All posts by Helene Lavoix (Msc, PhD Lond)

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 Listed on the public list curated by LSEImpactBlog: @LSEImpactBlog/soc-sci-academic-tweeters.
Explosions 2014

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 155 – Narratives at War: EU-US vs Russia vs Crowdsourced?

Editorial – Narratives at war: There is a fascinating discrepancy at work between narratives found in the news. They vary according to the type of actors upon which one focuses. Actually the difference between some of them is so huge that one wonders if they describe the same world. Furthermore, if those narratives are rooted in the conflict in Ukraine they do not stop there but interact with and impact other areas and dimensions.

Narrative One originates from the U.S. and Europe, with slightly varying emphases according to American or European origin. It runs somehow as follows: The conflict in Ukraine is (almost) over, thanks to legitimate democratic elections and the new Ukrainian President elect Poroshenko, who has outlined his peace plan. The next step is thus, according to the last decades of peace missions and operations, the organisation of peace according to known recipe, hence Barroso starting announcing a donour conference for July (see G7 struggles to find common approach to Russia | World | DW.DE). If ever things were not going as past experience has shown they ought to happen, then it means that Russia is certainly manipulating events (Ibid). Meanwhile, “Russia ‘revanchism’” is now a top U.S. threat (see Breaking Defense); NATO deployment is increased on European territories (see all related article in The Weekly), while Europe and Europeans try to find a less extreme way forward between the U.S. and Russia.

Narrative Two is from Russia, and agrees that peace is foremost in Ukraine and should now be organized, also thanks to Ukraine legitimate President elect and his peace plan (see ‘Russian troops in Ukraine? Got any proof?’ Putin’s best quotes from French media talk“, RT). Unsurprisingly, Russia, however denies all involvement in the conflict. If things do not work out, it thus declines any responsibility, instead hinting at an American responsibility in creating the conditions for civil war. Meanwhile, the U.S. in the “New Russia Doctrine” (Defense News) are cast as a threat to stability for manipulating the happenstance of “colour revolutions”.

However counter-intuitive this may seem, we have here two very similar narratives, which does not stop the violent conflict between both alternatives. This looks very much like the return to a new Cold War that has been frequently underlined.

But things do not stop here, we also have a Narrative Three emerging, this time not from classical media and diplomatic channels, but from crowd-sourcing, using both classical and new media. Here, the focus is on the war at work in Eastern Ukraine, with videos that are not so dissimilar from those posted on Syria, everything being equal. This narrative thus undermines and seriously questions Narratives One and Two. Actually, war is not at all over in Eastern Ukraine. If Narrative One and Two are created to allow for diplomatic exchanges, an overall international appeasement of the situation and to give hope for peace, then Narrative Three may be seen as counter-productive, even if it is certainly closer to reality.

Behind those different accounts and narratives, we see at work different ways to understand the world, one where external political actors are all-powerful, and the other where processes of escalation between parties (notably warring ones) have their own dynamics, which are partly independent from those powerful actors.  Behind Narratives One and Two, there is a hope or a belief that by 7 June, when Mr Poroshenko will officially become President, the ATO renewed offensive will have succeeded, and as it will have been done by the interim Ukrainian government, the new one will be able to appear, at least externally, as benevolent, thus peace  will come back.

Yet, what if things do not work out this way? What if political dynamics are more complex? The forces of Novorossia in Eastern Ukraine appear to be quite isolated, indeed not benefiting  from any classical support found in wars. However, if we stop only looking at states entities and elites and consider individuals, then, are they that isolated? Could such individual, uncoordinated support change the course of state actors and elite wishes? Could the two similar phenomena of individual Russians, on the one hand, and individual Europeans, on the other, involving themselves in, respectively, Ukraine and Syria  - by the way a phenomenon that is not at all new, as shows the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War – be a signal that Narrative One and Two are wanting?

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Red (Team) Analysis, Weak signal, political risk, War


Featured image: Explosions - Some of the ground display from the Miramar Airshow – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Crown 2014

Conflict in Ukraine – State of Play – The Oligarchic System

This post is the second of the series on the conflict in Ukraine and starts a review of the various domestic actors. It focuses on the oligarchic system, its dynamics and challenges.

On 15 May 2014, steelworkers working for oligarch Rinat Akhmetov took over the city of Mariupol in the Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, as reported by Andrew Kramer for the New York Times, even if the People’s Republic of Donetsk seems to have kept power (e.g. Roza Kazan, 18 May 2014), after Akhmetov released a first statement video (see original 14 May, with subtitles). Meanwhile, Kim Sengupta for The Independent, writing on the 9 May attack on Mariupol mentions that “An assortment took part in the assault, including a private army supposedly bankrolled by an oligarch – the “men in black”. On 19 May, Rinat Akhmetov released another video (here with subtitles) titled: “Emergency statement of Rinat Akhmetov on the situation in Donbass”, in a way very similar to a statesman, taking a strong position against the Donetsk People’s Republic (see previous post, forthcoming for actor analysis), underlining not only the economic risks to the people and the region but also risks of “genocide”, and calling his workers and employees to protest and act peacefully against war. He then addressed the next day a rally and broadcast a message on his TV station  (see also – and contrast – accounts by The Economist, BBC News, The Independent). Women and men such as Rinat Akhmetov seem to wield a powerful influence. They are called the Ukrainian oligarchs.

