All posts by Dr Helene Lavoix

Dr Helene Lavoix (MFin Paris, MSc PhD Lond), Director and Senior Analyst, is the founder of The Red (team) Analysis Society and a political scientist (International Relations) specialised in Strategic Foresight and Warning (SF&W) for conventional and unconventional security issues. She is the author of “What makes foresight actionable: the cases of Singapore and Finland” (confidential commissioned report, US government, November 2010), “Enabling Security for the 21st Century: Intelligence & Strategic Foresight and Warning” RSIS Working Paper August 2010, “Constructing an Early Warning System,” in From Early Warning to Early Action, European Commission, ed. DG Relex, 2008, “Detailed chronology of mass violence – Cambodia (1945 – 1979),” Online Encyclopaedia of mass violence, 2008 and the editor of Strategic Foresight and Warning: Navigating the Unknown, ed. RSIS-CENS, February 2011; etc. More on academia.edu. Listed on the public list curated by LSEImpactBlog: @LSEImpactBlog/soc-sci-academic-tweeters.

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 190 – The Islamic State, Puppet Master of Emotions

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – This week was overwhelmingly dominated by three main issues, the horrendous burning alive of the Jordanian pilot by the Islamic State, its use as psyops products, and more largely the war against the Islamic State, the never abating tension between North America and Europe on the one hand, Russia on the other, along the Ukrainian conflict (with an unusual number of videos on the situation within Ukraine) and the showdown between the new Greek government and the EU (see more details in the economy section, although the potential impacts go much beyond the economy).

Before to review in detail the interpretations of the murderous execution of the Jordanian pilot to try to make sense of it, we shall point out three articles that are of particular interest. First, Khalil al-Anani underlines crucial dynamics taking place notably within the Muslim Brotherhood, “The ISIS-ification of Islamist politics” (Washington Post). Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 190 – The Islamic State, Puppet Master of Emotions

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 189 – Why an anti-Russian “Western” Foreign Policy?

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – With the return of war to Eastern Ukraine, we are witnessing an interesting effort by some authors to try to make sense of a US-led foreign policy and analysis of the world that does not appear to make sense to them, besides, of course, the host of usual anti-Russian articles.

The articles in The American Interest  (“Putin’s World: In It To Win It” by Walter Russell Mead) and Salon (“Distortions, lies and omissions: The New York Times won’t tell you the real story behind Ukraine, Russian economic collapse” by Patrick Smith), although each with their own points, have in common an interrogation regarding the current extremely anti-Russian and anti-Putin policy, notably as far as Ukraine is concerned. Their effort at finding a rational answer somehow echoes Mearsheimer’s attempt at making peacefully and rationally sense of the same issue by using International Relations theory in Foreign Affairs (Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault” Sept Oct 2014). Similarly, Robert Jervis, the famous International Relations scholar, father of the study of perceptions in world politics, when surveyed by Foreign Affairs (Who Is at Fault in Ukraine? Nov 2014), strongly disagreed with the fact that Putin was responsible for the crisis in Ukraine.

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 189 – Why an anti-Russian “Western” Foreign Policy?

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 188 – Beyond the Positivity Mindset, the Islamic State and a Map

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – Foreign ministers of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State are meeting in London, as “much more [than air strikes] needed to be done”, according to British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. According to the BBC, the aim is “to find ways to halt the flow of recruits to IS, cut off its funding and “tackle the underlying narrative”. In the meantime, the successes of the coalition’s strategy are also emphasized, as is regularly stated by most governments, including by U.S. President Obama in his State of the Union address.

