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Article

Dennis Dijkzeul and Diana Griesinger

The term “humanitarian crisis” combines two words of controversial meaning and definitions that are often used in very different situations. For example, there is no official definition of “humanitarian crisis” in international humanitarian law. Although some academic disciplines have developed ways of collecting and analyzing data on (potential) crises, all of them have difficulties understanding, defining, and even identifying humanitarian crises. Following an overview of the use of the compound noun “humanitarian crisis,” three perspectives from respectively the disciplines International Humanitarian Law, Public Health, and Humanitarian Studies are discussed in order to explore their different but partly overlapping approaches to (incompletely) defining, representing, and negotiating humanitarian crises. These disciplinary perspectives often paint an incomplete and technocratic picture of crises that is rarely contextualized and, thus, fails to reflect adequately the political causes of crises and the roles of local actors. They center more on defining humanitarian action than on humanitarian crises. They also show four different types of humanitarian action, namely radical, traditional Dunantist, multimandate, and resilience humanitarianism. These humanitarianisms have different strengths and weaknesses in different types of crisis, but none comprehensively and successfully defines humanitarian crises. Finally, a multiperspective and power-sensitive definition of crises, and a more fine-grained language for comprehending the diversity of crises will do more justice to the complexity and longevity of crises and the persons who are surviving—or attempting to survive—them.

Article

Crises and disasters come in many shapes and sizes. They range from global pandemics and global financial crises to tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic ash clouds, bushfires, terrorist attacks, critical infrastructure failures and food contamination episodes. Threats may be locally isolated such as an explosion at a local fireworks factory, or they may cascade across multiple countries and sectors, such as pandemics. No country is immune from the challenge of managing extraordinary threats, and doing so out of their comfort zone of routine policy making. The crisis management challenge involves managing threats ‘on the ground’, as well as the political fallout and societal fears. Populist and journalistic commentary frequently labels crisis management initiatives as having either succeeded or failed. The realities are much more complex. Evaluators confront numerous methodological challenges. These include the careful consideration of multiple and often competing outcomes, differing perceptions, issues of success for whom, and gray areas stemming from shortfalls and lack of evidence, as well as variations over time. Despite such complexity, some key themes appear continually across evaluations, from internal reviews to royal commissions and accident inquiries. These pertain to the ways in which evaluations can be shaped heavily or lightly by political agendas, the degree to which evaluating organizations are able to open up, the degree to which gray areas and shortfalls are stumbling blocks in producing findings, and the challenge of producing coherent investigative narratives when many storylines are possible. Ultimately, evaluating crisis initiatives is “political” in nature because it seeks to provide authoritative evaluations that reconcile multiple views, from experts and lawyers to victims and their families.

Article

Andrew Goodhart and Jami K. Taylor

For most of its history, the U.S. military has maintained a policy of exclusion toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people serving in uniform. The justifications for these exclusions have included the view that being homosexual or transgender is a psychological disorder, that it undermines military morale and effectiveness, and a fear that LGBT people would be vulnerable to foreign espionage. Explicit policies banning consensual homosexual sex—and excluding from service those who engage in it—date to the period between World Wars I and II, but de facto efforts at exclusion have existed since the early days of the republic. Regulations governing homosexuals in the military came under pressure in the 1970s and 1980s as societal views toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people changed, and those LGB service members discharged under the policy increasingly challenged their treatment in court. (Public pressure to change regulations governing transgender people in the military arose mostly in the 2000s, though litigation efforts date to the 1970s.) In addition to general shifts in public and legal opinion, the debate over LGB people serving in the U.S. military was affected by the experience of foreign militaries that allow LGB people to serve. United States law began to loosen formal restrictions on LBG people serving in uniform with the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in 1994, but it still required LGB people to serve in secret. Changing public perceptions of LGB people and problems implementing the ban galvanized support for eliminating such restrictions. In 2010, President Obama signed legislation repealing DADT and removing all restrictions on LGB people serving in the military. However, transgender people do not enjoy the same rights. The Trump administration has revised Obama-era rules on transgender service members to enable greater exclusion. The issue is being contested in the courts and appears ripe for further political and legal dispute.

