Author Archives: Maral Mirshahi

NCHS contributes to the 56th Annual Convention of ISA

NCHS researchers contribute to the 56th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association (ISA). ISA has been the premier organization for connecting scholars and practitioners in fields of international studies since 1959. With well over six thousand members in North America and around the world, ISA is the most respected and widely known scholarly association in this field. The 56th Annual Convention will be held on 18-21 February 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

As part of the panel Humanitarianism And Technology: Agents, Actions And Orders, Mareile Kaufmann (PRIO) will present the paper ‘Drone/Body: the Drone’s Power to Sense and Construct’. Kaufmann highlights that “so far, the main critical discussion on the power of drones over human bodies focused on destruction of bodies in targeted killings”.

 “with the rise of the ‘good drone’ we witness an increasing acceptance of drone deployment, especially in humanitarian and civilian emergencies where the drone has demonstrated its power: it finds victims, takes pictures of territory, directs aid, guides people out of disasters, and provides data for early-warning-systems. As a result, drones are identified and promoted as a tool that eventually outreaches human physical capacities and seem better suited than the human body to coordinate disaster help. In combination with novel technologies it does not only see, it hears (gun shots), it feels radiation, it interprets data, it reads RFID chips and smells chemicals. As much as these superhuman, better-than-body functions may support humanitarian disaster management, they also create new regimes of omnipresence. Drones not only form a powerful technological quasi-body, they also exercise power over bodies.” In her paper, Kaufmann argues that “through its hyperphysical characteristics, as well as its increased deployment as a ‘good drone’ in humanitarian and civil disasters, the drone also contributes to the construction of bodies – a form of power that also needs critical investigation.”

Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert (PRIO) will present a paper on “Drones, border control and migrants in distress at the EU borders: map, rescue, protect or push back?”, where she looks at how the drones are presented as the most adapted solution to respond to the perceived needs of border surveillance at sea.

Gabrielsen Jumbert points out that “drones can see more, for a longer period of time and at a lower cost, and thus fills the “dull” job of simply watching over remote areas, for hours on end, in search for any movement or minor change. They are also presented as the most suited to spot the small vessels that migrants use to cross the Mediterranean. Yet, as argued in the paper, they seem to first and foremost provide a sense of control as they are incapable of actually sorting migrants at the border through aerial surveillance. In order to render the border control drones acceptable however, the EU Border Agency Frontex and drone industry officials insist on the potential that drones can enhance Search and Rescue capacities by providing life-saving information.” The paper critically assesses some of the risks entailed by these dual objectives. Her paper will be presented in a panel entitled Unsettling Borders: Rethinking Ethical Politics in IR (II) – Subversive (Re)Drawings.

Øystein Rolandsen (PRIO) will organize and partake in the panel Violence And Statebuilding In Northeastern Africa. The panel investigates how varied uses and degrees of violence have shaped statebuilding in northwestern Africa since 1960. Non-state armed groups are integral to this process, even though they are commonly viewed as undermining states. Members of this panel find instead that the violence of states and non-state armed groups often illustrate congruent processes, such as in Kenya and Sudan when state actors employed non-state armed groups to establish stronger state control, and in Somalia where violent non-state actors infiltrate into political networks of states.

As highlighted by Rolandsen “recent experiences with private security providers demonstrate how state actors appropriate new violent actors to manage assistance from powerful non-African states. Ultimately these exercises of non-state violence strengthen states along increasingly diverse trajectories. Panelists also explore violence and failures of state building. Sudan struggles with weak center and regional movements in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile that vacillate between reform and separatism. South Sudan lacks instruments and vision to maintain and solidify a peacetime political system as state actors face challenges from militias and rebel groups. Eritrea’s project of stalled authoritarian state building erodes the state’s domestic and international legitimacy.” As part of this panel, Rolandsen will present the paper ‘South Sudan: The Failure Of Neopatrimonial Statebuilding’.

Presenting at the panel Battles Of Ideas And Narratives (I): The Production Of Knowledge In Conflict And Intervention, John Karlsrud (NUPI) will discuss the paper ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick – The Consequences for Information and Knowledge Production when Including Intelligence in UN Peacekeeping’.

As highlighted in Karlsrud’s abstract “In 2014, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali will establish a new type of military intelligence capability, the All Sources Information Fusion Unit (ASIFU) and it has also sought permission to deploy surveillance drones. Staffed by officers from the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, the ASIFU will conduct tactical and human intelligence on the ground. At the UN, the word ‘intelligence’ has for long been anathema, but over the last decade member states has increasingly accepted the need for the UN to gather information to reach its objectives. The ASIFU and the surveillance drones will raise a host of issues that should be explored further.”

