come.

 

 

*In reality, measures of human conflict as understood by scholars is a surprisingly complex measure. Everything from food insecurity to human rights abuses can spark conflict, which also varies in scale, latency and intensity.

Globalization, Technology, and Identity

By:  Trevor Jones, Co-Founder Lynx Global Intelligence

 

I recently read the following, written by Jin Liqun, president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in The Economist:

“Those inside a nation tend to share core beliefs. But globalization has brought varying cultures, values and beliefs into contact in ways that were not possible before. New values can be interpreted as a threat to one’s way of life. Whether newcomers integrate or not can determine whether the threat is merely perceived or becomes real”

The passage is only four sentences long, but deserves to be unpacked for its deep insight.

“Those inside a nation tend to share core beliefs”

We are witnessing a return to great power politics, something political scientists have long presumed would happen. Oftentimes it is the norms that Mr. Jin writes about, that can drive ideological divisions and conflict. The Cold War is a great example of how ideological, rather than material means, can drive prolonged global divisions.

“But globalization has brought varying cultures, values and beliefs into contact in ways that were not possible before”

For most of human history, the scope of travel and the awareness it brings would have been fairly local. Indeed, most human beings live close to their family or birthplace, but technology has brought the world to them. A trip to the Middle East and Asia takes time, money and planning. But the inundation of information wrought by social media makes experiencing aspects of cultures around the world easy. Too easy, perhaps, when entire societies can be distilled and labelled by a Tweet.

“New values can be interpreted as a threat to one’s way of life”

All humans have ingrained in their biology, a friendliness to the in-group and caution toward the out-group. This helped assess friend from foe quickly in our evolutionary past, but societal conditions have quickly outgrown our biology. When a perceived out-group (a group alien to one’s beliefs) is present, populism and protectionism become de rigeuer, while globalism and tolerance are diminished.

“Whether newcomers integrate or not can determine whether the threat is merely perceived or becomes real”

Of the four sentences, this is the one nations can best control. By affecting how we view the “other” in society, we create friends or further threat. All nations have a right to control their borders, but fear of the out-group, and blaming them for internal policy failures, is a tried-and-true method of expediting economic demise. The Spanish Empire experienced this after kicking Muslim descendants out of the country. From the Wikipedia description the Spanish Expulsion: “Fighting wars in the Americas, and feeling threatened by the Turks raiding along the Spanish coast, it seems the expulsions were a reaction to a perceived internal problem of the stretched Spanish Empire”.

It would seem the Spanish became fearful of the out-group after stretching their resources too far and failing on internal policy.  Sound familiar?

Intelligence For Good

(Picture) Khadija, a drone pilot in Tanzania trained by WeRobotics. Lynx connected WeRobotics, who focus on humanitarian, development and environmental projects, with our partners in Tanzania to assess damage after the 2016 earthquake.

By:  Trevor Jones, Co-Founder at Lynx Global Intelligence

 

The word “intelligence” has many meanings. It is an old word, with etymological roots in the 12th Century.

Intelligence, basically translated, meant “comprehension” in Old French. It wasn’t until the 16th century that intelligence gathering entered the lexicon. As various nation-states built up their military information gathering services, “Intelligence” began to mean the collection and distillation of enemy positions and plans. Intelligence gathering has expanded to include IMINT (imagery intelligence from satellites) and recent practices, like SOCMINT (Social Media Intelligence).

And yet “capacity for comprehending general truths” – from the Old French, remains at the core of the meaning. To simply gather or possess knowledge is not enough. Active analysis is required; the data must be cultivated and presented to an intelligence consumer. But what if

those consumers went beyond national entities, to include NGO’s and private sector entities focused on changing the world around them?

Because of that exact notion, Lynx Global Intelligence was formed to focus on “intelligence for good” as a differentiator, a way to stand out from similar firms and do the right thing by human beings and the environment. “Intelligence” has also garnered several negative popular meanings. Intelligence services in many countries have gone beyond knowing, to doing, and sometimes impinge on domestic human freedoms in its most extreme form.

While some assume that intelligence gathering itself has negative implications, Lynx wants to subvert that notion.

It’s not wrong to assume that intelligence gathering can be intrusive or harmful. But it is equally wrong to assume that intelligence collection and dissemination cannot be used toward the end of human security and environmental sustainability.

The intelligence collection cycle itself is the “ comprehension” of ground truth information. By keeping the collection lens wide, convergences are discovered. States may seek information to promote sovereignty, Lynx collects intelligence to promote human and environmental security.

Lynx also comprehends the needs of the private sector. Convergences between the triple helix of protecting People, Planet and Profit are uncovered to promote corporate or organizational growth in a way that keeps the big picture in mind. By doing so, Lynx speaks the languages of the public, private and non-profit sectors to create positive convergences around the globe.

