May 01

Area 51 and drones

Dwight John Zimmerman has authored Area 51 in collaboration with artist Greg Scott, to tell the location of this key aeronautical research location in Groom Lake, Nevada. Of course, Area 51 is a favorite of UFO buffs and conspiracy theorists, and both these topics are covered (p. 3-8, 15, 51). These ideas, however, are not the core of this work of graphic non-fiction. Instead, this is a sweeping historical study, which describes the successes and failures that the U.S. intelligence and military services experienced while developing new aviation technologies at Area 51.

What is impressive is the quantity of material that Zimmerman is able to cover in 91 pages. Greg Scott’s realistic style works well with this content. Many of the black and white sketches remind one of period photographs. Scott is equally adept at capturing the look of advanced aircraft or a battle field. The text and images meld well together.

What most interested me about the work, however, was its extensive discussion of drones, particularly their early history (p. 42-50). Today global powers are discussing creating drone submarines, and even drone submarine hunters. In Northwest Pakistan and Yemen the United States has been carrying out an undeclared war. With a recent drone strike in Libya, the scale of the conflict seems to be expanding. This technology has developed with amazing speed.

As Zimmerman discusses, the United States invested vast amounts of time, funds and expertise into drone development in the early 1960s. For example, in 1964 the United States used drones to carry out “160 reconnaissance missions over China” (p. 44). Remarkably, in 1962 the United States began work on a Mach 3 drone, which proved unsuccessful (45). The scale of American investments is fascinating, but in the end Zimmerman argues that the U.S. failed, because the key technology to enable drones to work had not yet been developed.

By the 1980s, the situation had changed. Zimmerman describes (p. 65-73) how the rapid increase in microprocessor speeds permitted the U.S. air force to create a new generation of drones. The first drone was used in a combat theater in 1999 during the conflict over Kosovo. Scott’s images (p. 73) capture the rapid evolution in drones’ capabilities, from being tasked with aerial reconnaissance, to being used to accurately deliver laser guided bombs upon particular individuals. As Zimmerman makes clear, the U.S. is currently developing a host of new drones, which even include helicopters (p. 88).

In an earlier blog post I reviewed the book Ghost Fleet, which described a hypothetical future conflict between the United States and China, in which drones played a central and horrifying role. The groundwork for these robotic conflicts is being laid now. While cyberwarfare -such as the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear program- has attracted the attention of security theorists, I believe that drones merit equal attention or more. Few people are regularly being killed in cyber warfare, but this is not the case with drones. While the United States took an early and impressive lead, other countries are now rapidly developing these technologies, particularly in Asia. The area of the world that is now seeing the most sustained and significant growth in military spending is Asia, and these expenditures are largely being driven by the issue of the South China sea. If one were to see the emergence of a major conflict in which drones played a central role, this would certainly be the most likely location. If so, doubtless some of the drones involved will have been designed in Area 51.

Scott and Zimmerman’s book is well-written, beautifully illustrated, and compelling. Highly recommended for anyone interested in military technology and Area 51. The truth is out there.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/05/area-51-and-drones/

Apr 27

Corruption in the Brazilian military

Today I gave a talk at the World Affair’s Council in Portland on the upcoming impeachment process in Brazil. Brazil’s Senate will vote in May on whether to initiate a trial against President Dilma Rousseff. A simple majority vote within the Senate will be enough to remove her from power for 180 days, while it considers her case. In that event, the Senate would then have to vote by two-thirds to impeach the President. If this were to happen, what would then occur next? Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/04/corruption-in-the-brazilian-military/

Apr 23

Impeachment in Brazil

For any readers who live in Portland Oregon, I am giving a talk for the World Affairs Council on Brazil’s move to impeach the President. The session will place next Wednesday, April 27th at noon, and registration is required. You can find more information and register at this page on World Affairs Council website.

Shawn Smallman

Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/04/impeachment-in-brazil/

Apr 23

Careers in the Foreign Service

When Kim and I were writing the textbook, one concern that some external reviewers had was that the final chapter on careers was “too vocational.” I’ve never believed that there was a contradiction between educating students for careers, and educating them for citizenship. Kim and I argued that the chapter was important, and it has remained. Students have often thanked me after the class for having included material on careers in the text. I think that -especially as a greater burden has fallen on students to pay for their own education- we have a responsibility to educate them about the different career pathways open to them, so I always like to share information related to jobs. Here is a link to a great article by Gareth Evans on “How to build a career in foreign relations.”

Shawn Smallman

Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/04/careers-in-the-foreign-service/

Apr 19

When Europe ruled the world

The European Union is currently passing through a prolonged social, political and economic crisis. Britain will soon vote on whether to withdraw from the European Union altogether. There are grave doubts that the common currency can be made to work. Unemployment, especially amongst youth, is very high throughout southern Europe. When I was in Spain last summer, I was struck by the signs in stores that promised discounts for the unemployed, which suggested how entrenched such unemployment has become.Throughout the region relatively low rates of economic growth have undermined people’s faith in the region’s current economic model.

In Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, in particular, there are serious doubts about a resurgent Russia (for an explanation of why, see Brooks and Wohlforth’s excellent article “the Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in the Twenty-First Century,” International Security, Winter 2015, pp. 20-21). The events in Crimea and eastern Ukraine make it clear that invasion and warfare remain threats for European states, particularly the Baltic nations.  At the same time, the disastrous violence from Syria to Libya has let to a flood of migrants, who are crossing borders in Italy and Greece. The result is a human catastrophe, as boats sink in the Mediterranean, families are divided, and poor states are overwhelmed by a flood of migrants. In relative terms, Europe’s global influence relative to other major powers -such as China- is waning. The European Union is beset by multiple crises, which perhaps explains the rise of populist and nationalist political parties, which reflects some citizens’ belief that fundamental change is desperately needed. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/04/when-europe-ruled-the-world/

Apr 15

Syllabus for an online course on Digital Globalization

This winter quarter I taught a fully-online class on Digital Globalization, which I greatly enjoyed. I believe that Digital Globalization is a form of globalization that is every bit as powerful as economic, political and cultural globalization. Of course, it is also inextricably linked to all these other forms of globalization. It’s strange, therefore, that has remained largely invisible in the literature in the field.

One point that struck me from the class is that the media gives a great deal of attention to the question of surveillance by governments, but my students are every bit as concerned about surveillance by corporations such as Facebook. I had also assumed that my students would be digital natives. Many of them, however, felt a great digital gap between themselves and younger siblings, who spend a great deal of time on social media, such as Instagram and Snapchat. They appreciated the chance to learn about topics such as Bitcoin that they had heard about in the media, but knew little about. From my students, I learned that there was a Bitcoin ATM in Portland, as well as bars and apartment buildings that accepted Bitcoin.

A few notes about the syllabus that follows. The majority of the content, including almost all of the videos, were obtained from my library’s Streaming Video and Music database. For this reason, I haven’t included the links here, because they would only work for people with accounts at my university. As you can see, I’m also beginning to use modules for online courses. In this particular case, I began with two weeks focusing on the individual (social media, the generation gap, music and art); two weeks focusing on institutions and the economy (Uber, Airbnb, the sharing economy, Bitcoin, 3D printers); and two weeks focused on the nation-state level (surveillance, privacy, encryption). For the fourth module of the course, students do three weeks of independent study on of the topics that they’ve explored in the class, to answer a key question. The goal of this module is to develop learner agency.

The final week of the course content students share a digital artifact, which is typically a Google Slideshow. I’ve done this in previous online classes, and it’s always very popular with the students, who take a great deal of pride in their work. I like the assignment because it in a sense it creates a co-constructed syllabus, in which students are responsible for their own learning. Lastly, for multiple reasons I did not allow students to do any research for this course on the Dark Web; that is, they could not research in areas of the Web that they could only access via a TOR, ITP or Freenet browser.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/04/syllabus-for-an-online-course-on-digital-globalization/

Apr 01

Hakai Magazine

In International and Global Studies departments we often organize our curriculum by geographic region. At Portland State University, students in International and Global Studies can complete tracks in the major with a focus on Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. In many programs there is now a move towards focusing on topics in the curriculum, rather than geographic regions. For example, in my own department we created a track in development studies three years ago, and it is now the most popular track in the major. How might we organize information if we decided not to begin with geography as defined by our traditional boundaries?

Perhaps one answer might be that we would look at what unites regions at a truly global level. Hakai Magazine, for example, provides content about the world’s coastal regions and our oceans, with an emphasis on the environment and coastal populations. There is a good mix of long and short form material, and a truly global perspective. For anyone with an interest in the world’s oceans, this is a great resource.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/04/hakai-magazine/

Mar 28

A book review of Assange’s Cypherpunks

Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet is a short, engaging and provocative look at surveillance and freedom on the internet. The book records a series of discussions between Assange and his co-authors (Jacob Applebaum, Andy Muller-Maguhn and Jeremie Zimmerman) on March 20, 2012 (while he was under house arrest in the UK), which was later edited for readability and coherence (p. 6). As a result, the reader feels as though they are eavesdropping on particularly interesting conversation in a pub, but a conversation by people who have great expertise in their fields. A front sheet on the book provides the essential context for this conversation: “What is a Cypherpunk? Cypherpunks advocate for the use of cryptography and similar methods as a away to achieve societal and political change. Founded in the early 1990s, the movement has been most active during the 1990s `cryptowars’ and following the 2011 internet spring.” The book reads as an introduction as much to the political philosophy of this group as it does to the technical issues involved in modern encryption debates. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/03/a-book-review-of-assanges-cypherpunks/

Mar 20

The end of open borders in Europe?

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the Syrian conflict, Europe has faced a wave of migration from the Middle East. One of the great achievements of the European Union has been the Schengen agreement, which creates open borders within the EU itself. As a tide of refugees has entered Europe, however, there has been a backlash, and many EU members are implementing what they call temporary border controls. For Greece, which is the typical entry point for migrants, many of whom come from Turkey, this represents a serious problem. If migrants or refugees are unable to follow the Balkan route to major Western states or Scandinavia, then they will remain in Greece, which lacks the resources to support them. The EU’s internal divisions on how to address this issue are creating serious internal tensions, at the same time that Britain is debating whether to exit the EU. To better understand the threat to the Schengen area, look at this map and blog post at Political Geography Now, which concisely describes the key issues involved.

Professor Smallman, Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/03/the-end-of-open-borders-in-europe/

Mar 17

Maps of emerging states

Although this map by Frank Jacobs and Parag Khanna is now almost four years old, the fundamental forces that are driving the emergence of new states have not changed. Indeed, their depiction of where new states might appear has proven to be prescient, particularly with regard to Kurdistan. Still, the fact that none of these possible nation-states has yet achieved global recognition makes the point the current nation-state system is resilient. As Ann Hironaka has argued (in her concise, thoughtful and well-researched book titled “Neverending Wars”), the global community’s reluctance to recognize new states may have the unintended consequence of prolonging conflicts. If so, perhaps this map doesn’t truly point to where new states will emerge as much as it indicates areas that are likely to experience conflict.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/03/maps-of-emerging-states/

Older posts «