Drawing on Emirbayer and Johnson’s reading of Bourdieu, the paper see the entry of European troops in UN peacekeeping, and in particular the ASIFU and its attendant capabilities and qualities, as an example of field contestation and will analyze the tentative outcomes of this dynamic. Karlsrud asks: “What kind of information and knowledge will the ASIFU produce? How will the establishment of the ASIFU impact on the perception of whether UN is an impartial actor in Mali?” Based on empirical fieldwork in Mali, Karlsrud’s paper explores how the UN collects information in Mali, if the inclusion of these capabilities can improve the ability of the UN peacekeeping mission to collect information and achieve its objectives, or whether this marks a turn of UN peacekeeping towards peace enforcement, counterinsurgency and counterterrorism.

As part of a roundtable discussion about the book ‘Governmentality And IR Theory: New Possibilities For Analyzing The Global’, Ole Jacob Sending (NUPI) will discuss his book chapter “Diplomats and Humanitarian in Crisis Governance”. The book is edited by Ole Jacob Sending, Vincent Pouliot and Iver Neumann and published by Cambridge University Press (2015).

Suhrke on US Military Strategy and Protection of Civilians in Afghanistan

NCHS’ Astri Suhrke (CMI) studies US military strategy and protection of civilians in Afghanistan in an article recently published in the journal International Peacekeeping. As highlighted in the article summary:

“During its engagement in Afghanistan, the US military seriously tried to mitigate the risk of civilian casualties from airstrikes only when called for by changes in military doctrine emphasizing the need to gain the support of the population. Consistent efforts by external political and humanitarian actors to reduce casualties by demanding more transparency and clearer lines of accountability for ‘collateral damage’ had little immediate, observable effect. The case study underlines the contingent nature of progress towards protecting civilians in armed conflict even when a military institution formally accepts the principles of customary international humanitarian law, but concludes that, faute de mieux, strategies to enhance protection through greater accountability and attention to the kind of military ordinance used remain central.”

The article ‘From Principle to Practice: US Military Strategy and Protection of Civilians in Afghanistan’ is available here.


UN at War

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In reality, nothing is more dangerous for a peace-keeping operation than to ask it to use force when its existing composition, armament, logistic support and deployment deny it the capacity to do so. The logic of peace-keeping flows from political and military premises that are quite distinct from those of enforcement; and the dynamics of the latter are incompatible with the political process that peace-keeping is intended to facilitate. To blur the distinction between the two can undermine the viability of the peace-keeping operation and endanger its personnel.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali.[1]

“If you have a hammer, the problem will look like a nail”. With the inclusion of the Force Intervention Brigade in the DRC, the UN has got a hammer and has showed that it can use force against specified targets to ‘neutralize’ them. On the other hand, MINUSMA can be seen as a laboratory for including some of the concepts and lessons learned from Afghanistan. It will be essential to support this process by providing the new arrivals to the UN with a better understanding of the similarities and differences between NATO and UN missions, and the need to take a less combative stance in Mali.

Modern peacekeeping needs intelligence capabilities in the shape of surveillance drones, tactical human intelligence teams and so forth. However, there seems to be an unspoken link made between the inclusion of modern military capabilities and the more robust version of stabilization, leaning towards peace enforcement. With the Western capabilities the MINUSMA mission is becoming more robust. But the robust posture may also have a self-fulfilling effect, drawing attention to the mission and increasing the chance of targeted attacks against the UN. In the longer term, retaliatory attacks may target the soft underbelly of the UN – the funds, programmes and agencies carrying out development and humanitarian work.

In 1993, John Ruggie warned that the UN had entered “a vaguely defined no man’s land lying somewhere between traditional peacekeeping and enforcement – for which it lacks any traditional guiding operational concept.”[2] His warnings were not heeded and the UN soon failed miserably in Srebrenica and Rwanda. The solution to the problem was to come to a new understanding that impartiality should be understood from the perspective of protecting civilians, and that the UN could not stand idly by while atrocities were committed. The Brahimi Report held that the traditional principles ‘should remain the bedrock principles of peacekeeping’, but that peace operations should be sufficiently mandated with robust rules of engagement for civilian protection and have the necessary resources to react where civilians were in danger. Today the UN is finding itself in a similar predicament, taking on new tasks that border on peace enforcement. The question is whether the gap between principles and practice signify a need to update principles, or whether this is a function of practice leaving still valid principles behind.

