American Politics: the view from overseas

Event hosted by the School of Social and Behavioral Science and Center for Global Engagement: ‘American Politics: the view from overseas’ on April 25, 2023 at 12:00 noon in the Bove Auditorium.

Discussion with our guest speakers: Viviana Mazza, Italian Journalist, NYC Corriere della Sera, and Ryan Heath, Author of Global Insider Editorial Director, POLITICO, alongside some of Mercy’s professors School of Social and Behavioral Science and School of Business.

mockup of forthcoming book from Oxford University Press, Political Automation: An Introduction to Driverless Government from Policing to Peacekeepingfor illustration purposes only

Forthcoming from Oxford University Press - Political Automation: An Introduction to Driverless Government from Policing to Peacekeeping

Governments increasingly use AI-based software to produce policy decisions according to a set of programmed instructions. These "bureaucratic bots" routinely gather information about our lives and decide matters of resource allocation; they determine, for example, who gets policed and who gets state benefits. As automation edges up the ladder of cognitive skills, increasingly complex policy-making functions will be taken over from human supervision, including on matters of national security and international peacekeeping. The role of humans in the act of policy production itself is therefore changing, as many find themselves at a new "frontier" of citizenship. This book (forthcoming 2023), will explore that frontier.

CGE Speakers Series - Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

CGE Speakers Series - Russia's Invasion of Ukraine - 03 2022 (002)

My Introductory remarks

Hello to all, and thank you for joining us today to discuss this timely, tragic, and thorny topic. Before I hand it over to the guests, and then open the floor to Q and A, I have been asked to provide an introduction to the situation in Ukraine.

This introduction will serve two purposes: First, we have quite a few students joining us today, some of whom may require a few background facts to better contextualize the conversations that will follow.

Second, in a time where journalists increasingly do the work of lawyers and politicians, someone has to pick up the work of journalists – that is, to report the facts, and just the facts.

What is evident to the world today is that a sovereign nation has been brutally invaded. As of this weak, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights verified a total of 1,151 civilian deaths as a result of Russia’s military attack on Ukraine. But what are the events leading up to this horrible war? As the saying goes, there are always three sides to every story. Yours, mine, and the truth. But in this story there are far more than three sides. We have the Russian side, the aggressor in this story, that also claims to be the main aggrieved party.

We have the Ukrainian sides, as there at least two, that of the Pro-Russian separatists and that of the Pro-Western, most current, government. Then of course there is the EU, NATO, different foreign policy establishments in the US, and fence-sitters across the globe from China to Brazil. Whenever there are so many competing interests in a conflict, it is helpful to anchor the search for facts as far back in history as possible, and in as narrow a geographic area as possible. This helps us avoid the propagandistic tugs of the present, and the amateur generalizations of the armchair grand-strategist. In this spirit, let us start with the history of Crimea (or Krym as they say in both Ukrainian and Russian).

Crimea is a peninsula situated along the northern coast of the Black Sea. Its possession is one of the major bones of contention between modern day Russia and Ukraine. Controlled by Mongols and then Ottomans for centuries, in 1783 the peninsula became part of the expanding Russian Empire and then later of the Soviet Union. In 1954 Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev signed a decree transferring Crimea from the Russian Socialist Soviet Republic to the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic, both of course part of the same overall Soviet Union.

In July 1990, with the Soviet Union collapsing, Ukraine declares itself an independent, neutral, and non-nuclear state. These three things are clearly stated and applauded around the world. The neutrality part is in reference to joining any military alliances, like NATO. Shortly after, in January 1991, Crimea holds a referendum in which 94% of the population, in large part Russian-speaking, elects to also become autonomous. The parliament of the new Ukrainian state at first
recognises this independence, and then changes its mind a few months later. Negotiations take place and by 1992 Crimea is granted special semi-autonomous status within Ukraine. Relations between the Ukrainian government and Crimea are tense throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Motions for more independence are met with tighter control by the central state on local government. Following the August 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, there are calls by some in Ukraine, and the West,
for Ukraine to join NATO.