Yet, facts on the ground tend, to the least, to question this relative optimism, even if governments officials are careful to use cautious words and statements, as shown, for example, by the excellent updated maps published regularly on Pietervanostayen website (and accessible each in a large format) and made by Thomas van Linge (@arabthomness). We are displaying here the 15 January versions of the maps together (approximately merged), rather than separately with Iraq on the one hand and Syria on the other, as it better reflects the reality on the ground, and helps perception. The merged version (click here to access a larger merged map) notably shows the probable impossibility of dealing with the Islamic State if considering the Iraqi battlefield only and thus underlines the very real complexity of having to consider the Syrian diplomatic quagmire on top of war.

map Iraq Syria 15 jan 2015 sc
Merging of the two 15 January 2015 maps by Thomas van Linge – @arabthomness – from Pietervanostayen website

Considering the various allegiances to the Islamic State, and the various wars and fightings taking place from West Africa to Pakistan, as abundantly documented in the crowd-sourced articles, the same mapping effort needs to be repeated on a larger scope.

Undoubtedly, the various state instances, notably military and intelligence, involved within the coalition use such maps.

But then, would it not be time that governments (understood in the European sense of the word, as distinct from state), if they truly want to do much more than strikes, in a successful and meaningful way, including when trying to stem the flow of foreign fighters, as they most certainly know the situation on the ground, stop first the “communication” tack according to which everything must be positive and reassuring and nice, and only specific parts of the truth are told? True enough, their discourse could be part of a real need for secrecy and of counter-psyops operation, rather than part of PR and politician communication. Yet, in both cases, in the age of the internet, anyone can work out that such a message is just, at best, not exactly representative.

Systematically emphasising and hyping only what is positive is likely to backfire in many different ways, from loss of legitimacy to polarization to adverse cognitive impact on all actors, including analysts, who can always fall prey to the fear to tell the truth.

Even if we are not yet there (at least from the point of view of some in the coalition, as Syrians and Iraqis, or Lebanese, or Jordanians among so many others would probably say and feel in their everyday life otherwise), could we imagine Churchill making similar statements during the Blitz or when Singapore fell to Japan, which did not stop then a remarkable use of decoy and propaganda, true enough before the existence of the internet?

Alternatively, a better, but more pessimistic, reference might be the speech “Air Parity Lost” given by Churchill at the House of Commons on  2 May 1935 (everything being equal, as the problem here is not evidently loss of air power):

“Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

Meanwhile, check also a number of articles on Ukraine considering the tensions that just flared up again, with, as apparent major difference, compared with the pre-Minsk agreement period, an American and European political class that might be less inclined into following Ukrainian statements regarding alleged open Russian aggression in the Donbass, as peace is of primary import, on the contrary from many mainstream media. Tensions however remain.

Economy – An excellent article by Dr Odette Lienau from Cornell University on her latest book explaining why “It’s time we reconsider(ed) the principle that states must always repay their sovereign debt” (LSE Blog). It also points out the dangers for understanding to fail to pay attention to the meaning and construction of norms as well as to history.

Energy and environment security – Dr Keith Daum more particularly pointed out the need to monitor “how the appointment of Magnusdottir as Minister of the Environment of Iceland might influence the agreement Iceland signed with China last year to allow increased access to the Arctic. It is important to watch how this appointment may alter or clarify the current political pathway.”

He then outlined a number of articles addressing the problem of dissenting opinions on climate change and the need to consider them, beyond one’s initial position. “First, NOAA recently published information that 2014 was the warmest year on record. However, Dr. Roy Spencer had an alternative analysis and also deserves to be read, notably because he has some basis for that disagreement. Meanwhile, an article this week pointed out the potential biases from omissions of data, while another stressed how challenges, such as those related to the oceans can be overstated. For the ICCP, NOAA and other narratives to stay resilient, it is important to address dissension in the open, acknowledging what is useful and using data to show errors in analysis.”

Science – Some interesting conclusions regarding the ability “to predict the future” as identified by the still ongoing “geopolitical forecasting tournament” organised by the U.S. Intelligence are summarized in Quartz “Some people really are better at predicting the future. Here are the traits they have in common”: part gift, part work and proper methodology, as well as team work.

