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Democracy & Digital Transformation in Times of War

Hybrid event
September 19-20
Free (registration required)

Call for Proposals

We welcome proposals of not more than 500 words for individual proposals and full panels addressing the above themes from various actors and sectors:

  • Government and Policymakers: To understand the regulatory and policy dimensions, including the development of legal frameworks and international cooperation.
  • Technology Sector: To leverage insights on technological innovations and cybersecurity strategies that can bolster democratic resilience and aid in reconstruction efforts. We invite product demonstrations including MVPs, concepts, etc.
  • Civil Society, Media and Human Rights Organizations: To ensure that the protection of civil liberties, privacy, freedom of expression and the press, and human rights remains central in the discourse on digital warfare and democracy.
  • Academia and Research Institutions: To contribute scholarly research, historical context, and theoretical frameworks that underpin analysis and policy recommendations.
Submit proposal

 

Overview

Democracy in times of war presents a complex dynamic, as the fundamental principles of democratic governance often come into tension with the realities of national security. This is further complicated by the way different societies view democracy – it is a term that draws on ideas of freedom, conflict, peace and expansion, with sufficient abstraction that it could become everything to all people.

A key aspect of democracy in wartime is the balance between civil liberties and national security. Democracies typically prioritize individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech, assembly, and privacy. However, during times of war, governments may understandably impose restrictions on these liberties in the name of national security. This in turn leads to debates about the appropriate proportionality and the enactment of laws such as the USA PATRIOT Act following the 9/11 attacks.

In practical terms there is much to consider, and Britain during the Second World War, obtained legal permission to postpone elections. The historical case chimes with the current delay to Ukrainian elections. But who could blame the head of state during times of war, when doing so could be construed as a lack of patriotism and even sabotage in extreme cases? In the Ukrainian context there is also a need to provide for the people while at war, and Deputy Minister Kostiantyn Koshelenko’s book Management in Times of War shares the experiences of how social systems were maintained during a full-scale invasion.

Democratic decision-making processes can be both a strength and a weakness in wartime, although often requiring deliberation, consensus-building, and transparency. These can, at times be a challenge, but they also serve to prevent abuses of power by the executive. In contrast, autocratic regimes may exploit the exigencies of war to gain strategic advantage, maintain grip on power and suppress dissent, leading to a further erosion of democratic norms. How should democracies respond?

The norms of society require exploration and is certainly context specific. With Democracy used as a means for institution building, it is often used as a catch all term to mean a better society, a hopeful future. In cases involving building or strengthening democratic institutions, including electoral commissions, parliaments, judiciaries, and civil service agencies, we must consider the values of the societies in question. In the context of post conflict reconstruction, for example in Iraq, the provision of technical assistance, training, and capacity-building support framed through the lens of democratic institution building, was often at odds with the societal norms and values of the local population.

Whereas wars and democracy have a long history dating back to the times of the Ancient Greeks, modern conflicts continue the long narrative of societal, and cultural clashes. During or after wars, UN peacekeeping is sometimes viewed as a tool for the democratization of conflict areas. While democratization is not the primary mandate of UN peacekeeping, peacekeeping missions can play a crucial role in supporting and facilitating a return to democracy. UN peacekeeping missions often support electoral processes, including voter registration, election monitoring, and voter education campaigns. But this is not often straightforward as war time measures are oftentimes left in statute books unrepealed. By ensuring free, fair, and credible elections, peacekeeping missions help establish the legitimacy of democratic governments and foster public trust in democratic institutions.

Objectives

The objective of the conference is to evaluate democracy, & digital transformation in contexts of war to:

  • understand international perspectives.
  • develop context specific knowledge.
  • further study the role of foreign policy, and societal norms and values.
  • promote a common understanding.
  • propose methods for building resilience.

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Themes

  • 1. How can democracies maintain the delicate balance between ensuring national security and preserving civil liberties during times of war?

    2. What lessons can be learned from historical examples, such as the implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act or Britain’s wartime measures, in terms of managing this balance?

    3. In the context of modern surveillance technologies, what are the implications for privacy and individual freedoms?

    4. How can transparency and public oversight of wartime measures be ensured to prevent abuses of power?

  • 1. How have digital technologies transformed the nature of conflict and warfare in the 21st century?

    2. What are the most significant cybersecurity threats facing democracies today, and how can they be countered effectively?

    3. In what ways can international cooperation be enhanced to combat cyber threats and information warfare?

    4. How do misinformation and digital propaganda campaigns impact public opinion and democratic processes during conflicts?

  • 1. How can democratic institutions effectively counteract disinformation campaigns without infringing on freedom of speech and press?

    2. What strategies can media organizations adopt to maintain public trust and ensure the dissemination of accurate information in the face of coordinated disinformation efforts?

    3. How does disinformation impact public perception and policy decisions in wartime and what measures can be taken to safeguard democratic processes?

    4. In times of war, how can factual media be fair, equitable and responsible in its role as watch dog against the excesses of democratic governments and ‘sense-maker’ for the public?

  • 1. What are the most effective strategies for rebuilding democratic institutions in post-conflict societies?

    2. How can digital technologies be leveraged to support transparency, accountability, and civic engagement in the reconstruction process?

    3. What role do international organizations play in supporting the transition to democracy in post-conflict regions, and what are the ethical considerations for technology companies in preventing their platforms from being used for information warfare or as tools in cyberattacks?

    4. What roles do various stakeholders (e.g., governments, civil society, technology companies, academia) play in defending against digital threats to democracy, and how can collaboration between these stakeholders be fostered to create a comprehensive and effective responses to the challenges posed by digital transformation in conflict?

Conference format & key activities

  • Keynote Speeches
    Renowned experts will provide insightful overviews of the current landscape and future prospects.
  • Panel Discussions
    Diverse panels comprising scholars, practitioners, and policymakers will debate and discuss the various dimensions of digital transformation in conflict and post-conflict settings.
  • Networking Sessions
    Structured networking opportunities to facilitate connections between participants and foster collaborations that extend beyond the conference.

Speakers

  • Kostisntyn Kishelenko is Ukraine’s Deputy of Social Policy for Digital Transformation and author of "Management in Times of War."

  • Professor Todor Tagarev is Head of the Center for Security and Defense Management, Institute of ICT, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Professor Tagarev has held several senior positions in Bulgaria’s Ministry of Defense, including two terms as Defense Minister – June 2023 - April 2024 and March – May 2013.

  • Professor Phillips Payson O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is the author of How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II.

  • Michael Weiss is an internationally renowned investigative journalist who has covered the wars in Syria and Ukraine and published widely on Russian espionage and disinformation. His first book, ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, was a New York Times Best Seller and named one of the Top Ten Books on Terrorism by the Wall Street Journal.

  • Professor Bryan Watters, is a a professor of Defense Leadership at Cranfield University, UK. Prior to joining Cranfield, Bryan had a successful career in the British Army. He was Director of Military Studies (Colonel Training) at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, a member of the Directing Staff at the Joint Services Command and Staff College (Advanced Command and Staff Course), Founding Director of the Ministry of Defense Strategic Leadership Program and Vice President of the Army Officer Selection Board.

  • Peter De Clerq is former Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), where he served as United Nations Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Resident Representative.

  • Dr. Antonio Garcia is a former blue helmet and Research Fellow at Stellenbosch University.

Contact us

Dr. Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob team members

Dr. Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob

Center for Information Democracy, and Citizenship

American University in Bulgaria

Dr. Ralitza Nikolaeva team members

Dr. Ralitza Nikolaeva

University of St. Andrews Business School