The February 2018 Editorial: we must do our best to keep ideology and political interests outside of security reports and analyses if we want to preserve a sense of accuracy in our understanding of international security.
By Adrien Morin
In social science, every field of study is influenced by ideological biases. Social and economic policy recommendations will differ depending on which side of the political spectrum they are emanating from. Even within either sides, different ideological preconceptions can give birth to various policy responses. Similarly, public debates and news reporting on security issues are affected by this phenomenon, but to a growing and worrying extent. The resurgence of populist movements on both ends of the political spectrum accentuated the ideological dichotomy within Western societies, giving more prominence to radical or extremist discourses.
More importantly, we are increasingly witnessing the levelling down of debates around security matters. The widespread use of Manichean arguments leads to simplistic, incomplete and inaccurate analyses. In the meantime, the “democratization” of position statements on complex security issues contributes to the commingling of comprehensive research and analyses with ungrounded opinions, blurring the line between thorough studies and unsubstantiated allegations. Don’t get me wrong, freedom of speech and opinion is inseparable from the process of building a healthy and pluralistic democratic society. Freedom of speech and opinion, however, should not be the guarantor of the equality of all opinions and analysis, in terms of value and accuracy.
Among this growing mass of views and opinions on security issues, there are still social scientists who preserve a rigorous analytical methodology. Their work, however, struggles to receive more consideration than their ideologically-driven counterparts, most of which suffer from a lack of sound methodology. Finding the remaining artefacts of this analytical objectivity in an era where everyone can (and should) have his or her own personal opinions can thus prove particularly difficult. It requires first to take off one’s blinkers and look at international security outside of any ideological prism. Complete objectivity is of course idealistic, but some of the most pressing security issues of our time are severely undermined by ideological biases.
Governmental media groups and large media corporations may have their own interests to promote particular security policies based on their own political agendas. However, the advent of social media is probably as important (if not more) a factor as political interests in explaining the increasing grip of ideology on news reporting and analyses on both domestic and international security, and by extension, on the subsequent public debates on those issues. By facilitating the spreading of views and opinions on the internet, without distinguishing their analytical value, social media have rendered these individuals or groups still following a proper analytical methodology less audible. Alternative media (as opposed to those referred to as mainstream media) from both sides of the political spectrum have proliferated on the internet, and on social media in particular, over the past few years.
The Alt-Right movement which spread through North America (especially since the last US presidential election) has shed light on groups such as Infowars, The Rebel, Breitbart, among others, which have largely contributed to shape the public debate around security issues, targeting immigrant populations (Muslims in particular), and blaming them for the world’s instability and insecurity. Similarly, they took, for instance, repetitive stances in favor of Israel’s security policies against Palestinian populations. On the other side of the political spectrum, alternative media groups such as The Real News Network have adopted the opposite stance, denouncing Israel’s attitude in the Middle East while ignoring violent groups operating in the region.
The alternative media phenomenon is not confined to the US. All around the world, the rise of social media has offered a platform to all these alternative voices to express themselves (even for groups predating the creation of social media). In France for instance, Génération Identitaire (a group present all across Europe) has gathered support online to organize anti-immigration and anti-Islam gatherings, to defend European culture and safety. In a more subtle fashion, the newborn media group called Le Média, affiliated to the far-left political party La France Insoumise (even if Le Média refuses to be officially associated with the latter), launched its own information network, claiming to provide French people with more accurate information and analyses. Le Média chooses, for instance, to cover the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, focusing exclusively on the role played by Saudi Arabia (and its international coalition), while staying silent on the root causes of the civil war (the uprising of Shia militias) and the role played by other international powers such as Iran.
The list of examples goes on, but the real problem we are facing today is that ideologically driven groups are fighting to impose their vision on international security, cherry-picking information they decide to present as a way to support the narrative they want to impose. This phenomenon contributes to the creation and development, in our societies, of impervious ideological microcosms where intellectual objectivity and scientific integrity are forsaken, to the benefit of self-reinforcing patterns of thinking.
Security analysis is not so much a matter of ideological interpretation as it is a process based on a rigorous analytical methodology. Today, more than ever, we need to keep that in mind in order to not abandon the public debate to ideologically driven and politically motivated groups and individuals. This could be key for the future, to ensure that our leaders design security policies based on accurate information and objective analyses, rather than bet on ideological biases or populist pressure.
Cover Picture: detail from The Fin de Siècle Newspaper Proprietor, an illustration featured in an 1894 issue of Puck magazine, © The Public Domain Review / flickr