An interview with Kaisa Hinkkainen

- a woman who studies the worst aspects of human nature

In line with our first event of the academic year of 2018/2019, TEDWomen2018, the TEDxUniversityofLeeds is conducting exclusive interviews with our amazing panelists. These influential women have all contributed to the University of Leeds's ever growing wealth of research that we are excited to be able to delve into and share with you.

In the second of our series of interviews with our amazing panelists, our researcher, Alkistis conducted an exclusive interview with the inspirational Kaisa Hinkkainen.

Kaisa Hinkkainen

Kaisa Hinkkainen is an Academic Fellow in Security Studies here in the University of Leeds. Her research interests are focused in civil wars and terrorism.

Meeting her brought the sun through the rainy clouds of the day. She is a very warm person and the area of her studies sparked very thought provoking discussion. Her thoughts will really inspire you and are capable of changing the way you view the world. 

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May you take us through your career path and how you ended up working on civil wars and terrorism?

I was not very political as a youngster but then I watched this one movie, The Devil’s Own, where Brad Pitt was an IRA (Irish Republican Army) agent. Then, I was like what is the IRA? Thus, I read that there is this whole phenomenon of terrorism close to us and in a western country, Finland, where I never thought that terrorism was such a big issue, when I was growing up. So, I just became fascinated by this idea, that actually it is not so clear cut who is in the wrong in the grand scheme. I figured out that I am interested in conflict, wars and terrorism and I just decided to do a bachelor degree in International Relations and Politics at the University of Kent. Throughout, my studies I realised that I am not interested in Politics but anything related to International Relations and, in a way, my interest in the topic lead me to do my Masters in International Conflict Analysis and a PhD in International Relations.

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Currently, the most popular terrorism organisation incorporated in civil war is the Islamic State. A quite sensitive issue which drew the attention of the public into this organisation is that they use child soldiers armed or non-armed. I know it’s not something new, yet may you outline your views on the impact of the civil war and of its aftermath?

We could look at this from many perspectives in the sense that children soldiers are affected themselves and also affect the course of a civil war. Precisely, the impact on the children is detrimental. They often recruit them at the crucial stages of their development, which means that perhaps then they are much easier indoctrinated into violence and they adopt an progressively aggressive attitude towards life. Moreover, their education is cut sort and they are often offered drugs. Therefore, in the post-conflict setting, child-soldiers often lack the skills to find livelihood to support themselves and so they end up maintaining aggression, not integrating into society after war

On a structural level, there are studies that have shown that actually having child-soldiers in civil wars makes even more likely wars to reoccur. You might be able to establish peace at some sort of negotiation stage, but often the war will revive because children are not integrated into the post-conflict society and thus they act as a catalyst for the war to restart. Moreover, they are not accepted back by their community, because often, in these countries where these conflicts occur, they do not view children as we do in western societies. They assume that these children have a lot of responsibilities for the decision that they made, even if we know this is not how it really works since they are forced to kill people and to take drugs. All these mean that the opportunity cost for a civil war is low. Therefore, they have nothing to do, no future ahead of them and their only solution is to recreate the conditions where civil war may restart again. 

In case a war involves child-soldiers, the UN and other peace promoting NGOs make even more intense attempts to resolve the war. However, is this foreign intervention really effective?

I have done a study with a colleague, Zorzeta Bakakiwhere we looked at whether the UN is more likely to intervene in conflict where they use child-soldiers. We found that statistically, this is the case. The UN is actually concerned about these cases. But whether that always means that the peace remains, this is a bit of a different debate. It often depends on how we look at it. So, do we look at whether the conflict starts over the same issue within 5 or 10 years?

It is really quite difficult to always define the effectiveness of an intervention. Therefore, I think it is not only whether the UN intervenes, but it is also about how they intervene. Usually, UN uses these DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reintegration) programmes to train the individuals who come out of fighting, to be able to do something else. Thus, this kind of intervention might be more effective than just trying to stop the fighting because that does not necessarily get the children into the places where they will be able to integrate into the society.


A question that usually arises when issues occur in under developed countries is whether international interference for resolving civil wars or aiding the fight against terrorism is useful, since in many cases regional parties have equilibrated their interests e.g. Siera Leone civil war. What is your opinion on that as a researcher on International Relations?

This is somewhat difficult to answer because there is a bit of a debate between us wanting to establish peace or justice? I believe that if you do not have both, you will probably not have long lasting peaceful period in any country. There are cases, like a genocide, where the international community has a duty to intervene. Sierra Leone is not one of those cases but if there are systematic mass atrocities, then I am not sure if we should just let it play out, the way it might do. I am not so sure if I am critical about external intervention, perhaps I am critical as to how effective external intervention alone can be if we do not address the justice issues at the ground level. In some ways, I do believe that sometimes external incentives to either get the parties to credibly commit to the peace agreement that they are signing is helpful, so that they know that there is an external force overseeing or preventing the state killing its own citizens in a genocide However, I do not think this is the only key for establishing peace, a lot more need to happen and it needs to incorporate local institutions and justice processes. 