At the strategic level there is a need for careful consideration of what kind of instrument UN peacekeeping should be. Can the UN deploy peace enforcement operations? While it may be a tempting solution for members of the UN Security Council and for the UN Secretariat, wanting to show leadership and resolve and with limited interest in engaging bilaterally or through regional organisations, the urge to equip UN peacekeeping operations with enforcement mandates that target particular groups should be considered carefully. The use of force should be limited to critical instances when civilian populations are in grave and immediate danger. The urge to satisfy short-term objectives such as showing the UN Security Council and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations to be ‘doing something’ should be resisted. UN Security Council mandates should not specify any potential enemies, should resist the inclusion of euphemisms such as ‘neutralise’, and force should be used only for short periods in order to protect civilians.


[1] Boutros-Ghali, Boutros (1995) A/50/60-S/1995/1: Supplement to An agenda for peace. New York: United Nations: para 35.

[2] Ruggie, John G. (1993) ‘Wandering in the Void: Charting the UN’s New Strategic Role’, Foreign Affairs 72 (5): 26–31.


Read the (open access) article on which this blogpost is based, here:

Karlsrud, John (2015) ‘The UN at War: Examining the Consequences of Peace Enforcement Mandates for the UN Peacekeeping Operations in the CAR, the DRC and Mali’, Third World Quarterly 36 (1): 40-54.

Sandvik on Drones for humanitarian intervention

On 31 January 2015, ETH Zürich – one of the leading international universities for technology and the natural sciences – held the conference ‘Drones: From Technology to Policy, Security to Ethics‘. NCHS Director, Kristin Bergtora Sandvik contributed to the conference with a presentation on drones for humanitarian interventions.

By bringing different stakeholder communities together and showcasing  cutting-edge research, the conference looked at the advances being made in drone technology and its broader policy implications.

Sandvik was later interviewed by the Swiss radio station SRF, where she shared her critical assessment on the use of drones for humanitarian purposes.

The complete radio interview (in German) is available here.


Beyond Sexual Violence in Transitional Justice

In the article “Beyond Sexual Violence in Transitional Justice: Political Insecurity as a Gendered Harm“, Julieta Lemaitre and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik decentre the emphasis on sexual violence and examine the intersection between forced displacement and political insecurity.

The article, published in December 2014 in the journal Feminist Legal Studies, is based on extensive field research in Colombia. Using a case study of an internally displaced women’s grassroots organization in Cartagena as an example, the article examines political insecurity as a specifically gendered harm.

As described by the authors, the article “reflects on the concrete circumstances of insecurity, on the relevance of traditional gender roles in the constitution of insecurity, and on the challenges for court-ordered remedies. This widening of the scope of attention also invites complex reflection on the possibility of transformative reparations in post-conflict situations.

Read the article here.

Humanitarian technology: a critical research agenda

Based on the 2013 Critical Humanitarian Technology Project undertaken by PRIO and NCHS, Kristin Bergtora SandvikMaria Gabrielsen Jumbert, John Karlsrud and Mareile Kaufmann have written the article “Humanitarian technology: a critical research agenda“.

Published in the International Review of the Red Cross in December 2014, the research article discusses the opportunities and challenges of using new technology for humanitarian action.

As highlighted by the authors: “This article offers an agenda for critical inquiry into the emergent field of humanitarian technology as applied to a broadly defined context of crises, encompassing both natural disasters and conflict zones, by identifying what technology does to the humanitarian enterprise, and by reflecting on the key challenges that emerge.

The article is available here.

Suhrke on Human Security

In the article “Human Security 15 Years after Lysøen: The Case against Drone Killings”, Astri Suhrke (CMI) discusses two approaches to the concept of human security. The author examines the comprehensive vision of security and development and the concretization of the human security concept tied to protection of civilians in armed conflict.

Starting with the Lysøen Declaration of 1998 and Canada’s subsequent introduction of the concept of human security in the Security Council, the article argues that a concretization is necessary today. One way to do this is to link human security to campaigns for protection of civilians against the U.S. use of drones in targeted killings outside recognized war zones. This strategy would revitalize human security as a relevant policy concept, and also create greater security for people living in exposed communities.”

The entire special issue article, published in the Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, is available here.