Neutrality in International Relations and Censorship.

I came across an interesting article published online about the security of domain names on the web. The issue for many publishers of online content (which could potentially be anyone) is where to publish content without the threat of having it taken down by state authorities should they consider it to be objectionable or a security risk. With the high profile case of Edward Snowden playing out on our TV screens at home, it’s an interesting topic. Essentially, it is a way for governments to censor politically sensitive information. We may instinctively believe that such tactics would not be used by our own liberal Western democracies, where freedom of speech and press constitute a cornerstone of the democratic process. After all, censorship of information occurs in countries such as Belarus or North Korea and not the US or Australia. We now know that this unfortunately not only a tool used by oppressive governments in faraway lands, but also in our own countries of residence (be it Australia or the US). Purchased domain names from companies within the US can quickly be shut down by the US authorities. US authorities have also shut down websites not only based on the content published  by the publisher or developer of the website, but also based on the user generated content (such as in the case of start up company JetForm).

Now I am not a programmer or an I.T. specialist, however, from this information I can see how this may impact not only freedom of speech and press, but also in developing new companies that may benefit us all like Google or YouTube. In the article I read by Rich Jones, he talks to Bill Woodcock, a director of a not for profit research organisation called Packet Clearing House, who advises readers what to look for when choosing domains from particular countries (or as I refer to them as states) in order to not only have user generated content protected, but also logistical setups  protected. This is where it became really interesting for me. Here is the list that they present for what to look for in states when purchasing a domain and what to avoid (besides their technical capabilities).


  • Small countries.
  • Countries with military mutual defense agreements (NATO, etc).
  • Countries with high levels of corruption.
  • Members of the ECHELON signals interception/monitoring pact (AUS/CAN/NZ/UK/US).
  • Countries with large amounts of debt.

Look for:

  • Countries without debt.
  • Countries of medium size.
  • Militarily neutral countries.
  • Liberal countries with a high freedom index.
  • Countries with high levels law and order.

I can see why they reached these conclusions (especially in regards to looking for states with low levels of outside influence). However, a distinction must be made between the neutrality of states within international law, international relations and those which have a high level of economic freedom and civil liberty. For example, Switzerland may seem like the most fitting state when it comes to these criteria. Switzerland is not easily influenced by the EU, they are militarily neutral, economically stable and they have a very high level of law abiding citizens.  However, if Snowden had been in Switzerland, he would be shipped back to the US rather quickly (thanks to the extradition treaty between the US and Switzerland). Militarily neutral countries embody quite different obligations in the international realm to those represented within the state in respect to civil liberties. 

Definitions of neutrality can change depending on the historical development of a state and depending on the dominant ideas present in international relations (especially in regards to war and security). The international system changes and develops constantly, and hence these definitions are always subject to criticisms (much like the almost fluid nature of customary international law). I quite like the definition put forward by Aguis and Devine (2011), which states that permanent or perpetual neutrality means that a state remains neutral in times of war and peace. Switzerland would be such a state and had this form of neutrality codified by the Congress of Vienna back in 1815. This would then shape  Switzerland’s international interests and agendas. However, this does not mean that this kind of state remains passive and does not play the game of international relations. Neutrality can play an active role in diminishing tensions and conflicts on the global stage. In a world where economies are tied together and world events stretch beyond borders (even in economically stable  and wealthy states) it would be difficult for a state to be completely inward looking.

Neutrality also implies impartiality, meaning that the state cannot favour one side of a conflict over another (for example, Switzerland would not allow military shipments to pass through its borders). Because this type of neutrality is usually codified, it is upheld by international law. Summarized, this type of neutrality is against conflict, not necessarily against all other issues in the international realm (hence the extradition treaty with the US).

There are also other types of neutrality. Sweden for example, embodies a traditional form of neutrality which is not codified like Swiss neutrality. Ad-hoc neutrality is when a state chooses to stay out of a war when one erupts (this type of neutrality is also not codified). Non-belligerency on the other hand, means that a state chooses to stay out of a war, but favours one side over another. (Aguis and Devine 2011) There are of course more definitions that we could go over, and exceptions to the rules as situational contexts are always changing.