What are oligarchs? What is the system labelled “The oligarchic democracy” (2012) by Sławomir Matuszak in his excellent report and what does it imply for the country? Who exactly are those oligarchs? Which roles do they play or could play in the crisis? Those are crucial questions that need to be tackled if one wants to hope understanding what is happening in Ukraine, and to have as clear as possible a vision of the potential futures for the crisis. We shall address here the first two questions, as we need to have a broad understanding of the system, its consequences and the challenges even oligarchs have to face, before to turn to the other questions (forthcoming).

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1024px-High-speed 2014

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 153 – The Paradox of Change?

Editorial – The paradox of change? Reading through the multiple crowd-sourced articles of the Weekly, what stands out is a perception of an acceleration of change. In itself, each flashpoint or problem is not new, and has been either underlined or monitored for months and even for years for some of them. Yet, when we look at all of them together, then it seems that they tend to become real, accumulate, or worsen in an accelerating way.

We may wonder if the acceleration – assuming it is not “just” a question of perception – does not come from the following phenomenon, among certainly others: despite stressing upcoming changes, these emphases may remain at a very shallow level when those changes are – consciously or not – equated with something undesirable. As a result, real assessment of situations and decisions taken are one step – to be optimistic – behind, done out of past habits. Then, refusal to consider properly ongoing changes ends up accelerating them, possibly in a way that is more adverse than what could have happened. Take, for example, the awareness of the end of the U.S. dominated unipolar world. It has been underlined for years, including in the U.S.:

“With the rapid rise of other countries, the “unipolar moment” is over and Pax Americana—the era of American ascendancy in international politics that began in 1945—is fast winding down.” (Global Trends 2030, Dec 2012 : x)

Yet, when those countries that were known to be part of the new poles of the multipolar world – among them, for example, Russia and China – act accordingly, then surprised outrage results, while complex explanations to crises recede (read for example Oliver Bullough “Stop forcing Ukraine into a narrative of Moscow versus Washington” The Guradian). This immediately puts everyone on an escalating path, considering the power available to all actors in this multipolar world, the aim of the ascending poles to see the changed world happening and the intrinsic escalating power of erroneous explanations and related misunderstandings.

Thus, when change is coming – and it always is – what would matter is not only identifying those changes but also the way actors truly perceive them. From this perception will follow action located on an spectrum ranging from resistance and fear, which will accelerate change and possibly make the result less favourable, to acceptation and ability to seize opportunities to bend changes to one’s advantage. Assuming this hypothesis is correct, then it pleads methodologically for an abundant use of scenarios, simulations and role playing.  At the level of analysis, it emphasises, if it still needed to be considering the existing literature on the topic, the importance of the role of perceptions in international politics.

Click on the image below to read the Weekly on Paper.lipolitical risk, international system, weak signals


Featured image: High speed by By Paolo Neo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

hearder map 2014

Conflict in Ukraine – Setting the Stage

The crisis in Ukraine started on 21 November 2013 with the Euromaidan protests in Kiev. Six months later, it is threatening to become a full-blown civil war with severe global impacts, unless the situation is stabilized. mariupol APC, conflict in UkraineIt is thus very important to assess the short to medium term plausible futures for this conflict, including if stabilization occurs or seem to take place, as the country and the international world will have been impacted. This post starts a series on the conflict in Ukraine, which aims at providing the most possible useful analysis of the situation. As we did with Syria, the series will focus on the states of play for the actors and the situation on the ground, a necessary foundation for any proper strategic foresight and warning regarding the conflict.

After outlining our analytical framework to overcome the difficulties related to propaganda, we shall define and present the three phases of the conflict, so far, and their dynamics and evaluate if we are in the case of a war in Ukraine.

Propaganda, reality and analysis

The analysis regarding Ukraine is particularly interesting and potentially fraught with difficulties because of “The War on Truth in Ukraine“, as underlined by Keith A. Darden, an associate professor at American University in his New York Times op-ed  (27 April 2014). Indeed, the situation is highly and violently polarized at both national and international level, and accompanied by corresponding advocacy, to put it mildly, actually propaganda and thus psychological warfare.

It is thus, ideally, all the more important to provide as dispassionate an analysis as possible, because, without it, no proper assessment of the future is possible. It is the only way forward towards both de-escalating the overall situation and strategically, whatever the actor and the goal, seeing one’s goal met. It is also the role and duty of scientists and non-partisan, a-political think tanks to present the most possible unbiased analysis, in a way similar to the Intelligence “speak truth to power”, because only realistic and comprehensive analyses may lead to proper actions and contribute to avoiding costly mistakes and unpleasant surprises.

Yet, we should also not ignore that what one side sees as propaganda, is often revered as “Truth” by another side, or is a vital element of his/her strategy to attain a goal. No amount of effort would convince those who believe strongly in their perspective and their aim that it is only this, a specific worldview, indeed grounded on some facts but interpreted specifically and most often partially. Furthermore, what one side or one actor (understood here collectively) believes will determine how its cognitive filter will sort out information, ignoring some pieces and considering others and then how it will interpret those facts.

conflict in UkraineMoreover, as far as some facts are concerned, it will be impossible to know with a one hundred per cent certainty what really happened Conflict in Ukrainebefore archives are open and declassified, which means waiting at best 30 years, most often longer for topics related to national security. Even intelligence services with the huge means at their disposal sometimes get it completely wrong, as reminds us the wide literature on multiple intelligence failures (see the excellent bibliography on intelligence maintained by J. Clark).

