Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 70

We apologize for the delay in publishing our Top 5, but you know, September is full of tasks for “academics” (new courses, publications, conferences, post-summer stress, etc.). Here below our suggestions:

First of all, it seems that Russian fighter jest entered in Syria (with transponders off..). A turning point for the conflict (and the proxy-war)?

As fans of content and discourse analyses, here you’ll find an interesting comparison of the speeches by the last two Popes (Benedict and Francis) to the UN.

Are interested in the evolution of international peacekeeping? Political Violence at a Glance argues that we should review our traditional pessimist view on PKOs: “The surprising thing about peacekeeping — the real story — is that, despite its many problems, it works”.

What happens in Burkina Faso? The Guardian helps you in better understanding the state of democracy in the African country after the last troubles.

Finally, this week we had the 9th Pan-European Conference on International Relations: “The Worlds of Violence”. Here you’ll find all the info on panel and papers presented at the convention (which has been held at Giardini Naxos, Sicily).

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 69

The migrant debate dominates in Italy, Europe, and elsewhere. Inflamed by hard-liners’ rhetoric, sensationalisms, it is tough to make sense of its many facets. No single piece can do, but starting with the “facts” (yes, we know, do ‘facts’ even exist? Let’s pretend) is always a good thing. The Council of Foreign Relations provides an informative background of the crisis, with numbers, key definitions of legal terms, a quick view of European states at the forefront of the crisis, and opinions on responses (or lack of) undertaken.

On the other side of the Atlantic, migration represents a hot topic, all the more so as primaries campaigns go on. The US-Mexican border will be the object of discord. Brookings’ Vanda Felbab-Brown provides an overview of the challenges ahead.

More traditional defense concerns keep playing a key role in the US. America is almost ready to assign a multi-billion dollars for the new Long Range Strike Bombers, which for about 550$ mln each should also have other capabilities (intelligence gathering, battle management, …).

The movie moment. Zero Dark Thirty attracted a lot of attention when it was released for its documentary style. It was by several observers considered as supportive the Obama administration’s storytelling of the events. The Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber argues that the officials who discussed with director and producers also received substantial material benefits for their help in the vivid reconstruction of the hunt.

The real battle of today though, at least as Venus in Arms is concerned, takes place tonight in Lille. No German tanks in the zone: Italy faces Lithuania in the quarter finals of EuroBasket. Follow live here. Or pay the money to listen to the legendary basket voice Flavio Tranquillo on SkyTv (which we did).

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 63

Greece: we never really talked about it. Maybe there will be a chance, also depending on if and how Russia’s promises of support will eventually materialize. For the time being, we sponsor the best travel guide on Greece. Not a conventional one, more on politics and less on dream islands.

With many issues on the agenda, from the Iran nuclear talks to the ever-present ISIS, the US still found time and resources to devote to Somalia. Foreign Policy’s Ty McCormick provides a narrative of the “shadowy presence” of the American military in the Horn of Africa.

Daniel Fiot looks at the consequences of the recently released US National Military Strategy on Europe. A summary? Time goes on, and gaps within NATO widen rather than narrowing.

An Italian cybersecurity company in the news (mostly international, by the way). Hacking Team, providing specialized cyber services, has been the victim of a cyber attack itself. Among the information released, how much it costs to crack email accounts.

A novel for the holidays? P.W. Singer co-authored Ghost Fleet, on how the future war will play out. His essays are great reads, let’s give him a chance.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 61

ISIS, again. Kobane was a great success in the reconquista that followed ISIS’ earlier pushes in Northern Syria. It seems that it has been just taken back by the armies of the Caliphate.

ISIS is also elsewhere, and it seems that it suffered a defeat in Libya in the last weeks. Foreign Policy reports on the battle in Derna, where ISIS was expelled by a (very) heterogeneous coalition including DMSC (Mujahideen Shura Council, linked to al-Qaeda) and the Libyan National Army.

In the meanwhile, in Europe, tensions are building up on the Eastern border. The US has been strengthening its NATO allies with increasing military support, by support meaning weapons. The last shipment involved about 250 tanks under a new plan devised by the Pentagon (or for) with allies.

Tensions in the real world, tensions in the virtual one. China is allegedly behind hacking the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in the US, with a wealth of data on government employees. But attribution, when it comes to China, becomes a delicate diplomatic issue and no final culprit is yet revealed.

Finally, we keep suggesting military vehicles that you might be desire to get to solve traffic problems, loading requirements, and so on. This comes directly from Star Wars.


