Month: March 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

Debates in Canadian Foreign Pol… Wait! Don’t leave!

I’m in Edinburgh, Scotland this week for the Political Studies Association Conference so my attention to all things blogging and internet is a bit short. However, as the Duck’s official Canadian ex-pat guest-poster, I did want to post this video (transcript here) of Robert Fowler, a former senior Canadian diplomat who gave a rather scathing critique of Canadian foreign policy at a conference this past weekend in Montreal.

No wait – don’t leave! Trust me on this one.

In it, he basically blasts both major political parties for their failure to enact any worthwhile international policies beyond that of short-sighted, narrowly defined and selfish national interest. It’s kind of like the equivalent of zombie Adlai Stevenson standing up at the Democratic National Convention and telling all of the politicos that they are full of it. (Although I don’t think that Fowler has ever run for office.)

Okay, I realize that controversies in Canadian foreign policy ain’t exactly an easy sell (or at all interesting) for non-Canadian (or even Canadian) audiences. But there are some really interesting points here for the politics of middle powers and IR theory/policy generally.


  1. Fowler is making a clear case for an idealist-driven foreign policy. He’s an experienced diplomat who helped to bring about the Kimberly Process to help curb trade in blood diamonds. He also spent a good chunk of the last two years being held hostage by radical Islamic groups in Western Africa. He’s not naive. Yet, to his credit, I think he asserts his case in a powerful and pragmatic way.
  2. His argument rests on the idea that Canada does have an international role to play and a duty to the international community. Certainly, Fowler is not the first to put this argument forward, but he’s the first Canadian leader I’ve heard really articulate it in a long time. (Whether or not it’s true, however, is another story.) While the US often speaks of its leadership role, I can’t think of an American politician speaking of duties in this way. Is this just a Canadian thing? (Like when Dean Acheson called us “the stern daughter of the voice of God”?)
  3. Fowler says that Canada and its western allies simply do not have the ability to stomach the losses and resources required to win in Afghanistan and therefore the war is lost. He suggests that basically that we should cut our losses and leave – but turn our attention to Africa and international development, suggesting it is the only way to really stop al-Qaida from spreading. I find this interesting, because in some ways development in Africa is surely as difficult (if not more so) than nation building in Afghanistan. Certainly we’ve been trying to develop states there for years without much to show for it. I’m not sure he made the case that this is any more realistic or a viable alternative.
  4. Fowler is staking his own version of the “Israel Lobby” in the speech – suggesting that the Tories (the current political party in power) are supporting Israeli policies over the traditional “balanced” view that has been taken by Canada in the Middle East. He suggests that this is because the Tories are trying appeal to Jewish voters (and that the Liberals are also guilty to some extent here as well.) To Fowler, this means that Canada cannot play a useful role in the Middle East. I’ve heard this complaint from Canadian diplomatic-types before (that we were undermining our position), but this is the first major statement I’ve heard spoken so prominently. However, I do have to wonder if Canada (other than the Suez crisis) has ever really played a useful role in the Middle East? I must profess some level of ignorance on the subject here.

There is plenty more in the speech, but I’ll leave it on those four points. He has, so far, received praise from both the left and the right in the press. But also some really harsh criticism.

I have a lot of respect for Fowler, even if I feel inclined to disagree with him on Afghanistan (and possibly his arguments on the Middle East). I had the opportunity to meet him once when he was Canada’s representative on the UN Security Council in 1999. One very much had the impression that he was very interested in African issues then as much as now and that he was proud of his work in trying to stop blood diamonds.

But the fact that this speech, coming from someone who was also a senior UN diplomat, is so critical about Canada, Canadian foreign policy – at a time when Canada is seeking a seat on the UN Security Council may actually put a serious damper on any attempt to actually get it. He openly says that Canada does not deserve the seat – and I would think that all Portugal would have to do would be to show this speech around in order to bolster its attempt to get on the Council.

It’s probably the best case I’ve heard put forward for an idealist-driven foreign policy – even if it is in scathing terms (the line about “Own the Podium” – OUCH!). If nothing else, it was a speech that was honest and informed – something that always seems to be lacking nowadays.

So if you’re just dying to know how a middle power debates its foreign policy – you’re welcome.

As for me, I’ll probably be returning to my regularly scheduled program of blowy-uppy-things next week.

But first I am going to have to try and survive the crazy weather up here.

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What’s in an apology?

Serbia’s parliament is debating a resolution expressing sympathy for Srebrenica’s victims and apologizing for not doing enough to prevent the massacre. Bosnian Muslims are not likely to be happy because the resolution does not apologize explicitly for the crime of genocide — it only reads that it condemns the massacre as “the crime as it is described” in the European Parliament’s resolution passed last year.