Thus, besides the most outlandish and outrageous propaganda that can be discarded at the level of facts – but still needs to be considered at the level of beliefs held, how are we to proceed? Rather than fighting against this reality, we need to turn it to our advantage. We shall, of course, rely first on scholarly work, when it exists, for in-depth knowledge, and on investigation journalism, when it is done. Then, we shall try to consider those facts that can be known and that are usually included in all reports and news articles, or rather that can be identified by considering all sources, however being careful with the interpretation given to those facts. Our work here is eased by the relatively large amount of raw information available thanks to new media and social networks, such as videos, photos, or exchanges on twitter or other media.

As overall framework, we shall consider that “All the actors’ beliefs present a vision of reality bent to their respective beliefs and goals. Out of the interactions between the actors motivated by their beliefs and related goals emerges a future Reality, “the Truth,” that is then apprehended and interpreted according to each actor’s information filter and capabilities to gather information” (Lavoix, Nationalism and Genocide, 2005: 195) As a result, listening and paying attention to all actors will give us their beliefs, their goals and their most probable next actions, as well as emerging potential future(s).

Phases of conflict and casualties

Before to start analyzing in detail the actors we need to have a broad understanding of the situation, including identifying if we already are faced with a war, and to assess the overall dynamics, which we shall then refine in the course of the analysis, over the series of posts.

In international relations, two benchmark may be used to specify a situation.  The first option is also the easiest one and is quantitative. It is used by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program and considers that “A conflict, both state-based and non-state, is deemed to be active if there are at least 25 battle-related deaths per calendar year in one of the conflict’s dyads” (see definition of the item “active” conflict).

conflict barometer
Assessing violent conflicts, Conflict Barometer 2013, p.9

The second benchmark is both qualitative and quantitative and grounded in the work of the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, as explained previously (see “how to analyze future security threats (5): scenarios and crises“). Its assessment is more complicated and the methodology is well explained in the latest yearly publication of the Conflict Barometer 2013 (25/2/2014, pp. 9-10). The crisis in Ukraine entered the Conflict Barometer at level 3, i.e. violent conflict, in November 2013.

We shall thus evaluate what is happening in Ukraine against those two benchmarks, meanwhile recalling the broad dynamics of events.

First phase: Euromaidan

Conflict in Ukraine, EuromaidanThe conflict in Ukraine started on 21 November 2013, notably on a backdrop of severe financial difficulties (see forthcoming post, The Oligarchs -1) with the Euromaidan protests in Kiev. On this day, the Ukrainian parliament failed to vote the law to release jailed former Prime Minister Yiulia Tymoshenko, which de facto meant suspension of the negotiations for the signature of the Association Agreement with the European Union, when joining the European Union was seen as an ideal by many (BBC News, 21 Nov 2013). Meanwhile, ex-President Yanukovich announced the dialogue with Russia was pursued, when Russia was feared and rejected by those favouring the European choice (Al Jazeera, 21 Nov 2013). As a result, “opposition party Batkivshchyna [see below] leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk [now interim Prime Minister] called, via Twitter and Facebook, for protests (which he dubbed as #Euromaidan)” (Wikipedia). 

All on  [Euromaydan]! Yanukovych did not understand other languages, in addition to the Maidan. So we have to show that the Government is us!, join us

The first phase of the crisis lasted until ex-President Yanukovich was ousted by a 328 majority vote out of the 450-seat Verkhovna Radaat (the Ukrainian Parliament) on 22 February and fled (for details and related constitutional problems on number of votes (constitutionally 338), motivation and procedure, see Daisy Sindelar, “Was Yanukovych’s Ouster Constitutional?“, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, 23 Feb 2014). On 26 February, the new government (see graph below) was presented and voted by the Radaat the next day.

Conflict in Ukraine, interim government

New presidential elections must be held on 25 May 2014 (Sindelar, Ibid.). They are currently considered as the crucial objective to reach by the international society of states, although, as time passes and escalation progress (see below), they may or may not have the stabilizing effect that most seem to expect, assuming they can properly be held on the whole territory of Ukraine, as defined by the interim Kiev government, the U.S., the E.U. and its member states.

Casualties amount for this phase to 142 deaths (129 protesters and 13 policemen – Wikipedia “list of people killed during Euromaidan“) and more than 1500 wounded (Ukrainian Pravda, 20 Feb 2014).  On 20 February, the shooting of what was then estimated to “at least 88 people” by snipers (the death toll reached 126 people Wikipedia, Ibid), while heavy fighting was taking place, created outrage and shock and finally led to the victory of the protesters (BBC Ukraine crisis timeline).