Tech & Weapons - Two articles stand out this week. First, one on “New method to generate arbitrary optical pulses” (Science Codex), which could have impact on laser-based weapons. Second, Google’s massive investment in SpaceX (NPR) not only enhances the odds of seeing an “Internet Access For All” but has also multiple potential impacts, from the spread of propaganda and mobilization to remain with a current topic, to the overall area of space security.

Ebola – A potentially unfavourable piece of information emerged this week, regarding the genome of the current Ebola strain. The virus mutated compared with the previous epidemic, which might question the usefulness of the various drugs being currently prepared. As a result, the uncertainty surrounding the epidemic and its potential futures increases. According to the WHO latest situation report, we now have a total of 21689 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of EVD and 8626 deaths … reported up to the end of 18 January 2014.”

Read the 22 January scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Islamic State Psyops – Worlds War

The world is increasingly racked, and with an ever wider geographical scope, by “Jihadis” attacks of various if not complex origin. To name only some of the most reported and latest cases, we faced attacks in Belgium, Canada, Australia, and lately France – with aftermath in Germany (11 January 2015The Telegraph). In Lebanon we had an attack in Tripoli (10 January 2015, BBC News) and the north of the country seems to be plunging into war. In Pakistan we remember the 16 December attack on a Peshawar School (BBC News, 13 January 2015), while the overall situation is increasingly unsettled and a former Taliban group, Khorassan Shoura, renewed its allegiance to the Islamic State in January 2015 (The Long War Journal, 13 Jan 2015). In Nigeria, two attacks were carried out by children suicide bombers on 10 and 11 January 2015 (The Guardian, 12 January 2015), and part of the northeast of the country seems to be now lost to Boko Haram,  affiliated to the Islamic State, while the conflict spreads to Cameroon (e.g. BBC News, 13 January 2015). In Saudi Arabia, we had an attack on border post on 5 January 2015 (Alessandria Masi, International Business Time). Meanwhile, the war heightens in Libya, which also has its own Islamic States actor (see forthcoming post in our series on Libya), reignites in Yemen (Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, 12 January 2015), and does not relent in Iraq and Syria.

Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh
Still from the video “Although the disbelievers dislike it”, Al-Furqan media foundation, 16 November 2014.

In this light, and beyond the apparent diversity of origin of the attacks, it has become all the more urgent to understand the world as the Islamic State sees it, and in which way that worldview and related psyops and actions impact all other actors, be they Jihadis or not, affiliated to the Islamic State or not. This is crucial if we want to foresee what may happen, warn about it, and fight the war against the Islamic State at best.

Continue reading The Islamic State Psyops – Worlds War

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 187 – Freedom of Speech, the Other, and War

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – In the aftermath of the Jihadi attacks in Paris during the second week of 2015, a crucial debate surrounding freedom of speech is emerging. It is not only a philosophical and intellectual debate. It mobilizes populations across the world and can divide populations within countries, as show the exchanges on the social networks on the topic. It is translated in diplomatic terms, as show the decision of the Kingdom of Morocco not to participate to the march in Paris on 11 January, the 14 January reactions in the Middle East to the new issue of Charlie Hebdo, or the comments found in Russia and denounced in the West on the topic, and has the power to sour relationships between those who insist freedom of speech is a crucial foundation of their values and their democracy and those who feel deeply injured by its exercise. It can be used to mobilize and arm populations, notably by hostile powers, as the latest video by Al Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula claiming the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, or as the Islamic State psyops video from Wilayat al-Raqqah show (see more generally all related videos on Jihadology.net) .

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 187 – Freedom of Speech, the Other, and War

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 186 – The Attack on Charlie Hebdo and Denial of War

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

Update 9 January 2015: As the dual hostage crisis (the perpetrators of the 7 and 8 January attacks had fled and taken hostages) unfolded, in France, progressively, commentators and experts interviewed started stressing that we were in a case of war. General Tauzin, Special Forces, stated: “this looks like a campaign against France, it is only a beginning” (14:57 i Télé – interview).