By December of the same year the US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice signs a Charter on Strategic Partnership, that, I quote: “emphasizes the continued commitment of the United States to support enhanced engagement between NATO and Ukraine.” However, a PEW poll conducted at the time finds that the majority of Ukrainians are opposed to joining NATO. The parliament even passes a law barring the country from joining any military bloc. This ends any real prospect of Ukraine actually joining NATO. But the majority Russian speaking population in Crimea is getting increasingly nervous. Between 2009 and 2011 the United Nations Development Program conducts a series of polls in Crimea, and finds that up to 70% of the population wants to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. We will come back to Crimea, but for the moment we must turn our attention to the history of events in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and dig up some facts there. Leonid Kuchma served as president from 1994 to 2005. Then the orange revolution happened. This was a series of protests against the winner of the 2004 elections, the pro-Russia Viktor Yanukovych. Protest groups preferred the other candidate, the pro-West Viktor Yushchenko, and claimed the election was rigged. The largely peaceful protest was successful and Yushchenko was brought to power. But Yanukovych returns to power and becomes president in 2010.

In 2013 a second wave of protest begins against him. This was called the Euromaidan, a series of demonstrations which began in Independence Square. Maidan means square, and Euro is in reference to the European Union. The protestors were angry with Yanukovych for delaying a what seemed like a done deal with the European Union. Yanukovych instead suggested a new trilateral agreement between Ukraine, Russia, and the EU. Violence quickly escalates and continues into early 2014. Ukrainian radical right-wing and ultranationalist groups, such as Svoboda, join the violence on the side of the protestors. The whole of Ukraine becomes increasingly unstable, and local officials in Crimea push to break from Ukraine. They are concerned about what may happen if the pro-West protestors come to power in Kyiv. In February 2014 the protestors succeed in taking over Kyiv. President Yunokovych flees to Kharkiv, a city in the east and the country is now quickly splitting in two. The new government in Kyiv goes ahead with the EU deal and officially makes joining NATO a national priority.

Undercover Russian soldiers spill into Crimea and take control of all the airports, seaports, and train stations, cutting the peninsula off from the rest of Ukraine. NATO calls this Russian presence an invasion. People in Crimea hold a referendum and organizers claim 97% elect to formally join the Russian Federation. Ukraine says the referendum is illegal. Anti-Ukrainian and anti-West jitters now spread to the northeast of the Crimean Peninsula in an area called the Donbas, which comprises two regions on the border with Russia, Luhansk and Donetsk. This area is resource rich, and before the war accounted for 25% of Ukrainian exports.

In May 2014 they also hold a referendum, in which organizers claim 89% vote in favor of breaking from Ukraine. A civil war starts and rages on for years, with Ukrainian forces portraying separatists as terrorists, and separatists portraying Ukrainian forces as invaders. On February 21 2022, Russia officially recognizes the self-proclaimed separatist republics of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states, and two days later invades Ukraine, purportedly in defense of these two states. It is an interesting irony of war that a large portion of the Russian bombs are falling on pro-Russian parts of the population. What does this all mean for the future of Ukraine? What are the connections between this war, corruption, crime, and the neo-authoritarian tendencies we see in governments around the world? What will be the fate of the free media, and the open internet? How will each side prosecute the human rights violations that inevitably occur. To the Ukrainian’s credit, they have promised to  investigate violations on their own side.

Will a new Iron curtain run through Kyiv this time, instead of Berlin, and will it not only be physical but also digital – i.e the so called splinternet? Has this war inaugurated a new phase in world history, where nuclear-weapon holding states outside the atlantic alliance are emboldened to use war as a policy tool?
Will China follow suit over Taiwan? And most importantly, can sovereign democratic countries no longer elect to determine their own political and military alliances? It would not be the first time that standing up for the right of self determination of smaller nations causes a wider conflict between greater ones.

These and related questions I leave to our guest speakers. Dr Inna Melnykovska is Assistant Professor of Comparative Political Economy at Central European University in Hungary. Dr Natalia Forrat is Visiting Associate in the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan. Frank Brown is Director of the Anti-Corruption and Governance Center of the Center for International Private Enterprise
in Washington DC. Before I hand it over to them, I would like to lay some ground rules for questions from the audience. Please wait until our speakers have all finished before asking questions. If you do have a questions please keep it brief and if possible address it to one or more of our speakers. You can use the raise hand
function in zoom, or ask to speak in a message in the chat. I will call on you in the order I see your raised hand or text in the chat.
Dr Melnykovska, over to you, thanks.