Another consequence was the dissolution on 25 February of the Berkut police, the Ukrainian elite anti-riot police force created in 1992 with “4,000-5,000 members stationed across Ukraine”, Berkut, Conflict in Ukraineheld responsible by the interim government for the 20 February’s deaths (BBC News, Ukraine’s Berkut police: What makes them special?” & “Ukraine ‘disbands elite Berkut anti-riot police“, 26 Feb 2014). Ukraine, as a state, thus saw its legitimate monopoly over violence lowered: not only was it deprived of an elite force (the question of what to do with a force that starts being seen as illegitimate is a difficult one), but men trained as special forces were now idle and potentially feeling punished for having followed orders.

Second phase: the rise of protests in the SouthEast

The second phase flared as the first ended, with protests in Crimea, on 23 February, “to declare allegiance to Russia” (Howard Amos, “Ukraine crisis fuels secession calls in pro-Russian south“, The Guardian, 23 February 2014). Meanwhile, on the same day, the Radaat in Kiev decided to annul the 2012 law “On the principle of State Language Policy” (see Ukraine Parliament 23 February session 13:03), which allowed, in each region, the use of other official languages besides Ukrainian, if a language is spoken by at least 10% of a region’s population (see Law; Sabra Ayres, “Is it too late for Kiev to woo Russian-speaking Ukraine?” The Christian Science Monitor, 28 Feb 2013).

In other cities, anti-Russian acts by Maidan demonstrators, such as the dismantling of monuments to Lenin or Russian military figures, alienated those 2014-03-08._Митинг_в_Донецке_086Ukrainians who held dear a Russian and Soviet past, as reported among others by Ayres (ibid.) in Kharkov, for example. Protests that were dubbed “pro-Russian” spread throughout the Eastern and Southern part of the country, countered by pro-Kiev interim government demonstrations.

Other causes may also be at work and would necessitate a full analysis, for example the issue of shale gas in the Donbass region with the Yuzovsky site involving Shell, while Chevron has won the  Olessky site in the Lviv region (e.g. “Post-Soviet Countries Poised to Join the “Shale Revolution”. The Multinationals Will Help“, Oil & Gas Eurasia, 24 June 2012; Calihunter, “Shell: Ukraine ~3.6 trillion of unexplored shale natural gas in the eastern provinces“, Roosh V forum; News of Donbass, 28 April 2014 and News of Donbass “articles on shale gas in the Donbass” – use Chrome to translate pages in Russian). In the same line of thoughts see also the controversial appointment of US Vice-President Joe Biden’s son to the board of a Ukrainian gas company (Mollie Hemingway, The Federalist, 13 May 2014). The possible existence of those causes, however, does not change the escalation process and the polarization that must be addressed.

On 27 February, regional administrative buildings were seized in Crimea, followed by similar moves with various fates in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, etc. as some buildings changed hands many times (for a detailed list, see Wikipedia, 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine, Timeline; for a perspective from Russia: RT “Ukraine Turmoil Live updates“; for a perspective from the U.S.: Radio Free Europe “Live blog Ukraine in Crisis“).

Putin_with_Vladimir_Konstantinov,_Sergey_Aksyonov_and_Alexey_Chaly_4The second phase may be seen as ending with the incorporation of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to the Russian Federation, procedure finalized between 18 and 21 March 2014 (Russian President), after a referendum held on 16 March (for details, e.g. Wikipedia).

Ukraine considers this territory as occupied by the Russian Federation (law 15 April 2014 4473-1; Kyiv post, 6 May 2014).

From the United Nations General Assembly’s point of view, which voted on 27 March on a “resolution calling upon states not to recognise changes in the status of the Crimea region“, 100 states supported the resolution, 58 abstained including all of the BRICS, 11 voted against and a further 24 chose not to be present, including Israel. Thus, as suggested by Ian Kearns and Denitsa Raynova, the isolation of Russia is far from being total (“Is Russia really isolated on Ukraine?“, European Leadership Network,1 April 2014).

Nonetheless, the absorption of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol in the Russian Federation heightened the international polarization and the perception by the interim Kiev government and part of the Ukrainian population as well as by the U.S., the E.U. and the European states of an all-powerful Russian hidden hand behind all events,  which underlies the rounds of individual financial and economic sanctions imposed against Russia, the latest being imposed on 12 May 2014 (e.g. CBCNews, 13 May).

By contrast, it is important to understand that, from a Russian perspective, American and European actions can similarly be perceived as aggressive against Russia, as well shown by historian Nick Ottens (“Russia’s Crimea Invasion Follows Decades of Perceived Humiliation“, legend, 5 March 2014). Casualties for this phase amount to two deaths and four wounded Simferopol Incident, Wikipedia).


Third phase: escalation and conflict

The third and current phase is about the escalation taking place in Eastern and, so far in a lesser way, Southern Ukraine. The milestones, which can be identified and upon which we shall come back in forthcoming posts, show clearly an escalation and the spread of the conflict to civilians, who are increasingly forced by events and shocks to take side as fear and outrage spread. Furthermore, a most likely unintended consequence of the extreme focus on Russia as “omnipotent culprit” by the U.S., the E.U. and European member states is that, by the same token, events on the ground, as they continue to unfold, also appear to be dismissed or belittled. As a result, protesting populations most probably feel at best misunderstood and abandoned, as indicates the tweet below, at worst opposed and aggressed, which only further polarizes the overall situation.