I hope this post has brought to life some more points for consideration when we hear about neutrality in the media. I might go over a few more definitions of neutrality in later posts if it interests people. I will be following the Snowden case, as I’m sure many of you are. I am fascinated to know which state will be willing to grant him asylum.  I’m not that surprised that Ecuador is rethinking its acceptance of Snowden – having two high profile asylum seekers under its wings could become very costly (seeing as they are already housing Assange in their London embassy). If I had to pick a country to hide away in, I think I might pick Andorra or Cuba. Both states don’t currently have diplomatic relations with the US. The difficultly would lie in trying to get to one of these embassies (small states such as Andorra would not have diplomatic relations established with many other states and hence no embassies) or the country itself. A humorous view on this can be found here.

Let me know what you think and where you think Snowden might end up!

Until next time,

Miss S.


Sheering a Pig

Commenting on the fact that Snowden has flown via transit through Russia, Putin had told the media in Finland that he would rather not intervene in the case. He  noted that trying to navigate a diplomatic resolution was problematic. Best summed up with these words:

“I’d prefer not to deal with this issue at all. It’s like shearing a pig — too much squeaking, too little wool.” 

Wise words Mr P, wise words.

Miss S.

For more, visit:


What actually is terrorism? Part 2

As we discovered in part one of a definition of terrorism, the violence inherent in an act of terrorism is a means to an end – the result of the violence is the primary concern of the terrorist. Arthur H. Garrison in ‘Terrorism: The nature of its history’ details 7 components of terrorism and I think his guide is rather brilliant. He states that terrorism is a tool and the seven components are as follows; Terrorism is

a) an intentional

b) rational

c) act of violence

d) to achieve a political goal

e) by causing fear

f) in the target audience/society

g) in order to change behaviour in that audience/society

The terrorist hopes that the panic and fear that comes after an attack will influence decision making. For example, a terrorist might be highlighting the plight and disadvantage of a region overseas due to the power of other more wealthy states have. If a wealthy state goes to war against a state/s which do not have the military might to succeed in a traditional war and propels the state/s into more disadvantage and poverty, this may actually work in favour of the terrorists propaganda. This is just one example of many. The terrorist may also have more than one political goal or agenda. It is a very multifaceted tool.

I hope that this adds another dimension to your understanding of terrorism 🙂




Until next time! Miss S.

What actually is terrorism?

Terrorism has got to be one of the most misconstrued terms out there. Both in the media and in our heads – after all, how many times have you read or  heard a proper definition? And yet it’s pasted next to conflicts and acts of violence all the time… Like with almost every definition in academia, there is no one definition accepted by all. BUT there definitely are  attributes that can be agreed on. Terrorism is a tactic used in asymmetric warfare (as in – not a war that is ‘equal’ – where both sides are representing a a state and are part of official armed forces). Regardless of the reason behind the action, terrorism is a method used for changing behaviour through intimidation and fear. This fear and intimidation is often a result of violence or the threat of violence. Intimidation and fear is used to facilitate change in the wider audience and/or state. The victims of the violent acts are not the focal point for the terrorist- and hence why the victims are picked by random or chance – the violence is less important than the result of violence. As it is a tactic used in asymmetrical warfare, states as well as other groups can use and be charged with using terrorism, hence the term state sponsored terrorism

I hope this clears some things up. I will probably go into further detail about this soon. Until then! Miss S.


Thirsty for freedom?









