NASA Recognizes Professor’s Study at the Top of Telescope’s ‘Greatest Discoveries’ List

Bahram Mobasher, professor of physics and astronomy.

Bahram Mobasher, a professor of physics and astronomy, led a research team that used NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to make the “Big Baby” galaxies discovery, which has just been ranked as Spitzer’s second most important discovery by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Launched into a solar orbit on Aug. 25, 2003, Spitzer has spent 15 years in space. Baby galaxies are galaxies that are significantly more massive than expected and more mature than scientists thought early forming galaxies could be. More information here:

Iqbal Pittalwala

Study of Somalia Highlights What Can Be Learned From Failed States

How can countries better approach failed states from a foreign-policy perspective? The common narrative of failed states typically incorporates some combination of “terrorism, poverty, and uncontrolled migration,” said political scientist Ian Oxnevad. Those challenges — whether real or perceived — can complicate the foreign policies of countries seeking to protect their own citizenries, like the United States.

But according to Oxnevad, a doctoral candidate in UC Riverside’s Department of Political Science, governmental failure doesn’t always signal a country’s complete descent into anarchy. Instead, some countries recreate political structures that can also be analyzed as tools for intelligence-gathering. In an article published in the journal Intelligence and National Security, Oxnevad looked to Somalia as a model for demonstrating how economic structures and the political actors associated with them can provide stability in failed states while simultaneously serving as sources of information and intelligence.

“Failed states are becoming increasingly common,” Oxnevad said, citing Libya, Syria, and Yemen as just a few examples of countries that, like Somalia, have faced governmental collapse in recent years. However, he added, Somalia is something of an anomaly among such states because its economy actually improved after governmental failure, with commerce — namely the country’s booming cattle trade — replacing traditional state institutions. This economic activity provides structure that offers information on how a country runs without formal government.

“Characterized as a hotspot for street battles between rival warlords, a springboard for piracy in the Indian Ocean, and a training ground for jihadists, Somalia is almost a cliché of state failure,” Oxnevad wrote of the country, which has been recognized by scholars as a failed state since 1991. “Such characterizations are largely accurate. However, Somalia has spawned a vibrant economy despite these troubles, and one that has commercially connected the anarchic territory to the outside world.”

In Somalia, economic success also stems from the country’s growing telecommunications, manufacturing, finance, and airline industries — all unique windows to the activities of political actors as well as potential threats posed by terrorist groups who seek to take advantage of failed states.

“Despite their mystique, terrorists do not boast airtight operational security with regard to their economic activity,” Oxnevad explained. “If terrorist groups are indeed present in failed states, they must certainly require local resources from their immediate economic surroundings, and economically connect their presence in such locales to affiliated groups, cells, and supporters abroad.” Understanding how such groups interact with their surrounding environment — and the local economy — is a vital intelligence tool.

The main takeaways from his research on Somalia, Oxnevad added, are that political life still goes on even when no formal government exists, and that countries like the U.S. should approach intelligence-gathering in failed states by dealing with the structures that already are organically in place. Not only is structure present in a failed state, but in its alternative forms, it can often offer a better picture of the country’s political landscape than whatever ineffective and weak formal state may be present.

“Scholars remain more concerned with what specific problems can emerge from failed states, instead of how to approach them as a holistic system that produces intelligence of multiple types,” Oxnevad added. “The purpose of this article is to underscore that failed states need not terrify policy-makers due to their inherent danger so much as their uncertainty, and that this uncertainty need not exist in the first place. Disregarding failed states as intelligence targets in their own right leaves geopolitical blind spots that other great powers may use to their own advantage.”

Tess Eyrich 

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