Meanwhile – and logically as grievances of part of the population are not heard – the interim government and the international players also see events spiraling out of control.

The most salient milestones are:

  • The declaration of the Donetsk People’s Republic on 6 April 2014 (e.g. DPA and Reuters, “Pro-Russian activists declare Ukraine’s Donetsk an independent republic“, Haaretz, Apr. 7, 2014);
  • The start on 15 April of operations by the interim government dubbed “anti-terrorist operation” (ATO) as fighters in the East had refused to lay down arms (e.g. The Guardian, Al Jazeera, 15 April);
  • The short-lived international attempt at de-escalating the situation with the 17 April Geneva agreement (signed by the interim Ukrainian government, the E.U., Russia, and the U.S. see EEAS official pdf Geneva statement140417_01_en); Casualties by then would amount to three people having been killed (Wikipedia, 16 April Donetsk)
  • The re-launch of the ATO on 22 April, notably against the Donetsk oblast focusinmilitary map 12 may slavyanskg more particularly on Slavyansk and surrounding areas (e.g. The Irish Time, 22 April);
  • The declaration of the Luhansk People’s Republic on 27 April (e.g. Adam Justice, International Business Time, 27 April 2014);
  • A renewed “ATO” offensive always on the same areas beginning 2 May (e.g. The Guardian live 2 May 2014),
  • 2 May ended with the tragedy of Odessa involving “pro-Russian” and “pro-Ukrainian” civilians and activists and police forces, where many pro-Russians died burnt alive as they were blocked in the Trade Union building where 2014-05-04._Протесты_в_Донецке_021they had taken refuge (see The Guardian for a live blog, see RT, Odessa slaughter for an account from the “pro-Russian” side; see also Andrey Tselikov, “Tragedy and Confusion in Odessa“, Global Voices, 3 May 2014, for the shock and polarization linked to the tragedy). According to Kim Sengupta from The Independent (7 May 2014) “The dead are still being counted from Odessa’s terrible fire: it was 31 at first, then went up to 48, while the number of injured has risen to 200. “
  • Mariupol 9 May 2014The dramatic attack on 9 May 2014 on Mariupol civilians commemorating victory over Nazi Germany leaving between 9 and 20 dead (Kim Sengupta, “Ukraine crisis: Terror and disarray mars vote for self-rule in east of the country“, The Independent, 11 May 2014), figures being disputed (see RT Timeline, May 10, 20:49 GMT)
  • The referendum for or against self-rule held in Donetsk and Luhansk, denounced by the interim government in Kiev, by the U.S., the E.U. and European member states, that Russia had asked to postpone but that was nevertheless organized.
    This referendum was certainly not organised according to most sophisticated standards (e.g. among many others Sengupta “Tens of thousands vote…” and Adam Withnall “Chaos, confusion and violence …“, The Independent, 11 May 2014). 2014-05-11._Референдум_в_Донецке_016However, those people who voted believed in its importance (e.g. Sengupta, 11 May), while potential local opposition to the referendum remains unknown, but could be translated in the future by voluntary internal displacements or “civil” fighting within the area. The results announced were overwhelmingly for self-rule (e.g. RT, “Referendum results …”, 11 May 2014 ) and led to
  • Vic day DonetskThe extremely quick surprise demand by the Donetsk People’s Republic to Russia “to consider its absorption into the Russian Federation to “restore historic justice” (Matt Robinson, Reuters, 12 May 2014).
  • The ultimatum by the Donetsk People’s Republic to the forces of the Kiev interim government to leave their territory expiring at May 15 22:00 local time (20:00 GMT) (Euronews, RT Timeline).
  • The overtaking of Mariupol from separatist forces by steelworkers and miners working for oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, and their deployment in four other cities on 15 May. The workers will constitute “Volunteer People’s Patrol” (Andrew Kramer, New York Times, 15 May 2014). However, on 18 May, freelance journalist Roza Kazan reports that “police confirms cooperation with reps of #Donetsk People’s Republic to restore law & order “.
  • Meanwhile fighting continues.

According to Bloomberg quoting the UNIAN news service, “At least 40 people have died in two months of fighting between government forces and rebels in Donetsk” (Bloomberg, “Ukraine in ‘Undeclared War’ With Russia as Rebels Unite“, 13 May 2014). Actually, as the ATO started in mid-April, we are talking here about four weeks of fighting, with the bulk of deaths taking place in May. Eleven dead, including 7 ATO military, should be added to this count up to 15 May (BBC News 13 MayRT Timeline). “At least 14 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and 66 injured since the beginning of the military operation in Eastern Ukraine. The numbers were given as of late May 6 by the Ukrainian information agency UNIAN, based on security service data” (RT Timeline 7 May 12:13). Meanwhile, according to RT on 5 May, “since March 13, when clashes started spreading across the region, nearly 500 people have asked for medical attention” (Nota: we do not know if this includes people injured in Odessa – RT Timeline, May 5, 15:19).

For the third phase, up until 15 May, we would thus have an estimate of 99 people killed, counting Odessa. Since November 2013, an estimated 243 people died while more than 2000 were injured.