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – The focus this week is on the deadly attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris, as another attack took place the next day (8 January 2015) in the metro. The spectrum of reactions and interpretations following the tragedy is very symptomatic of the inner turmoil that Western societies in general, Europe in particular, and notably France, are facing as they are increasingly forced to face the novel threat generated by the rise of the Islamic State and its Caliphate.

They need first to understand what is happening, while also devising adequate responses, the second following from the first. The understanding is painstaking and seems to be faced with many hurdles and biases as outdated world-views clash with reality.

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 186 – The Attack on Charlie Hebdo and Denial of War

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 185 – 1 January 2015

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… This issue is unedited (direct access to raw, unsorted, crowdsourced information) – A Happy New Year 2015 to everyone!

Read the 1 January scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 184 – 25 December 2014

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… This issue is unedited (direct access to raw, unsorted, crowdsourced information) – A Merry Christmas to everyone!

Read the 25 December scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Islamic State Psyops – The Making of the Crusaders

As we work our way towards understanding the Islamic State psyops, and after having presented a framework where we notably looked at channels, products, and sources (note that the original text was updated to add Al-Itisam media as source), we shall now start analyzing the content of messages, focusing here on the executions of the Western hostages.

Much has been written on those dreadful events already. Most of the time, articles and official statements always underline the barbarous character of the Islamic State. Yet, as seen, the beheadings are part of the Islamic State psyops. They were carefully staged and filmed, always by Al-Furqan Media Foundation, save in the case of Hervé Gourdel (see previous post). They are thus part of an attempt at influencing behaviour. As a result, they are not gratuitous acts that would show, as unintended consequence, how despicable the Islamic State is.

Another commonly found explanation is fear. Generating fear, which is one of the major reasons for terrorist attacks (U.S. Department of Defense “Terrorism“), is stressed as main objective for the executions, because the West absolutely wants to consider IS as a terrorist group and deal with it on this basis, for a host of reasons (Lavoix, “Monitoring the War against the Islamic State or against a Terrorist Group?”, 29 September 2014). Is it the case or could other intentions also be present, as suggested, for example, by Trevor Thrall, associate professor at George Mason University, in his “Not-So-Senseless Violence” (US News, 8 December 2014).

From the point of view of Islamic State’s psyops, we shall thus analyze the logic of trying to generate fear and rule it out. Then, putting back the executions in their context, we shall provide two other explanations, the latter grounded in the Russian concept of Reflexive Control and showing IS aim could very well be “the making of the crusaders” across IS enemies’ decision-making apparatus (focusing our analysis more particularly on Europe and the U.S.), from policy-makers to citizens.  Continue reading The Islamic State Psyops – The Making of the Crusaders

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 183 – From Cuba to Rubles, the “New Cold War” Heightens

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – Some analysts seem to hail the move towards the normalization of  U.S.-Cuba relations as an evidence that the U.S. is truly ending the Cold War (e.g. Karen De Young, Washington Post). This is, however, not to consider all dimensions of one of the major transitions that the world order is currently knowing. This is to ignore power and international politics, which are played on the global stage. It seems indeed, that the U.S. move towards Cuba, added to the ruble crisis and China’s potential consequent actions argue, on the contrary, for a heightened power struggle in the fight for or against a unipolar world that would be dominated by the U.S..

Although being a rather classical power struggle that may be described in terms of realpolitik and strategy, mirages and blindness seem to preside over this “New Cold War”and to hide its escalation, including maybe because it tends to be solely cast against Russia and especially his President, Vladimir Putin.

