21-Apr-20 Entanglements

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A slight digression into politics (or ‘harms of the powerful’, you could say), but I have been rather taken today with this phrase ‘entanglement’.  It comes from a lecture I gave this week on cybercrime and describes a form of cyber-attack deterrence.

Entanglement is a situation where the cost of an action exceeds the benefits, because the costs accrue to the perpetrator, as well as to the victim.  In terms of cyber-attacks, the idea is that in an interdependent world where my fortunes are somewhat dependent on yours, I will make a rational calculation to avoid the risk of entanglement (Nye, 2016).  So that risk imposes self-restraint on states and other actors.  A similar ethos underpins the idea of ‘mutually assured destruction’.

I have been thinking about it also in the context of claims by some in the US that COVID-19 was released by China deliberately.  Trump has not entirely backed that version but he has lent support to a theory that the release of COVID-19 was some sort of lab accident in Wuhan, which the authorities sought to cover up.  This has been strongly denied by China and indeed stories circulate there that this virus originated with the US military.

While most of these stories will turn out to be ‘fake news’, occasionally the far-fetched turns out to be true, or almost.  However, in terms of the intentional release of a biological virus (rather than an internet virus), it would seem surely that the risks of entanglement are rather too high.  You would have to either have a vaccine (which would blow your cover) or risk innumerable deaths and destabilisation of your own country and a worldwide economic downturn, which as an exporting country, China would presumably not want.

Of course, most of this war of words is part of the ongoing posturing between the two rival powers, US and China, and Trump needs an explanation for rising US deaths and a contracting economy if he is to secure the next presidential election.

Quite separately, I discovered this funded project based at University of Copenhagen 2018-2023 called Criminal Entanglements (CRIMTANG), focused on transnational organised crime. The project brings together criminologists, anthropologists and political scientists to look at the illegal and overlapping flows of migrants and drugs from North-West Africa into Europe.

So there we are: transnational crime and an interdisciplinary focus: ‘entanglement’ is the word of the day.

© Natasha Mulvihill and Criminology Tales, 2020. 

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