I came across this graffiti whilst browsing the web, and it looks very much like the wall dividing the West Bank and Israel. Many of us don’t think about the way that basic supplies like food and water can be used as bargaining tools in conflict zones. The West Bank depends on water deliveries made by the Israelis. It seems rather bizarre doesn’t it, that the palestinians would have to depend on their ‘oppressors’ for water… Water is most definitely a symbol of life and in this case, freedom.While many agencies and NGO’s would be monitoring Israels deliveries of water into the west bank in order to ensure that they are ensuring the basic human rights of water and food for thousands of people, Israel can still strategically benefit from this in numerous ways. For instance, by not allowing the Palestinians to build their own water infrastructure  and by not allowing them to reach the source of the water so that they continue to be dependant on the Israelis (and this way they also don’t build ‘permanent’ infrastructure which cements their presence in the West Bank). For more information and an overview on this complex topic visit With more conflict currently unfolding, it is another sad example in which people who hold a position of power over others, exploit this position and hurt other human beings. I do believe that consequently both sides suffer. I thought that it might also be beneficial to include a map of Israel and the West Bank so you can get an idea of the geography and picture how the West Bank is enclosed by Israel (and how far away they are to water sources). Also, if anyone knows what the Arabic writing says, I’d be interested to know! Until next time Miss S.

Image below taken from

The Weak-State Security Dilemma, What the Future Holds For Syria and the International Response – Part 2

Now that we have examined and had a look at the security dilemma and threats facing the Syrian government’s survival, what options are available to them? What tactics will they deploy and what rhetoric will they use? The weak-state security dilemma focuses on some of the options available to the political elites, and we can try and see whether or not they are indeed using any of these methods and to what effect.

The first most commonly used tactic used by state elites trying to retain power and survive according to Jackson and the weak-state dilemma is the widespread use of security and state forces to coerce populations into submission. They use tactics such as torture, intimidation, imprisonment, assassination, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, violent suppression of political expression, destruction of food supplies, and in extreme cases, genocide, and politicide.[1]

One danger of using state forces and institutions against the society it rules or large parts of the society is that these state forces can turn against the political elites/regime. We know that before the civil war began in Syria, civilians were protesting the political imprisonment of individuals that critiqued or spoke out in opposition to the regime. Numerous disappearances were reported, security forces arrested some protestors and interrogated them (some of those interrogated were underage minors – children), and some of those arrested were also reportedly tortured. As the protests against the government intensified, the government of Syria resorted to open fire against the protestors. It is during this time that some Syrian defense personnel defected and started up their own militia group known as the FSA, in opposition to the Syrian regime/government. During the civil war so far, populations have been entrapped in enclaves in different cities and towns were there is violent conflict raging and as a result of this, water, food and health care has been and is extremely limited.

One tactic the state elites can use in order to prevent this opposition from rising from within its own state forces, is to divide and conquer. States can divide up the states security forces into different ‘leagues’ such as elite soldiers or divisions, or divide them into different services so that they come into ‘competition’ with one another.[2] The state elites can also use this tactic against state institutions, bureaucracies, religious groups etc. Weakening state institutions in this context is a viable security measure state elites can take in order to reduce the risk of uprisings from within. Sometimes the regime will also create methods of positive reinforcement by creating rewards for those loyal to the regime. These can be in the form of elaborate patronage systems, pompous ceremonies and awards, or promotions and monetary incentives. Such methods used by the state can enforce different types of power redistribution, and corruption feeds into this system.[3] The state elites can also reward figures such as warlords, criminal syndicates, and other militias in turn for their support. The state entices them by offering up control of particular areas, exclusive control over particular commercial activities or have state resources diverted their way.[4] The state can also entice divisions and conflict between minority groups in the state, particularly ethnic or religious groups as part of this divide and conquer strategy. Thus particular groups fight between themselves instead of fighting together against the state. The state can then also promote particular ethnic or religious groups or individuals to state power. Ethnic and religious identity is often exploited by developing states. We know from the previous post on the conflict in Syria, that most of President Assad’s regime and he himself is from the religious minority of the Alawites.