Considering the high and mounting number of casualties, way above the “25 battle-related deaths”, we are clearly in the case of an open conflict for Uppsala.

intens 1If we use the intens 2HIIK methodology, we obtain the estimative monthly table below. For the light use of heavy weapons, contrast with Syria, for example where we have a heavy use of heavy weapons. The personnel involved is estimated for all sides, including police, army and “fighting activists”. Destructions are assessed to be taking place along one dimension, cultural, a common and similar feeling of “Ukrainian-ness” that would be shared by all people. However, since the referendum economic destruction seems to be increasing (e.g. video by Graham Philips Andrievka Destruction. There is no clear evidence regarding the existence of refugees and IDPs although Russia mentioned an increase in migrants since February then of illegal migrants towards Slovakia in May (RT, “Slovak PM: Growing inflow of illegal Ukrainian migrants to Slovakia raises concern“, 16 May 2014). According to our assessment using the HIIK methodology, there is war in Ukraine.

Ukraine conflict, intensity, war

It would be crucial to integrate the perspective of war when making declarations or when acting – even if one does not say so officially – to make sure that adverse unintended consequences are not added to an already dramatic and volatile situation.

This sets the grim stage upon which actors interact, as we shall start exploring next, with the oligarchs.


(updated 20 June 2014) Featured image: Crowdsourced Map for 16 May around Slavyansk – The application Military Maps was developed on the Russian social network Vkontakte (read “Crowdsourcing Ukraine’s Rebellion“, Global Voices, 4 May 2014). The app on VK coud initially be accessed here (no need to login), and the page of the group here. The map on Ukraine has now (20 June) moved to FB and can be accessed here.

1024px-Wheat_Tomsk 2014

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 152 – Forgetting Food Security?

Editorial – Forgetting food security? While the tense stand-off between the U.S., the E.U. and European member states on the one hand and Russia on the other does not abate and spreads to space, while most focus on the fossil fuel component of the Ukrainian global crisis, one crucial element of this energy that is vital for human societies, food, tends to be forgotten (for food as energy, see e.g. Thomas Homer Dixon, The Upside of Down, 2008). It is, however, usefully re-called to out attention by Chris Martenson’s article “Rising Resource Costs Escalate Odds of Global Unrest” (via Peak Prosperity on Zerohedge). True enough, if you head to the FAO monitoring of the global food situation, so far things are looking all right. Furthermore, according to Informa Economics Inc., as reported by Pratik Parija for Bloomberg, “World output in 2014-2015 will reach an all-time high for a second straight year of 713.1 million tons, even with smaller U.S. and Black Sea crops”.

Yet, as Martenson points out, nominal prices are still above those of 2008, which then triggered food riots. Furthermore, Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of both wheat and coarse grain, while Thailand, also knowing turmoil, is a major exporter of rice. So far, according to the FAO the conflict in Ukraine has not had any impact on its wheat exports, but would this last if the conflict goes on? What could happen if the Russian Federation were reducing or even banning exports of cereals on strategic grounds, as an answer to rounds of sanctions felt as unjustified and efforts at further expanding NATO and the EU, when analysts underline the Russian feeling of encirclement, or/and because of extreme weather events, as in 2010 - note this year forest fires arrived early in Siberia (The Siberian Times, 6 April 2014)  (e.g. Russia’s Crimea Invasion Follows Decades of Perceived Humiliation“,; BBC News, “Russia ban on grain export begins” 15 August 2010)?

On a less dramatic note, check also the very interesting article on the future of the internet, and many others.

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weak signal, strategic warning, political risk


Featured image: Wheat in Siberia, Tomsk by Afonin (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

President_Barack_ObamaSituation_Room_of_the_White_House,_July_3,_2013 2014

When Risk Management Meets Strategic Foresight and Warning

Risk management, codified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), allows since 2009 for an almost perfect correspondence with the ideal-type process of strategic foresight and warning (SF&W), as we use here, even though SF&W was developed mainly out of public service – notably intelligence and defense - practice and experience, and with international and national security issues in mind.

CIA NYSE scThe new risk management process thus lays the foundation for easily incorporating geopolitical and other national and international security issues within risks usually managed by businesses, and should facilitate discussions and exchanges between the corporate world and the public sector, including in terms of data, information, and analysis, according to the specificities and strength of each.

We shall here detail the risk management process, underlines its similarities with SF&W and stress, when it is most different, how it could also help us move forward in one sensitive area, developing and offering policy or response alternatives to decision-makers.

Revising the definition of risk

Risk analysis, primarily a tool of the corporate sector, is codified and normalized, unlike most of the anticipation-related practices, notably through the activity of the ISO. In 2009, the ISO released the documents relative to the revision of the overall risk analysis process, renamed risk management and that is now defined by ISO 31000:2009.

First of all, the new standardization drastically changed the definition of “risk” which now means, according to the ISO Guide 73:2009, definition 1.1:

“The effect of uncertainty on objectives”

This new acception of risk is perfectly in line with the definitions used for SF&W.  Previously, “risk” meant a “combination of the probability of an event and its consequence” (ISO/IEC Guide 73:2002, definition 3.1.1), which is similar to what we can find in dictionaries. However, the use of the new understanding of risk varies according to institutions. For example, the U.S. Department of Defense, in his 2014 Defense Acquisition Guidebook, uses the old definition of risk when it explains what risk management is for systems engineering.  That approach is more restrictive and less interesting: it sees risk as an “unwanted event”, whilst the ISO 31000:2009 underlines the importance of uncertainty. Indeed, what should be identified and managed is uncertainty, USS_Arizona_burning-Pearl_Harbor scand not only unwanted events. For example, an event that is an opportunity, if it is not properly foreseen, may either be missed or, if seized without proper planning, have challenging impacts. What we must foresee and then manage is uncertainty; what we must seek to prevent is surprise and not, or not only, “unwanted events.” 