In this regard, the article by Friedman (Stratfor) is a must read as it shows how much the U.S. (as well as “the West”) is blind as far as Russia and Russians are concerned, not understanding at all their interest, perceptions, as well as “the Russian soul”, what matters to Russians, what they want. The capacity and willingness of Russians to withstand economic hardship – for example as far as the ruble and oil prices are concerned – for things that matter to them more and most is obviously completely lost on what has become of the West, a consumerist, hyper-materialistic society, most of the time gone astray “into the having” and having forgotten what was “being”, to use the great insight of the great socio-psychatrist Erich Fromm (e.g. To have or To be, 1976; The Sane Society1955). As a result, if some actors were hoping to see the financial and economic crisis forcing Russia to change its policy and strategy, they would most probably be mistaken. On the contrary, its resolve is likely to be reinforced.

Mirage and blindness again, this time for analysts and media, regarding the evolution of U.S.-Cuban relationships, which is cast in lights most often related to democracy, liberalism, freedom and business interest, when, most probably, the change is part of the new American power struggle against Russia. Indeed, according to two crowdsourced articles, behind these apparently solely diplomatic developments are American concerns over, first, a new security deal signed between Russia and Cuba in May 2014, which would notably allow “the use of [Cuban] airfields for Russia’s Tu-95 nuclear capable bombers”, which could then threaten the U.S. coast  (see “Intel concerns about Russia-Cuba ties preceded Obama’s deal to dismantle sanctions”, The Washington Times; see also The Voice of Russia; Consortium of Defense Analysts). Then, the U.S. would be worried about the reopening of a SIGINT (signals intelligence) facility in Cuba and a negotiation for an oil deal between Russian Rosneft and Cuban CUPET to exploit the 4 to 20 bn barrels estimated Cuban reserves, both announced in July 2014 (see Power Moves: US-Cuba deal isolates and weakens Russia; and also The Wire; The Diplomat for the original articles).  We are thus definitely in the realm of a power struggle. Will the U.S. succeed in cutting Russia off from Cuba, this is extremely doubtful considering the long-standing friendship and relations between the two countries.

Blindness and mirage again for not seeing the role that China seems ready to play, how it might stand by Russia and how, should it do so as far as the ruble crisis is concerned, the impact for the US dollar and its supremacy could be damaging (see “China Prepares To Bailout Russia”, Zerohedge and “Rouble vs. Dollar Games – From a Perspective of a Russian Businessman”, Information Clearing House – ICH). In turn, the “new Cold War” may only be heightened and accelerated. The new military involvement of China in Iraq, however outside the U.S.-led coalition, should also be noted, as it may signals a novel phase in China’s role in the world, which tended so far to be more economically oriented, save in its near abroad. Should such a signal be confirmed by further indications, then we would be witnessing an acceleration of the world order transition.

Energy, economy and environment security – As the impact of the fall of oil prices are starting to be felt across actors, as tensions rise, climate change and related problems seem to become increasingly a remote, uninteresting issue. Dr Keith Daum underlines that “The COP20 climate conference in Lima was not very positive, as shown by the various comments made, from a failure to deliver a useful outcome (WWF) to modest agreement with serious divisions remaining between rich and poor nations (Politico) or a compromise that sets the stage for an upcoming meeting in Paris (NPR). Meanwhile, the NYT stresses that the driving force behind the deal was not the threat of sanctions, but global peer pressure.” And if peer pressure is not there anymore because “peers” are busy elsewhere, the prospect for a real deal with a real outcome coming into being are not very bright. Yet, as Dr Daum stresses science repeatedly documents that climate change is serious, relentless and with negative impacts, for example, with “a new understanding regarding the rate of icecap melting in Greenland, or an article in Nature calling into question one of the assumptions of climate models which was that with increasing CO2 concentration forests will have increased growth.”

Tech and Weapons – Three articles notably stand out: the US Navy new underwater drone, India’s continuing space exploration as well as, again in space, potential collaboration between US Lockheed Martin and Boeing and … Russia.

Ebola – According to the WHO latest situation report, we now have “a total of 18603 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of EVD and 6915 deaths … reported up to the end of 14 December 2014.”

Read the 18 December scan → 

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons