Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Redistribution of Power through Asymmetric Means

The spike shows reaction to the tweet through the Dow Jones Industrial Average

Tuesday saw the Associated Press Twitter account hacked, with a fake tweet breaking the news that Barack Obama had been injured by an explosion at the White House. Within minutes, $136 billion dollars had been wiped from the Dow Jones stock exchange. Laura Smith-Park's article on CNN has linked the attack to pro-Syrian government hackers, the 'Syrian Electronic Army'. The group have targeted those who have criticised the Syrian government and its role in the current civil war.

The use of automated High Frequency Trading (HFT) algorithms which track news feeds and micro-trends of the market have been blamed for the volatility of the situation. The British Government's Office for Science published a report in October 2012 examining the effects on the international trading market and the implications of HFT. They pushed for the application of 'circuit breakers' which could prevent trades being carried out in times of imminent collapse. The weakness of such a system was highlighted by Tuesday's attack and shows the power of unconventional means in disrupting global power.

This method of affecting international powers is part of a broader change in the current climate of unconventional targeting of private individuals. Greenpeace and their splinter group Sea Shepherd have developed sophisticated means of tackling non-state actors in their attempts at promoting environmental protection. Asymmetric tools have been employed by the World Wildlife Fund for over a decade in challenging threats to the environment, such as their employment of mercenaries to track poachers in central Africa. Sea Shepherd have begun using increasingly sophisticated drones to track the Japanese whaling fleet to considerably impact on the fleet's capability.

The MV Meister, a coal carrying cargo ship travelling from Australia to South Korea along the Great Barrier Reef was boarded by Greenpeace protesters on Wednesday morning. Such a protest requires prior knowledge of a ship's route and the capacity to board a ship in a hostile environment, physically and politically. The military style tactics of Greenpeace are in response to the deeply embedded coal-culture of Australia, which relies heavily on coal exports and for power provision.  The decision by Gina Rinehart's company to develop the Alpha Coal Mine in Queensland has been protested by the group because of fears increased carbon emissions and environmental degradation.

Asymmetric means are becoming increasingly available to private individuals through global news networks, information dissemination and the increased role private security firms in international issues. They allow for greater publicity and funding opportunities. The increasing utilisation of unconventional tactics can allow this redistribution of power and challenges capacity of governments and multinational corporations to adapt, but more fundamentally, modern perspectives on the environment and development.

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