2013. North Korea & the UN Security Council: Action, Reaction, Trust, and Mistrust

This study attempts to better understand the recent history of the relationship between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the United Nations Security Council by analyzing four different episodes in the relationship in depth. It then uses these analyses to infer recurrent trends in this relationship, so that we may get a better idea of what to expect from the DPRK in the near future. Since research shows that in the absence of some form of common ground between international actors lasting disarmament is not likely to be achieved, the report pays particular attention to levels of “trust” in this relationship.

By using an original methodology that combines a quantitative evaluation of the levels of mutual trust with a qualitative examination of the social and geopolitical context, we are able to identify what circumstances contribute to better relations and what circumstances do not. The study comes to the following conclusions and recommendations. First, it is not uncommon for Security Council resolutions to be utilized by the DPRK to reach some kind of strategic objective of its own. In particular, the DPRK has been successfully provoking the Security Council with weapons proliferation in order to (a) play the great powers against each other, (b) gain the upper hand in negotiating with the US and Japan, (c) portray itself as the legitimate defender of the Korean people, North and South, and (d) test the attitude of the international community, particularly the US, toward itself. Whenever any of this occurs, the level of mutual trust rapidly decreases.

Second, there is a case to be made that the Security Council should remove itself as an instrument of the DPRK’s foreign policy strategy. That is, whenever it becomes obvious that the DPRK is attempting to take advantage of a Security Council reaction, the Security Council should perhaps respond in a less predictable, scripted manner. One way to achieve this could be by relying more on technical provisions and less on media-ready public statements. We also find that every time Security Council resolutions respond to the long-term strategic interests of the larger regional players, periods of relative calm ensue. In particular, any arrangement that (a) allowed China to use the DPRK to further its role as a major stakeholder in the region or (b) allowed the US to use the DPRK to advance the case for its continued military presence in Japan and South Korea would, quite ironically, increase the level of mutual trust between the DPRK and the Security Council. Arrangements (a) and (b) are not necessarily in contradiction.

Security Council policymakers may thus want to consider that the more a provision caters to the interests of all the major local and regional players—and not just those of the DPRK—the more trust is increased in a sustainable way, and the higher the chances that the region ceases to be a problem for the international community in the near future.

Read More

2019. The relationship between influential actors’ language and violence: A Kenyan case study using artificial intelligence

Scholarly work addressing the drivers of violent conflict predominantly focus on macro-level factors, often surrounding social group-specific grievances relating to access to power, justice, security, services, land, and resources. Recent work identifies these factors of risk and their heightened risk during shocks, such as a natural disaster or significant economic adjustment. What we know little about is the role played by influential actors in mobilising people towards or away from violence during such episodes. We hypothesise that influential actors’ language indicates their intent towards or away from violence. Much work has been done to identify what constitutes hostile vernacular in political systems prone to violence, however, it has not considered the language of specific influential actors. Our methodology targeting this knowledge gap employs a suite of third party software tools to collect and analyse 6,100 Kenyan social media (Twitter) utterances from January 2012 to December 2017. This software reads and understands words’ meaning in multiple languages to allocate sentiment scores using a technology called Natural Language Processing (NLP). The proprietary NLP software, which incorporates the latest artificial intelligence advances, including deep learning, transforms unstructured textual data (i.e. a tweet or blog post) into structured data (i.e. a number) to gauge the authors’ changing emotional tone over time.

Our model predicts both increases and decreases in average fatalities 50 to 150 days in advance, with overall accuracy approaching 85%. This finding suggests a role for influential actors in determining increases or  decreases in violence and the method’s potential for advancing understandings of violence and language. Further, the findings demonstrate the utility of local political and sociological theoretical knowledge for  calibrating algorithmic analysis. This approach may enable identification of specific speech configurations associated with an increased or decreased risk of violence. We propose further exploration of this methodology.

Read More

Global TechnoPolitics Forum Event - Artificial Intelligence & Democracy: Are algorithms inclusive of all citizens?

Themes under discussion include:

  • History of data collection about citizens' physical bodies
  • History of data collection about citizens' mental states
  • Some examples of current uses of Facial Recognition Technology (FRT)
  • Some examples of current uses of Facial Emotion Recognition (FER)
  • Expected future developments of the technologies
  • Ethical issues around consent, privacy, and access
  • Political issues around possibility of "nudging" mass behavior
  • Exploration of cognitive security and related challenges