 

*The photo above is of Khadija, a drone pilot in Tanzania trained by WeRobotics. Lynx connected WeRobotics, who focus on humanitarian, development and environmental projects, with our partners in Tanzania to assess damage after the 2016 earthquake.

Ignoring Politics in Business is Fatal

By:  Trevor Jones, Co-Founder at Lynx Global Intelligence

 

Managers and decision makers often make comments to me along the lines of:

“It’s difficult to make the case to my department that we need political risk analysis when leadership simply relies on the news to price-in what’s happening in our markets…”

When I hear statements like the one above, I’m always surprised. It is alarming to consider that large companies who perform business operations on multiple continents will leave their political risk analysis to in-house employees. I have also seen the harmful effects of treating the international economy as a system without risk. Here are some hazards of not considering political risk assessments:

1. News bias. No news source can replace due diligence conducted on the ground. Mainstream media operates in sensationalism, not in the ground truth. Detailed information about forecasts, market trends, emerging developments, country knowledge, organizations, and their strategies is crucial to stay competitive. Traditional news sources are a poor resource for crafting contingencies around political risk. A proactive approach can be the difference between rebounding from, or suffering because of, international events.

2. Manager bias. Not only are news sources limited in scope, but so is the ability as individuals to process information. That is why there is growing demand for intelligence tools that keep companies safe and profitable. These tools range from cybersecurity packages to tailored research on the ground. The aggregate information acquired from these tools are fed into our proprietary system at Lynx, allowing for a complete picture of the “ground truth”, free from the bias of any individual source.

3. Time efficiency. Managers are often focused on keeping a workforce productive, not assessing external risks. Nothing can replace the value of a regional expert who

can quickly bridge gaps and educate others about risks and opportunities in a specific country or area. Lynx’s experts not only have strong analytical backgrounds, but have lived in the places they analyze (and speak the language, too).

My response is the same when I receive statements like the one at the beginning of this article: “Ignoring politics in business is fatal.”

 

 

Written with edits by Lynx Fellows Matthew Bebb and Marc Babel.

Could We “Ethically Source” Humanitarian Intervention?

(picture) USAID/OFDA Mt. Sinjar, Iraq, 2013

 By:  Trevor Jones, Co-Founder at Lynx Global Intelligence

 

*I owe an intellectual debt to Tyler Rauert for referring me to this concept.

Populist governments around the world are looking inward to appease voters, not outward to assist the most vulnerable populations on the planet. It takes the right mix of domestic political will and international collaboration to save the lives of those persecuted by violence. When a leader or nation is unwilling to protect that basic measurement of human security, life itself, their legitimacy and sovereignty are compromised. At that point, an outside actor has the moral responsibility to intervene to save these lives.

The world stated “never again” after the Holocaust and more recent genocides and massacres in Rwanda and Srebrenica. Shockingly, that tone has been substantively absent in the political community during conflicts in Iraq and Syria where violent persecution based on identity have been the norm. Atrocities are also happening in South Sudan and Rhakine State in Myanmar. Our political will to intervene has waned during the post- George Bush/Iraq years and newly elected populist governments in the US and elsewhere will do little to advocate for saving innocent lives through the use of force. Oddly, we are able to view the destructive effects of war and ethnic-cleansing far easier than ever before, with widespread smartphone video use.

Governments and the UN have failed in protecting the innocent from violence, and NGO’s are limited by their funding and mandate, which must uphold humanitarian neutrality, preventing the necessary force protection from saving lives. That leaves the private sector to take up the slack.

But how? Mercenary forces have been frowned upon over history, and for good reason. But the dire situations in the world today beg a question: could privately sourced civilian protection, the kind needed to save lives in South Sudan, Rhakine, Aleppo and elsewhere, be achieved?

It is a challenging and interesting thought. A couple guidelines that could help shape the debate:

  1.  It is better to train humanitarians to use force than to train those who are well-versed in force protection to protect civilians. Traditional military training may be inappropriate for interacting with civilian populations in dire need (see: Afghanistan). That said, the conversation is moot unless those with the ability to suppress violence are involved, to deter or prevent mass killings.
  2.  The academic theory and practice of humanitarian neutrality will need to be modified. To protect civilians from destruction, the instruments of that destruction must be removed from the operating environment. Destroying the helicopters Bashar-al Assad used to drop barrel-bombs on civilians, early on in the conflict, is a good example.
  3.  Consensus and buy-in would need to be achieved on the international level. Although governments may be unwilling to intervene and the UN unable due to a lack of standing forces, these entities would still need to endorse and support private civilian protection. The services the UN provides are irreplaceable.
  4.  Force protection would have to be ethically sourced. Private military contractors may not be completely appropriate in this setting (see #1). Complete transparency would be needed, forces cannot be present for any other reason than destroying direct threats to civilian populations.

The reality of private humanitarian force protection is difficult to imagine, but the reality of current world events dictate that a new solution must emerge, unless mass atrocities are to continue in their current form.