Be careful, because the world is more dangerous than it used to be…

February 6, 2014 § 9 Comments

It looks like the world is more dangerous for international policy professionals than it used to be. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the world is more dangerous for everybody. Nor should we allow alarming events we see on the news make our fears greater than the actual risks we face.

However, I do think that protection from diplomatic immunities and traditional inhibitions to violence against foreigners is down. Especially in global trouble spots.  After all, what is diplomatic immunity supposed to mean in a failed or failing state? Not much.

Diplomats need to work in dangerous places. Countries like Canada have global interests and need a global presence.  The civilian work Canada did in Kandahar shows that the Canadian public servants can deliver crucial civilian programs in war zones, especially when it is done in partnership with the Canadian Forces.

But why is there so much rage out there?

I think that there are some powerful psychological drivers of violence at work here. We don’t talk about it much. In a complex international equation, perceived insult leads to humiliation, which generates feelings of rage. This reduces cultural inhibitions to violence.

It gets dangerous when malign leaders exploit grievances against international actors in order to orchestrate violence against foreigners.

I remember April first, 2011 when Florida Pastor Terry Jones burned a Koran. This insult unleashed protests in Afghanistan that were hijacked for violent purposes. There were fatalities and property destruction in Kandahar, and also the tragic killing of seven UN workers in Mazar al Sharif.

Two observations. We know reckless acts like burning a Koran in Florida can have fatal impact on the other side of the world. So let’s keep alive the dialogue about the trade offs between freedom of speech, hate and incitement. We need to do so in a positive spirit of inclusion and responsibility. It would be great to have this conversation outside the crucible of crisis.

Secondly, there is no room for a casual attitude about security.  When an officer of an organization is the victim of insecurity, the objective of his whole effort is a victim, too. Lapses in the personal security of individuals can lead to catastrophic policy failures at the level of an organization. International professionals need to take their safety seriously, and organizations need to ensure they have the tools, resources and intelligence to do so.

Is your work getting more dangerous?

Looking forward to your comments.


§ 9 Responses to Be careful, because the world is more dangerous than it used to be…

  • Tim, I’m already a devoted follower, after reading only two posts. Thank you.

    • diplocounsel says:

      Thanks very much, Stephanie, for reading my blog. It would be interesting to consider how the Adventure Tourism industry reacts to the security equation, both when security deteriorates, and when countries recover.

  • Maury Miloff says:

    I look forward to hearing from your new site. You ask a key question — “why is there so much rage out there?” and note “there are some powerful psychological drivers of violence at work”. I’m interested in hearing you explore this further. The sense of religious or cultural inferiority, or superiority; the vulnerability of feeling one’s identity is under threat; the contradictions between traditional expectations and new versions of what is possible – such experiences contribute to the narrative of rage in a number of countries.

  • John McLearn says:

    I enjoyed your blog and look forward to the next installment. I believe, Canadians in general need to hear from people like yourself on a regular basis. MiDs, by the way, are still awarded. I look forward to your comments on the recent close out of the Afghan mission and other topics surrounding modern diplomacy.

    • diplocounsel says:

      Thanks, John. You will have seen my recent post on Kandahar. I take a positive view on the basis of my experience, though this seems to be the exception in terms of the comment out there.

  • Ben Rowswell says:

    Hello Tim, I can certainly attest to the rising level of danger, and welcome your warning about never taking security for granted. Constantly ratcheting up the mitigation measures won’t work either, so the only solution is informed, rational, wise management of security procedures for staff operating internationally. It’s labour intensive but a sine qua non of international work in the 21st century.

    • diplocounsel says:

      Thank you for your comment, Ben. You better than the vast majority of Canadian diplomats would know about the importance of being in dangerous places, and managing it well. With warmest best wishes for your assignment as Ambassador of Canada in Venezuela.

  • Leila Calnan says:

    Dear Tim, Great first few blogs — I admire (maybe envy a bit!) your position to have the time to reflect on your experiences and the directions of diplomacy, international relations and development. I am intrigued, and agree with your comment about giving more thought to the ‘trade offs between freedom of speech, hate and incitement’ and where it has taken us in recent years. In the case you cited (Florida), this unfortunate spark came from civil society. And there is sadly plenty more where that came from. But I am equally concerned about the breakdown in leadership, government-level improprieties, and the honor of what we have always associated with ‘statesmanship’. If Snowden’s leaks are to be believed (hard not to be), some of the reported actions can only fuel the fire of distrust and animosity toward’s western governments, generating further insecurity for diplomats (and regular expats alike). You’ve pointed out — Perceived insults –> humiliation –> rage …. its not just coming from racism, religious and cultural divides. But in many cases, the very governments themselves are exacerbating it, giving more ’cause’. Maybe its always been around, maybe we just have greater access to information these days. But the result seems to be a further breakdown in intergovernmental relations, deteriorating respect from civil society towards foreign governments — all which make the world less safe and secure as you’ve described. So yes, to your question, as an expat working in international development — my life is getting more dangerous (not everywhere, thankfully!) And we need to look hard — and broadly — at why.
    Looking forward to more! (I’ve been introduced to your blog by a certain N. Martin!) Thanks, Leila

    • diplocounsel says:

      Thank you very much for your insightful comment, Leila. I especially thought that your point about when governments exacerbate things by introducing a polarizing discourse, characterizing countries as good or bad. At the same time we know that every country is in fact composed of good and bad people. With your work on sustainable tourism and having contributed in Sri Lanka, Mozambique, Jordan, Micronesia and Ghana, a big contribution is being made in cross cultural awareness. I think that we all, or most of us, take great satisfaction when we enjoy positive human contact across cultural divides. Maybe this is an antidote to the mischievous politicians who seek to divide us?

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