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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 57

ISIS always makes headlines. And it still seems to surprise several observers, some of whom foresee its rapid demise every week it does not make important territorial gains. Well, ISIS recently reached the historical city of Palmyra, in Syria, worrying strategists and archeologists alike. The human cost of war in the area is staggering as well.

And ISIS did not stop there, but is trying to cause havoc in the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) as well. A recent mosque attack might signal more to come, also due to the radicalization of (a part of) Saudi youth.

So, why are teenagers joining ISIS? The New Yorkers’ Ben Taub tries to provide some answers.

Not many good news for US policy-makers, then. The good ones seem recently to come often from technological advances. Even manpower-intense activities such as Special Operations should greatly benefit, for instance, from increased speed of DNA reader in conducting terrorists’ searches.

Obituary: John Nash died in a car accident on Sunday. He reached popular fame after the movie A Beautiful Mind portrayed both his genius and his mental illnesses. He was, among other things, one of the fathers of game theory, one of the branches of mathematics that affected the most strategic theory, especially during the Cold War. His legacy is rich, and often non-penetrable to laymen. But RAND Corporation, where Nash was a consultant for several years in that period, still maintains a section on game theory and its several applications for social sciences and policy.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 53

A US Edition this week. It’s time for the 2016 budget in the US, and defense budget enters the 2016 fray with a lot of issues on the agenda. DefenseOne has a very complete page to stay updated on how things will evolve, while key facts/numbers are provided by the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.

The US Navy clearly has an important stake in this process. If the direction of change is still unclear, there are few doubts that new challenges –and namely Chinese missile capabilities – have been interpreted as requiring a larger surface fleet than previously planned.  Financial sustainability of such plans is the key issue.

The DoD’s Cyber Strategy was also released. Duck of Minerva  features a post on the topic that provides quite a skeptical viewon the ability of the Pentagon to actually face the threat.

In the meanwhile, some voices have been urging President Obama to keep the US away from (too) troubled waters. The deterioration of the situation in Yemen, with risks of total chaos favoring US (and Saudi Arabia) foes, might seem to call for bold action. Fred Kaplan advises against getting into the Yemeni trap.

National Guard was used in the attempt to quell the riots in Baltimore, Maryland, that followed another case of alleged police violence against an African-American. The Atlantic’s Conor Feiersdorf argues that both the police and the violent rioters should held accountable for the situation.

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Organized crime and “political” violence: A report from MPSA 2015 and a focus on Italian mafias

Midwest Political Science Annual Conference last week in Chicago. Good place to keep updated – and try to contribute on – recent advancements in the discipline. Few strands of literature have been enjoying a blossoming in the past years as conflict studies did. Evolving political realities – lot of attention was devoted to “Afghanistan and Iraq-like wars” – and progresses in research design and methods – with a strong push coming from quantitative studies blended in making the field so rich. Within this growing body of studies, a relevant place has been occupied by research looking at forms of violence and agents, such as organized crime, which have often escaped classical analyses of “political” violence.  Or at least those following Schmitt’s classical distinction between political and criminal aims contained in the famous Theory of the Partisan.

Thus, the panel on “Political Violence and Crime” at MPSA constituted an interesting opportunity to discuss current research on the theme (I think the late Charles Tilly, who was always keen in relating organized crime and political phenomena, would have been happy about it). Five very interesting pieces of work were presented. Harvard’s Bradley Holland presented a paper on ethnic violence linked to drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) in Southern California. Guillermo Trejo and Sandra Ley (Notre Dame) showed the link between the structures of political arenas and DTOs’ killings of politicians in Mexico. University of Wisconsin’s Nicholas Barnes presented his extensive fieldwork on gang governance in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, and Wolfgang Muno (University of Mainz) laid out an interpretative framework to analyse “bad informal institutions”.

And then (highly likely that it is not the best piece, but for sure the dearest to Venus), Francesco (Moro) and Salvatore Sberna had a piece on violence in non-traditional areas – that is in the regions were mafia consortia did not have their roots – in Italy. The problem is a central one, given that organized crime and mafias are increasingly mobile and that violence perpetrated by these groups has been making the news on both sides of the Atlantic. Across the Ocean, there has been a lot of discussion over the effect of Mexican drug cartels’ presence in large US cities. Italian mafias as well sparked debate, both in Italy – where presence in the Northern regions of the country has been expanding for decades – and abroad – where violence erupted in “surprising” locations (such as Duisburg in Germany, where a massacre took place in 2007).

The paper addressed, both theoretically and empirically, two major puzzles. First, notwithstanding expansion in Northern regions, the number of mafia homicides in these areas is overall much lower than in Southern regions where mafias have their strongholds. Second, although limited, violence (measured by mafia homicides) in Northern regions present notable diversities: some provinces in some years are clearly more violent than others. How, then, can this diversity be explained?

Three main findings emerge:

  • Violence in non-traditional areas is more limited as groups do not find the same environmental conditions of territories of origin. First, the balance of forces versus law enforcement is penalizing. Second, business in new markets is less confined to the provision of “private protection” and more based on the attempt to penetrate legal markets, where resort to violence is less needed. Becoming legitimate, by way, has been the attempt of most criminals in pop-culture, from Michael Corleone to Lemond Bishop (a reference for the Chicagoans). This has always Third, and as a consequence, mafia groups in new areas often choose to “outsource” the use of violent means to other agents (often, coming from parent groups in areas of origin).
  • When violence happens in new territories, it is often the result of “transfers” (spillovers) from mafia violence in the old ones. That is, if a conflict erupts in a Sicilian province, it will likely affect violence in a Northern province where the Sicilian groups involved in the conflict previously migrated.
  • Violence transfers are affected by local conditions as well. Spillovers, in other words, happen in the provinces where the mafia groups’ presence has been more consolidated (over time) and where they actually have more capabilities/resources (which is signalled by the absence of other mafia consortia in the same area).

Work is under way in these directions. Stay tuned for details!

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 51

A week between technology and culture – as in a still relevant book by Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

While ISIS keeps claiming that the re-establishment of a Caliphate that reaches out to once Arab Europe is one of its goals, there has been a debate in Spain over Google Maps renaming the Mosque in Cordoba.

In the meanwhile, the Pentagon is thinking about (or is dreaming about) a machine that can make use of big data to predict events. It kind of reminds of Spielberg’s Minority Report.

Tel Aviv is hosting the Annual CyberTech Fair. The head of the famous Iron Dome program, which shields Israeli citizens from rockets, stated that he is working towards a “similar” program defending from cyber-threats (the CyberDome?)

Vice News embedded a video journalist in the Nigerian Army fighting Boko Haram. Here you can find the first of a three-part report that sheds light on of the world’s hottest spots.

NBA Playoffs start on April 18th. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix responds to some key questions over the most exciting part of the season. Take some time off and enjoy the games!

Ps: This week Venus will be at the Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association. A lot of interesting stuff, check here for further info.


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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 49

Technology and culture this week.

Technology: from large to small, in a conservative fashion. While the famous reform of article 9 of the Japanese Constitution is in the air, Japan commissions the largest ship since WWII (the JS Izumo). It looks very much as an aircraft carrier, but it formally only carries helicopters, of course.

Hunting submarines becomes increasingly important when the value of surface ships increases. Patrolling comes thorugh different tools, most recently aerial drones. This is the Navy’s most recent one, and looks like a duck.

Drones are becoming more capable and widespread. Next steps of innovation also come through so-called bio-mimickry, the imitation of biological systems. Please meet the “fish drone called Wanda”.

Culture and conflict: The Vietnam War is often heralded as a shifting point in the relation between media and conflict. The Atlantic features a photo essay in three parts about the war: take a look at the first part on the years 1962-1967.

ISIS is increasingly present in North Africa. The Guardian reports that the town of Tataouine is becoming an ISIS base. The village inspired George Lucas for Star Wars (Tatooine it is the home planet of Luke Skywalker), which was partly filmed in Tunisia.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 47

Changing ideas is a sign of intelligence, a necessary element of academic research. It is also a key for organizational adaptation and learning. It’s hard, though, and also for individuals, to admit they’re wrong.  That’s why the list of past “wrongs” by Steven Walt, a dean of American IR scholars, is a must read.

Photos often describe conflict better than many words. The Atlantic features a series of impressive photos of Reuters’ photo reporters in Northern Iraq, where battle is raging.

Sticking with ISIS (is there anything else, nowadays?), DefenceOne presents the case for drones: air strikes are doing the job in Iraq and Syria.

Well, perhaps something else matters. Where is Vladimir Putin? BBC responds with humor (we know now he is still among us..)

Finally, elections in Israel.  Follow the live blog of the Jerusalem Post. As they say, “Israel has no foreign policy, just domestic politics”.

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