There are also numerous ways that a weak state can exploit the international community and the democratic ‘process’. However, what I wanted to look at more closely since we can use Syria’s current state of conflict as an example, is the way it can exploit and use foreign alliances to its advantage and to bolster its state control and ‘legitimacy’. Weak states look for powerful international allies to help guarantee regime survival. We know that this very important aspect for Syria’s regime. Civil war can often mean the collapse of governance, state institutions and the state economic apparatus. Without these, the Syrian government and state security forces may not be able to continue fighting the opposition over a long period of time. Outside assistance is vital in this scenario. We know Russia and Iran are supporting Syria militarily and financially. Russia and China have vetoed many sanctions and any possibility for UN intervention in the conflict (except for diplomatic resolutions). These state allies usually have many reasons why they take the stand that they do. Remember, no one enters a war, or supports a weak regime without having considered many different factors. For example, Russia and China are most often against military intervention in states, even if a humanitarian crisis is unfolding or if it has taken place. Why? Because they want to uphold the concept of state sovereignty at all costs, even though state sovereignty is only legitimate through the inherent implication that a state protects and secures the future of its population. Very often in weak states, different groups want to either overthrow the state government if they do not believe that the state is upholding its responsibilities to the population or certain groups want to declare independence. Even though Russia and China have functioning power and authority in their states and through their institutions, there are conflicts within certain factions of their societies. China and Russia are afraid that if these conflicts were to increase, their acceptance of other states military intervention, would in turn result in states accepting and carrying out intervention in their own states. It may be a far reach considering the power and authority Russia and China hold, however the possibility cannot be excluded. It goes so far as China refusing the extension of peacekeepers contracts in Macedonia after the break up of Yugoslavia, because Macedonia in rhetoric supported the independence of Tibet. Bit extreme isn’t it, but then again these states want to limit any threat to their control and power of their state.

Russia was an ally of Syria before this current civil war started. Russia not only had (and continues to have) a customer for its arms, but also could have limited military presence in the Middle East. They fear that the Middle East will be dominated by Western control and influence especially after the intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan (the U.S. can also count Saudi Arabia and Israel as allies). Iran no doubt also has this fear that Western states, and especially the U.S. will dominate in influence and military presence in the Middle East. Iran always saw itself as the rightful regional power of influence in the Middle East (stemming from their history and dominance of rule back in the Persian Empire). Iran is predominantly Shiite while Syria is predominantly Sunni, however, the Alawite sect is a Shiite sect. Both states are authoritarian in their ruling (Syria is proto-facist). While Iran is a theocracy and ideologically opposed to secularism and atheist communism, Syria tried to impose a secular state with principles of socialism under its Baa’thist regime. However, their broader security strategies aligned (for e.g. with their opposition to Israel) and fueled cooperation between the two.

And who is supporting the Syrian opposition? Many Western states publicly denounced Assad’s regime and have stated that he should step down from power. Both because the violence and fatalities caused by the Syrian armed security forces could not be ignored, and also because of the fear that the violence could spread beyond its borders. If Assad had stepped down from power earlier, perhaps the civil war would not have started. Of course in that case other problems would arise such as power vacuums (for example like in Libya currently). Russia and other opponents to intervention state that doing so could pull the region into war, especially since Iran and Russia back Syria. However, many experts such as Amir Teheri state that while Iran and Russia back Syria with arms and money, it is unlikely that if the stakes were raised high enough, they would be prepared to fight their war.[5] The longer the conflict continues the more Syria’s neighbours will be dealing with the fall out (e.g. the huge numbers of refugees fleeing Syria to Jordan and Turkey – there is thought to be 350,000 refugees currently who have fled Syria). Wars have a tendency to spread and fall over the borders, especially in troubled regions. We have just heard in the news that Turkish civilians were fatally shot by Syrian security forces (it is probable that it was the Syrian security forces, however it is unknown at this stage if it was a mistake or purposely done so). Turkey has always had a troubled relationship with Syria. At the beginning of the violence in Syria, Turkey pressured the Assad regime to follow through with reforms (and Assad was not happy about this). Turkey was also the place that many national defectors from Syria sought cover. The Syrian National Council is based in Turkey, and is a major Syrian civilian coalition, opposed to the Assad regime. Many of its top members are exiled politicians and diplomats. The top commanders from the FSA are also headquartered in Turkey, however it is unclear how much assistance they are receiving from Turkey, and their movement is limited. Turkey no doubt has to deal with the fall out caused by the Syrian civil war and as a member of NATO has to take the security threat seriously and keep it under control as much as possible. Turkey will be judged by the international community in how well it responds to the fall out of the conflict, and I am not surprised that it is now opposed to the Assad regime as is most of the West. Turkey however does not want to enter into a war with Syria especially alone. Assad’s regime is not happy that Turkey has kept its borders open to Syrian defectors and opposition groups. As military intervention has been vetoed in the U.N., most Western states have pledged to provide Syrian refugees with aid assistance. Britain has gone one step further and pledged 8 million pounds to Syrian opposition groups, while it is thought that the U.S. has pledged 45 million dollars also to Syrian opposition groups. Both states claim that the money will go towards non-lethal assistance, such as satellites, medical equipment etc. In reality though, it is highly probable that some of this money will be redirected by the Syrian opposition for arms. The West is nervous that if the civil war continues for an extended period of time, extremists will join in the fight. As I mentioned in the previous post on Syria, Al Qaeda’s al-Nusra front is present in Syria, even though they are thought to have limited presence.