Article

The politics of crisis terminology is rarely examined directly. Crisis is an “umbrella,” under which resides a multitude of terms such as accidents, emergencies, fiascos, disasters, and catastrophes, as well as variations such as natural disasters, transboundary crises, and mega-crises. Yet the sheer diversity and frequent ambiguity among terms reflects the “politics” of how societies and political actors seek to cope with and address extreme events, which often pose a mixture of threat and opportunity. Central to an understanding is how (a) different terms are means of framing issues such as the scale and causes of the crisis, (b) crisis terms are part of governing strategies, and (c) nongovernmental actors (opposition parties, media, lobby groups, social movements, and citizens) can seek to influence government. A pivotal point in developing an understanding of crisis terminology is that rather bemoaning the lack of singular meanings for crisis and associated terms, or criticizing actors for “abuse” of the terms, one should recognize and accept that complex and contested crisis language and definitions are in themselves manifestations of politics in political societies.

Article

Richard C. Eichenberg

Scholars and governments are interested in four sets of questions concerning public opinion on foreign policy and national security policy. First, what do public opinion polls measure? How do citizens, who are generally uninformed about foreign policy and world affairs, form opinions on these matters? Second, how rational is public opinion? Is it stable or volatile? Are opinions coherent? Do opinions plausibly reflect the flow of world events? Third, what factors influence the formation of citizen opinions? Specifically, what is the impact of fundamental attitudes toward war and military force, partisanship, ideology, and gender? Finally, how universal are the determinants of citizen opinion, especially on crucial issues of war and peace? Are the findings in global comparisons the same as those in the American or European contexts? Considerable scholarship has been devoted to these four questions. Scholars now characterize public opinion as rational, in the sense that it is fairly stable, coherent, and responsive to real world events. Attitudes toward war and military force are a major focus of the research literature because many specific policy attitudes flow from fundamental views of war. Gender has also become a major focus of research because many studies find that women are less supportive of the use of military force for most purposes. Finally, scholars are beginning to discover that some opinion patterns are universal across societies, while others are more affected by the individual characteristics of national societies. Studies of global public opinion have expanded greatly, with recent scholarship focusing on global attitudes toward gender equality, immigration, and climate change.

Article

When, how, why, and to what effect did the military involve itself in Serbia’s politics? Due to its decisive role in national liberation and state-building, the Serbian military has always enjoyed high societal reputation. Since the 19th century, the military also played an important role of a nation-builder and social elevator for the lower strata of society. However, Serbia also has a very long tradition of military involvement in politics with several coups that decisively shaped the course of national history. Since the outset of Serbia’s state-building in the first half of the 19th century, Serbia experienced four successful military coups and many occasions when its armed forces were used to quash domestic unrest. The reasons behind the robust involvement of armed forces in Serbian (and Yugoslav politics) have been diverse and ranged from an ambition to provide internal stability and defend national or corporate interests to a desire to change the country’s foreign policy orientation. Since the end of the Cold War, the military played an ambiguous role on some occasions undermining democracy, while on others being an agent of democratic transformation. Since 2006, the military of Serbia has been placed under civilian democratic control and seems to have internalized its role of a politically neutral and professional force with a mission to defend the country, support civilian authorities in the event of emergency, and contribute to international peace and security. Still, the ongoing democratic backsliding, the lack of clarity about the state’s strategic outlook, and the still unresolved status of Serbia’s former province Kosovo all preserve the potential for civil-military tensions in the future.

Article

Electoral commissions are organizations responsible for the conduct of elections and referendums. Their performance level is of paramount importance for the development of electoral integrity and democracy on the continent. In Africa, electoral commissions largely belong to what is usually termed the independent model of electoral management, i.e., the electoral commissions are formally independent from the executive and other government structures. However, there are also examples of the so-called governmental model, where the election-conducting agencies are embedded in the executive, as well as the mixed model, where one finds a country-specific mixture of the two other elements. It has become commonplace to use the generic term election management bodies (EMBs) to cover all three models, as they to a very considerable degree have the same functions and responsibilities in relation to election management. African electoral commissions belonging to the independent model are a clear majority of electoral commissions on the continent and share important organizational features, i.e., a small policy-deciding commission, often filled with non-election experts, and a policy-implementing secretariat structured according to the tasks to be performed by the organization. However, the formal and structural similarities cover different realities on the ground, as African electoral commissions differ enormously in actual autonomy and performance. The usefulness of the traditional categorization of EMBs according to their formal independence and present data is unclear in light of the performance level of at least some African electoral commissions. African electoral commissions are assessed very differently by politicians, voters, and election observers.