Similar processes

Risk management, the “coordinated activities to direct and control an organization with regard to risk”, is articulated according to two related and iterative processes. The “risk management process”, which concerns us here, is summarized in the diagram next (ISO/FDIS 31000:2009 (E), ISO Guide 73:2009, and terms and definitions).

risk management

For the record, we also have a “management framework” or “framework for managing risk”, which “ensures that information about risk derived from the process is adequately reported and used as a basis for decision-making and accountability at all relevant organizational levels” (ISO/FDIS 31000:2009 (E), p.8).

This framework may be seen as similar to a policy to implement a SF&W system or process, as decided by policy-makers or decision-makers. However, in the case of the state apparatus of a country or of IGOs’ administrations, many specific constraints, different from those existing for businesses will circumscribe possibilities. Indeed, polities evolve according to specific dynamics and rules (the whole of political science and international relations) that are complex and must be considered first.

Coming back to the process of risk management, if we compare it with SF&W, then establishing the context of risk is similar to what we would do when, initially, we identify the vision, the grand strategy, the strategy and related policies, which have been set by policy-makers and decision-makers, according to the actor for which the SF&W process is set up and operated.

531px-India_climatic_disaster_risk_map_enmap USSR scRisk assessment is identical to the steps during which we determine meta-issues (e.g. international security, national security, or resource security), then narrow them down by scanning what is happening “out there” to identify issues, both existing and emerging (e.g. in the case of resource security, “energy security,” “rare earth security,“ the newer “Extreme Environments security”etc.), each issue being then analyzed, according to various processes and tools, as explained in our section focusing on analysis. The main difference between both activities is the use of dissimilar terms.

The monitoring and review of risks is nothing else than warning and evaluation in SF&W. Interestingly, risk management thus emphasises the importance of evaluation (see our section “Validate“) that is too often forgotten in anticipatory processes.

Communication and consultation corresponds, on the one hand, to the delivery of various products to clients (see section “Delivery“). However, the permanence of this phase in risk management could be ill adapted to some structures, notably large and complex ones, considering busy agenda, as well as need for confidentiality and secrecy. The specificity of governmental and state actors must, furthermore, not be forgotten.

On the other hand, communication and consultation corresponds to participatory processes that may be integrated within SF&W general or specific processes. For example, an organization may request a SF&W process being designed for dealing with a specific question, aiming not only at assessing plausible futures at best but also at involving specific individuals and entities, often stakeholders as specified by risk management, for multiple reasons. Here again risk management and SF&W are extremely similar.

Risk treatment and policy alternatives

Risk treatment, which consists in selecting options of risk treatment then preparing and implementing them, is the area that is most different from SF&W, because the latter should stop just before policy recommendations. President_Barack_ObamaSituation_Room_of_the_White_House,_July_3,_2013 scIndeed, in the framework of a state and more specifically of a democratic regime, decisions should always remain with policy-makers, because they are accountable as elected representatives. Thus, for example intelligence, officials are always careful to underline that they do not want to cross the line between the delivery of intelligence and policy-making. For example, Thomas Fingar, former chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, describes this sensitive point using the example of the process related to Global Trends 2025 (Global Trends being quadrennial and tied to the election of a new President, the latest edition is Global Trends 2030):

“Our purpose was to tell officials what they should consider, not what they should do. The message, in effect, was, “Here are the trends that we judge will be important over the next fifteen years. If you like where they are headed, you should devise policies to preserve their projected trajectory. If you don’t like where they are headed, you should begin now to consider ways to shift them in a more favorable direction. The ultimate success of the policy agendas you develop will be influenced by how that agenda intersects with the trends we have identified. What to do is up to you.”
The decision to eschew policy recommendations was an easy one because both law and professional ethics enjoin the Intelligence Community from policy advocacy…
That said, I think those of us who were most deeply engaged in the project would have been disappointed if nobody asked for our thoughts on what might be done. I can assure you that when Mat Burrows and I briefed then President-elect Obama on our findings we did not refuse to answer when he asked for our thoughts on what to do with respect to certain of the issues and trends discussed in the report. ” (Reducing Uncertainty: Intelligence and National Security - Using Intelligence to Anticipate Opportunities and Shape the Future, Payne Distinguished Lecture Series 2009, FSI Stanford, CISAC Lecture Series).

Not respecting the distinction between SF&W and policy-making is to open the door to totalitarianism and other forms of autocracies. It is also to deprive policy-makers and decision-makers from their essential function, deciding upon strategies and policies, which may backfire and make them resent risk management and SF&W.