The more militias and armed groups that enter the conflict, the more Syria could be torn a part and if the Assad regime falls, different territories might be in control by different groups. The threat that power vacuums present are just as dangerous as the current civil war. It seems that both main parties in the civil war have enough backing and assistance to keep fighting for an extended period of time. This could mean years. If the Syrian security forces keep even accidently shelling across the border into Turkey, NATO may feel it has to intervene in some way to top the Assad regime. I highly doubt that any other nation will send its own troops on the ground into Syria, air strikes carried out by NATO like in Libya may be highly probable. I fear that whatever sides gains victory, this could very well be a prolonged civil war, and one side defeating the other will not solve all of Syria’s security issues, in reality it will just create new threats and insecurity.

So where do you think the conflict is heading? Leave me a comment and until next time!

Miss S.

I might do the next post on Wikileaks, but leave me a comment if you would like to suggest a topic for future posts 🙂 Also, if you liked this post, don’t forget to like my facebook page, I post up lots of tantalizing photos and funny bits and pieces 🙂

[1] Richard Jackson in ‘Contemporary Security Studies’ edited by Alan Collins, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Amir Taheri, ‘Syria and the tale of two civil wars’,, 31/08/2012

The Weak-State Security Dilemma, What the Future Holds For Syria and the International Response – Part 1

The Weak-state security dilemma can tell us a lot about the situation in Syria, and how certain aspects of the civil war effect and threaten the functioning of the state. It also allows us to distinguish how weak-states usually respond to threats (how the government of Syria will keep responding to the opposition of its regime). It is interesting that the threats to developing states usually come from inside the state itself – internal threats are more dangerous than international threats. The insecurity that many developing states face is now incredibly difficult to contain within the states that are experiencing internal threats because of globalization (porous borders and so on – we can see refugees pouring into Jordan and Turkey). Developing countries are much more likely to have to deal with serious internal political violence such as military coups, rebellions, violent transfers of power, warlordism, succession, genocide/politicide, ethnic or religious violence, campaigns of terrorism, riots & disorder (e.g. Syria for decades imprisoned and most likely tortured those who opposed the regime, protests and riots occurred and now an insurgency and civil war is taking place).[1]

A spill over effect from all these different types of political instability/violence can include terrorism, illegal migration, drug & arms trading, organized crime, environmental damage and in the most severe cases, state collapse and anarchy.[2] Syria has experienced a dramatic rise in crime, as police stations are left abandoned. Pro-government militias have been accused of numerous counts of rape, and kidnappings that were once rare, are now common occurrences.[3] Destruction of civil structures and institutions are linked to both sides. Some of the oldest historical sites and artifacts are in serious danger of being destroyed. Smuggling of arms to rebel groups across the borders of Turkey and Lebanon are now also a common occurrence. There is a growing fear that extremists – including members of Al Qaeda – will try and hijack the revolution and turn it into a sectarian war as was the case with Iraq – Sunnis against Shiites. There have been 35 car bombings, and 10 suicide bombings (terrorist tactics) 4 of which have thought to be directly linked to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.[4] The FSA has denied being linked with Al Qaeda, however many believe that in time they will be a big contender of influence in the civil war and insurgency.

“A Syrian boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed police station at the border town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, July 29, 2012. The U.N. said 200,000 Syrians have fled the embattled city of Aleppo since intense clashes between regime forces and rebels began 10 days ago.” Image from

A lot of the problems weak states face, are rooted in how the state was formed and how it governs its people.[5] Very often developing states have ruling elites, and the more that these elites try to establish state rule, the more they provoke violent challenges to their rule and authority. Regime security (the condition where governing elites are secure from violent changes) and state security (the condition where the institutions, processes, and structures of the state are able to function effectively, regardless of the makeup of the ruling elite) become inextricably linked.[6] This creates a situation that very often involves ‘structural anarchy’ where groups create insecurity in the rest of the system when they try and improve their own security.[7] This condition of insecurity is self-perpetuating because every effort by the regime to secure greater security for itself through violent force (Syria is using heavy artillery designed for traditional warfare against other states such as Israel, however it is using this artillery against its own civilians that are said to be sympathizers of the opposition and rebel militias who use asymmetric warfare) and thus undermines the institutional basis of the state and the security of the society as a whole. [8]

It is interesting that not only is the Assad regime a tightly knit group of political elites (however some of its elites have denounced the government and left, more cracks within the regime are expected), it is made up of a religious minority in Syria – the Alawites. The majority of Syria’s population is Sunni, and the government of Syria may fear that if it gives up its power, the Alawite community may suffer huge losses. They are not wrong for thinking so. In neighbouring Iraq, the minority Shiites that suffered brutally under the oppression of a Baathist dictator Saddam Hussein, are supporting the Baathist regime of Syria. Why? Minorities that support the ruling governments are usually supported and protected to a certain extent, even though they may be discriminated against in society as a whole. Also, Syria must fear that like in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, violence against minorities (for e.g. Assyrian Christians, Yazidis etc.) will rise drastically.[9] The same example can be made of Egypt after the fall of Mubarak. This religious and ethnic conflict can easily spread across borders and threatens the Middle East as a whole.

You may be surprised to find out, that a state gains authority and legitimacy through a monopoly of instruments of violence. The state has to be able to physically disarm its opponents and convince its population that violence is wrong and only legitimate when the state controls it.[10] A lack of political and institutional control along with a monopoly of force creates a spiral of insecurity, a semi-permanent situation of emergent anarchy where armed groups are forced to engage violently in strategies that help their survival.[11]  So when we are dealing with a state government that is using its machinery and force to just continue its reign, the concept of state security or national security (the security of a whole socio-political entity, a nation with its own way of life and independent state government) is impossible in that contextual environment. So weak state security is regime security as I mentioned before.[12]

So we are in bit of pickle :S What options does the Assad government have? What outcomes will be a result of this? And what is the response of the International Community – and why do states differ so widely in opinion? All of this will be looked at in the next post J. Until then!

Miss S.


p.s. if you need another fix, don’t forget I’ve got a Facebook group! And we would love you to join in on the shenanigans!

[1] Richard Jackson in ‘Contemporary Security Studies’ edited by Alan Collins, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010

[2] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Richard Jackson in ‘Contemporary Security Studies’ edited by Alan Collins, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010

[6] B. A. Job, ‘The Insecurity Dilemma: National Security of Third World States’ CO: Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 1992

[7] Richard Jackson in ‘Contemporary Security Studies’ edited by Alan Collins, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010

[8] Ibid.

[10] Richard Jackson in ‘Contemporary Security Studies’ edited by Alan Collins, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.