ISN Security Watch Prognosis for 2008

Security Watch, the news and current affairs analysis service of the International Relations and Security Network (ISN)  has published a detailed political forecast for 2008. The prognosis is a collaborative initiative of independent journalists, academic researchers and Security Watch correspondents from various parts of the world, and is coordinated by the ISN.

Featured Topics:

1. Defining moment for the Balkans – likely bloodshed following independence proclamation in Kosovo

2. Middle East 2008: A fallow year – possible effects of US 2008 elections on multiple Middle East conflicts

3. Africa: Points of (no) return – peacekeeping forces unlikely to contain and stop violence in Darfur, Somalia, eastern Congo, North and South Sudan, and northern Uganda

4. Another assertive Kremlin – likelihood of political uncertainty after the March 2008 presidential elections

5. South Asia: Dangerous democracy deficit – radicalization of politics and failure of parliamentary democracy likely to escalate decay of political institutions

6. LA: Alliences, friction and global access – how shifts in alliances in Latin America are likely to influence regional and global trade and economic ties

7. Caucasus, Central Asia: Sad predictability – what impacts will the pattern of electing single-party systems have on regional stability

8. Iraq, Afghanistan: Conflict and quagmire – impacts of 2007 developments on possible ways of conflict resolution

9. Energy and political risk in 2008 – high energy prices, volatile markets and geopolitical risks

10. EU: Creeping confidence – what chances does the EU have to position itself as a pillar in the global economic arena

11. Finance: From the West to the Rest – emerging markets likely to accelerate profound shift in the distribution of financial power

Collaborative Governance

Deriving  value from informal network knowledge pools instead of experts, is a trend that is likely to continue growing rapidly in 2008. Open source technology, social collaboration tools and a mindset change are quickly transforming the ways of traditional top-down communication, management and decision-making. Pioneer initiatives such as Wikipedia, My Space and Facebook, to name but a few, were quickly picked up by the intelligence community, international organizations, private sector multinationals, and NGOs as an alternative solution to internal knowledge management processes.

In the US, the intelligence community bravely embraced the idea of open distributed knowledge networks, and it has, since 2005, established an Open Source Center under the DNI office, set up a knowledge base intellipedia, allegedly used social networking sites in recruitment campaigns, and opened its doors to non-intelligence experts, i.e. the media, academia and NGOs in the first ever intelligence conference open to the general public. All this is done in an effort to collaborate and share knowledge that might prove indispensable in saving lives and avoiding major intelligence failures in a world where asymmetric threats and risks lurk around every corner.

The UN has followed suit and introduced its own wiki to help connect its thousands of employees stationed in different parts of the world.

Wikis and blogs are the hottest buzzwords among knowledge management, business intelligence and organizational development professionals because unlike other technologies that chiefly increase efficiency and productivity, they are succeeding in something far greater and bearing far larger consequences: mindset change – a change in how we think about work.

The Democracy Journal of ideas published in its new Winter 2008 issue an article, entitled “Wiki-Government” by law professor and director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School, Beth Simone Noveck. In this article, Noveck explores how open source technology can make government decision-making more expert and more democratic. She argues that “speaking truth to power” is best done not by individual experts in the traditional sense of the word, but by collaborative knowledge networks, composed of non-experts. The article touches on various themes by now more than familiar to knowledge worker professionals, such as scientific peer review as an alternative mechanism for oversight, transparency and quality control, the value-added to governments of non-professional expertise, the peer-to-patent experiment as a model for collaborative governance, and finally, digital institution building.

Opening up closed decision-making may raise some brows and prompt reservations of the kind “too many cooks spoil the soup”. It would be short-sighted, however, and unrealistic of governments to think and behave as though they could bypass a trend of this magnitude. In the current balance of power, governments no longer have the upper hand. It is smart business enterprises, non-state actors and (in)formal knowledge networks that set up both the change and the speed with which it happens. A failure to come to terms with this and embrace change would doom governments to bureaucratic mediocrity at best, and would eventually drain them of the intellectual capital they aspire to possess.

Santa Claims Kyrgyz Mountain

santa.jpgKyrgyz tourist authorities were quick to spot a business opportunity after the Swedish logistics company, Sweco, identified Kyrgyzstan as the perfect place for Santa Claus to deliver presents from. With 90% of mountainous terrain and peaks soaring up to 7000 meters, Kyrgyzstan is still remote and under-explored, and many of its peaks remain un-named. According to BBC News, a group of Kyrgyz mountaineers will climb the peak on Christmas Eve as part of the official ceremony of giving it the name Santa Claus Peak.

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT): Issues for Congress

The Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress published a new recommendation report earlier in December on the benefits of open source intelligence (OSINT) collection and management over traditional clandestine methods. The report argues that although unclassified information has often been slighted by the intelligence community (IC), a consensus has existed since 2005 that open source information must be systematically collected and in fact constitutes an essential component of analytical products. The authors state that in response to legislative direction, the IC has established the position of Assistant Director of National Intelligence for Open Source at the National Open Source Center. The organization’s goal is not only to perform open source acquisition and analysis functions, but also to create a center of excellence in open source collection and analysis that will support and encourage all agencies in the IC in the effective use of open source information.

Kyrgyzstan: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

On Sunday, 16 December, President Bakiyev’s party Ak Zhol won absolute victory in the first proportional elections in Kyrgyzstan. According to the Central Election Commission, Ak Zhol won 48% of the vote against the two main opposition parties, the Social Democratic Party of former Prime Minister Atambayev and the Ata Meken party, led by former parliament speaker Tekebayev. The latter was the only party to pass the required threshold of 5% needed to make it into the chamber, with 9.3%. However, it did not pass the separate 0.5% requirement of the vote in each of the seven regions and two main cities.

The opposition has repeatedly voiced allegations that the vote was rigged and threatened to renew protests and demonstrations. Alleged fraud in the 2005 elections led to mass protests and toppled the autocratic regime of then-President Askar Akayev.

Bakiyev’s party has stated that it will follow the Russian and Kazakhstan model of a one-party parliament.

In comparison to other countries in the Central Asia region, Kyrgyzstan is the only country where some form of civil society and political opposition exist legally. Despite the absolute defeat of the opposition in the Sunday elections, it is highly likely that the opposition will attempt to mobilize itself and seek financial and moral support from Western democracies. Although Bakiyev and his party Ak Zhol won clear victory, they are not highly likely to be able to sustain the expanding influence of opposition leaders, nor the popular discontent from economic depression and spreading impoverishment. The confidence in Russia’s United Russia party and Kazakhstan’s Nur Otan do not translate well in the Kyrgyz circumstances. Ak Zhol is a conglomerate of people with widely different views. It is highly unlikely, therefore, that they will be able to form a monolithic faction in the parliament based on the model in Russia and Kazakhstan they aspire to.

Entering the blogosphere

I’m starting this blog as a complement to my course on Intelligence Communications. In the course of the next 7 weeks, I’ll be posting news updates, intelligence summaries and analyses on Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyzstan-US bilateral relations and related information on other Central Asian countries. I am also taking this opportunity to learn more about blogging as a means of communication, and intend to add posts that are not necessarily related to my Intelligence Analysis course, but reflect my wider academic and professional interests in the areas of risk, threat perception, political analysis, myth and myth making, network and complexity theories, systemics, linguistics, and literature. So, hello and welcome to Linda’s world on wordpress.