Article

Johan Eriksson

What is “threat framing”? It concerns how something or someone is perceived, labeled, and communicated as a threat to something or someone. The designation “threat,” notably, belongs to the wider family of negative concerns such as danger, risk, or hazard. Research on threat framing is not anchored in a single or specific field but rather is scattered across three separate and largely disconnected bodies of literature: framing theory, security studies, and crisis studies. It is noteworthy that whereas these literatures have contributed observations on how and under what consequences something is framed as a threat, none of them have sufficiently problematized the concept of threat. Crisis analysis considers the existence or perception of threat essential for a crisis to emerge, along with a perception of urgency and uncertainty, yet crisis studies focus on the meaning of “crisis” without problematizing the concept of threat. Likewise, security studies have spent a lot of ink defining “security,” typically understood as the “absence of threat,” but leave the notion of “threat” undefined. Further, framing theory is concerned with “problem definition” as a main or first function of framing but generally pays little or no attention to the meaning of “threat.” Moreover, cutting across these bodies of literature is the distinction between constructivist and rationalist approaches, both of which have contributed to the understanding of threat framing. Constructivist analyses have emphasized how threat framing can be embedded in a process of socialization and acculturation, making some frames appear normal and others highly contested. Rationalist approaches, on the other hand, have shown how threat framing can be a conscious strategic choice, intended to accomplish certain political effects such as the legitimization of extraordinary means, allocation of resources, or putting issues high on the political agenda. Although there are only a handful of studies explicitly combining insights across these fields, they have made some noteworthy observations. These studies have shown for example how different types of framing may fuel amity or enmity, cooperation, or conflict. These studies have also found that antagonistic threat frames are more likely to result in a securitizing or militarizing logic than do structural threat frames. Institutionalized threat frames are more likely to gain and maintain saliency, particularly if they are associated with policy monopolies. In the post-truth era, however, the link between evidence and saliency of frames is weakened, leaving room for a much more unpredictable politics of framing.

Article

In early 2014, a series of dramatic crises in Ukraine generated headlines around the world. Most scholarly attention was placed on the tensions between the West and Russia, and the emergence of a new Cold War, especially following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and its military incursion in eastern Ukraine. The relations between Ukraine and the European Union (EU) have often been reduced to debates on whether the EU was to blame for the conflict, having “sleepwalked” into the Ukraine crisis by focusing on technical trade issues and failing to recognize the delicate geopolitical context. Other analysts pointed to the EU’s pursuit of regional hegemony, which has failed to recognize Russia’s legitimate geopolitical and economic interests in Ukraine. In practice, Ukraine-EU relations have been more complex and nuanced, certainly when considering that Ukraine already declared its ambition to “return to Europe” and to seek EU membership with its proclamation of independence, in 1991. Ukraine-EU relations are perhaps best understood along four levels of inquiry. The first is domestic dynamics in Ukraine. Since the end of the Cold War, all Ukrainian governments have underlined the “Europeanness” of Ukraine and have also by and large followed a pro-EU course in their foreign policies, including the government under pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. However, Ukraine’s European choice has often been limited to foreign-policy declarations. Even the pro-European and reform-oriented governments that led Ukraine after the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Maidan Square protests struggled to introduce far-reaching reforms because of the power of the “iron triangle” of oligarchic rule, corruption, and financial instability. The second line of inquiry concerns Ukraine-Russia relations. Since gaining independence, Ukraine’s strategy has been one of limited participation in Russia’s post-Soviet regional integration initiatives in order to safeguard its independence. However, Russia always used “sticks and carrots” vis-à-vis Ukraine to further its own policy objectives, ranging from offering gas-price discounts to cutting off gas supplies, imposing import bans on Ukrainian produce, and, since 2014, threatening and using the military to force Ukraine to acquiesce to its demands. A third line of inquiry is the EU’s policy toward Ukraine, based on bilateral relations and cooperation through the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership. The EU has approached Ukraine as one among several neighbors in its attempt to build a ring of well-governed countries along its borders. Although the EU’s enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe generated more interest in Ukraine, member states have consistently ruled out EU membership for Ukraine. A fourth theme of inquiry is that of EU-Russia relations in the wider international context. Throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, the EU clearly prioritized good political and economic relations with Russia over its relationship with its neighbors in the East, including Ukraine. Even when Russia annexed Crimea and when evidence of the role of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine had become impossible to ignore, the EU struggled to find a common stance on Russia.