Obama oval office scShould we thus disregard this part of the risk management process, which “treats risks”? On the contrary, because of the very sensitivity of the topic in defense and intelligence areas, we are left with little guidance when, increasingly, policy-makers and decision-makers, as well as the general public, tend to expect to see policy alternatives suggested (but not advocated) besides more classical foresight analyses and warnings. Risk treatment thus could fill in a gap and suggest ways forward that could provide us with guidelines and ideas, as long as we make sure that policy options are balanced, truly presented as alternatives and requested by clients.

Risk treatment can be defined as, following for example the US Defense Acquisition Guidebook (DAG), 2010, p.182*:

  • “Avoiding risk by eliminating the root cause and/or the consequence,
  • Controlling the cause or consequence,
  • Transferring the risk, and/or
  • Assuming the level of risk and continuing on the current program plan”

Thus, if we wanted to present policy alternatives, we could use these four options as a guideline to build them. If we take the example of scenarios delineating the frontiers of plausibility for a strategic foresight question, each scenario could be assorted of a brief set of policy alternatives, covering avoidance, control, transfer and business as usual, and, of course, pointing out impact in each case. These policy alternatives could also be presented as scenarios.

When decisions need to be taken almost instantaneously to prevent major dangers (we can think of civilian nuclear risks for example, or natural events such as earthquakes or tsunamis), then adequate procedures will have to be created beforehand, with full knowledge of policy-makers and decision-makers, as it is a delegation of their power and mission.

The second part of risk treatment, preparation and implementation of risk treatment plans, is outside the scope of SF&W process, as it deals with answers or responses. If responses need to be activated extremely rapidly as in emergencies, then, again, adequate procedures with full knowledge of policy-makers and decision-makers will have to be created beforehand.

As a summary, since 2009, risk management is almost identical to SF&W. This is a major innovation as it should allow for integration of national and international security issues, heretofore sometimes little considered by businesses, for more and better exchanges between different actors, for cross-fertilisation and thus, ultimately, for better anticipation and actions. Where both still differ, notably in the area of risk treatment, risk management cannot be exactly applied to national and international security issues because of the specificity of the actors involved and the absolute need to consider the policy-making process of state and quasi-states actors. However, it may nevertheless provide guidelines when citizens, policy-makers and decision-makers request policy alternatives.

Dr Helene Lavoix is the founder and director of the Red (Team) Analysis Society.


References to ISO 31000:2009 are actually to ISO/FDIS 31000:2009 (E).

Copyrights for all references to ISO norms remain with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

This article is a fully updated and revised version of a text that was published first as an element of the U.S. Government commissioned report, Lavoix, “Actionable Foresight”, Global Futures Forum, November 2010 (pp. 12 & 20-24/98). 

Putin independent media

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 149 – War and Weak Signals

Editorial – War and Weak Signals – While progressing through the raw mass of information of The Weekly and editing it, initially, it seemed obvious the editorial should focus on Obama’s visit to Asia, the TPP and especially on the U.S. President’s assertion in the Yomiuri Shimbun regarding the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands: “The policy of the United States is clear — the Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. And we oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands” (through Stars & Stripes). The accommodating Chinese News reactions to this American statement, as a willingness to keep the U.S. outside the dispute, are also to be underlined (BBC review).

Meanwhile, interestingly, three unrelated pieces of information seem to indicate the possibility of new developments in Europe and the U.S. in the area of opposition and protest movements  (see the viral “Oligarchy study“,  reaction to Thomas Piketty’s book and Legrain’s “need for a European Spring”).

Tomas photo
Photo of Slaviansk – Courtesy of @TomasRafa from his 24 April 2014 11:38 tweet – see also his website documenting New Nationalism through Europe

Then, news came, through radio and twitter, of the Kiev government’s attack on Slaviansk and of the fatalities among protestors (e.g. RT), followed by Putin’s statement that ““If the current Kiev authorities really started to use army against people inside the country, this is a very serious crime against their own people,” and “A military operation against Ukrainian civilians will entail consequences for Kiev authorities, who make these decisions, including consequences for mutual relations between Russia and Ukraine” (Itar-Tass). The new Russian “extensive military exercises” at the Ukrainian border that immediately followed (RT) are a strong warning of what might happen next if the situation does not de-escalate, i.e. war to put it bluntly, while Itar-Tass (Russian news agency) by also reporting the Secretary General of the OSCE statement, may indicate that hopes are still for dialogue. Nonetheless, the situation is extremely tense and volatile.

Here, we are definitely not in the classical case of scanning the horizon for distant and weak signals, but in crisis’ indications. Thus, should we disregard those very strong signals? Considering the momentous changes that acute crises and war bring across all areas, it seems difficult – and could even be a mistake - to disregard them. What should be done is to look at other weak signals through the framework of the potential evolutions that could be brought about by the acute crises. The questions we should thus ask and answer could be, for example, “how now to interpret Obama’s statement and his Asian visit considering the ever escalating tension in Ukraine?” “How could the renewed interrogations regarding the reality of a fair democracy in the West interact with war in Ukraine and what could be the multidimensional impacts?” Or, as far as the revision of the “hype” on Big Data (The Economist, Brookings) is concerned, in which way could Big Data analysis be impacted and impact crisis and war?

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Ukraine, war, weak signal, political risk

Featured image:  April 24, 2014  St Petersburg - Photo: the Presidential Press and Information Office - At the First Media Forum of Independent Regional and Local Media.