In order, to prevent a civil war occurring we need to have a state where justice is employed and citizens have opportunities for personal development. As western world, sometimes it seems like we especially take advantage of African countries. Thus, to what extent do you think the western world bears a responsibility of sustaining the lack of economic opportunities in under developed countries, thus leading to low opportunity cost for war and even worse for the children participating involved?

This is indeed true. But, I think the causes of civil war and terrorism are complex, there is not a single cause. Let’s take for example the old civil war in Rwanda, the western imperial powers had a huge responsibility in that civil war because they generated the idea of different types of people and their standing in society. This idea allowed the ethnic identities to develop. If we return to 21st century, we bear a huge responsibility in exploiting developing countries with many sorts of policies e.g. Structural Adjustments Loans. People can be very critical with whether we are helping by doing these things or whether we are actually just making things worse. 


Let’s now draw a connection between civil wars and terrorism. Could you please tell me what the connection is between these two events?

Statistically speaking, the majority of terrorism happens during civil wars which is often something that we do not necessarily think about until recently with ISIS in Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria. But it is easy to get into a definitional mess. It depends whether we look at terrorism in the way that anybody can perpetrate an act of terrorism or whether we think that terrorism is only something that those that we label as terrorist organisations can perpetrate. Let’s say, if we think that ISIS is an insurgent organisation, it is not a terrorist organisation 100%, they have some territorial control, so this is not a conventional terrorist group but yet they terrorise populations to send messages. This is why we have relaxed our definition of terrorism to include everybody and we just define terrorism based on the act. Civil wars and terrorism are connected in the sense that things that happen during civil wars can either be some sort of conventional fighting between a government and rebel group, or they can be a rebel group or the government using terrorist tactics against civilians.


I would like to share an observation I have made. Most of the countries that suffer from terrorism or civil wars have a pattern; the position of women in the hierarchy is as low as it can be. What is your opinion concerning a potential connection between development and women rights? Why such a pattern may exist?

Women participating in terrorism is not perhaps as new as we think. They are used for several years now because they are not considered real suspects and I think often this is an effective tactic for those violent groups because of the role of women in the society. Nobody thinks that women could be legitimately a soldier due to their child-birthing, nursing role in the society. Therefore, they are used tactically as a surprise element, especially in those societies where patriarchy is quite prominent.


Equal rights between men and women is a characteristic of a developed society. However, the role of women in society is essential due to child-birthing primarily. Share your ideas as to why patriarchy has dominated historically over matriarchy? 

I wish I had a crystal clear answer. It is difficult to say from where it originates because historically we do not have any testimonial of how the societies gradually changed from being matriarchic to being patriarchic. It is not widely known but in very old times some societies were indeed matriarchic. There are some arguments that go along the lines that this transition has something to do with warfare. Men participate in war, and thus they are linked to the state, so state offices are linked to the war hierarchy in a way. Since, women were excluded from war, this lead to their exclusion from the state offices. Maybe, that was one of the reasons that women became excluded, but again this is a topic quite unexplored.


In countries suffering war crises, children and adults have mainly two choices either remaining to participate in the crisis or abandon their country. The escape route from the country is usually human trafficking, so would you please share with me your thoughts regarding this phenomenon under ethical and realistic considerations?

Human trafficking is the phenomenon where people are used as modern day slaves. People initially think that they are moved to another country to be saved but they are essentially abused in terms of human rights. So, I cannot see anything positive about human trafficking. It is different to help people leave war zones. 


War fares, in the Middle East especially, have caused huge refugee flows in Europe recently. Unfortunately, some parts of the population believe that offering our services to refugees damages our national identity. Thus, right-wing parties are emerging all over across the continent, would you like to offer us your opinion on the reason behind this phenomenon?

I think it is really due to lack of understanding and knowledge for the actual facts that surround these things and not understanding the dangers from history! It really terrifies that we have not learned from our common history of WWII. People statistically do not understand numbers and figures and empirical reality, we work on our perceptions. What kind of a fragile national identity do people have if they think that bringing in multiculturalism will threaten it? I do not know how people should be educated to understand that what they see happening in their immediate circle is not necessarily the average truth.


What you say intrigues me because in the age of education and information, we limit our view to our immediate environment and we lose the big picture. How is that possible? 

I think that sometimes the information age in fact perpetuates that problemWe choose to listen and follow what we believe in. There is some research that our social media, from where we tend to get our news from, is based on what we are. Social media is a reflection of what we believe in. So, we do not actually expose ourselves to alternative views. Thus, the way we are getting our information these is partially problematic.


My final question is, what would you like to wish for the future as person who studies the worst expressions of human nature?

I wish it could be a better integration of the research that we do from those people that try to make a difference. If we looked in research for the causes of civil wars, we could integrate them into policies to deal with these occurrences. Maybe, then our intervention would be more effective.


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