As expected, much of the human rights community is pressing for stronger language with an explicit acknowledgment of the crime of genocide. While I am generally sympathetic with these calls, I’m also persuaded by Jennifer Lind’s work on apologies in international relations and the delicate balance that is required within apologizing states. Her work on Japan reveals both the perils of simple apologies and the perils of avoidance. Leaders that issue apologies must walk the delicate balance between atonement for past crimes while avoiding actions that provoke virulent nationalist backlashes. She cites the strategy by German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as a model. Adenauer issued formal apologies, but domestically he allowed outlets for German nationalism by stressing Germany’s postwar achievements and allowing myths to persist that only the ss and not ordinary German citizens were involved in the Holocaust.

Serbian leaders face a similar balancing act — they need to apologize for the crimes at Srebrenica and elsewhere, but given the continuing saliency and intensity of Serb nationalism, they’ll have to find a way to do so without re-igniting the virulent and violent nationalism of the 1990s.

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The Problem With Online Petitions

At LGM, I recently suggested that readers support a Department of Justice Rule-making process on prison reform. I probably should have added that it’s not enough – not nearly enough – to simply log into the Change.org site and click “send” on the form letter they offer.

That’s because DoJ doesn’t care how many individual constituents support or oppose prison reform per se. They couldn’t care less, in fact. All they care about is how to create the best possible set of rules, so what they want most are informed, carefully thought out, unique comments.

Congress cares about numbers, of course. Congress’s job is to pass laws, and because we elect our congressional leaders they care a great deal about the popularity of those laws.

Federal agencies are pretty much the reverse. They are tasked with implementing laws, and they are staffed by civil servants. Their job is not to get re-elected, it is to figure out how to produce collective goods.

Citizen input in federal rule-makings is not about the popularity of a particular rule. Rather, it’s about more heads being better than few – it’s about tapping the experiential, procedural, scientific and everyday expertise of the American people. The federal rule-making process is one of the truly deliberative mechanisms in our country. What the public comment process is supposed to produce is useful substantive citizen input on what the rule should look like.

What does this have to do with online petitions?

Well, because federal agencies don’t care about quantity of comments, only quality, a form letter written by Change.org and submitted by you and 500,000 others is worth exactly one comment no matter how many times it’s sent – precisely the opposite of Congress.

You can probably see the grand irony here. The genius of websites like Change.org is that they make sending a letter to your government easy, thereby potentially increasing the level of citizen participation. But because clicking a form letter is so easy, citizens have powerful disincentives to write substantive comments where such form letters are available, even in cases – federal rule-makings – where such a comment would actually be read and considered valuable. For example, researchers studying the 2004 EPA mercruy rule-making found that the vast majority of comments submitted to the EPA through were are either identical form letters or contained extremely minor modifications.

Not only is this a waste of citizen time and effort, but this influx of meaningless form letters actually makes it harder for federal civil servants to identify the few useful comments sent in by citizens to their government that could actually aid their decision-making about a particular rule.

So, here’s the moral of the story: Anytime you go to signal your opinion on an online petition, first figure out if it’s going to Congress or to a federal agency. If it’s Congress, sheer numbers count and substance is discounted – so save yourself time and simply click yes or no. But if it’s a federal agency – EPA, DoJ, DoT, FCC – be sure to alter the letter as much as possible, and write an informed, substantive comment. For example, if you support prison reform, write about what prison reform rules should look like and why, or ways in which DoJ can actually improve on the NPREC recommendations, and encourage others to do the same.

The same is true for many, many other issues about which progressives care deeply. Biomass for Fuel. Polar Bears. Net neutrality.

Sure, use the above websites to formulate your opinion. Use their online form to submit it. But delete the form letter and put it in your own words. (And not just any words. No emotional rants. No insults in all caps. No accusations of immoral behavior. No threats. It’s not that public officials care about these things; it’s that they couldn’t care less and letters like that just make it harder for them to find the useful, substantive comments that they need to make the best rules.)

Citizens unwilling or unable to take the time to write their own substantive letters can far better serve our democracy if they engage the Congressional process where it’s the absolute numbers of voters taking a certain position that matters, rather than gumming up the rule-making process with duplicative comments. And organizations aiming to increase citizen input to government should be thinking harder about to improve the quality of that participation, not just the quantity.

[cross-posted at LGM]

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Epistemethodology (and Feeling?) in IR

I spent the last day and a half at a workshop on epistemology and method that we hosted at the University of Florida. A lot of interesting conversations took place during the workshop, which I felt fortunate to be able to be a part of and hear. Fellow Duck Patrick Jackson was also here.

The one(s) that I have selected to talk about (this time) were not the central ones, but intersect themes with a couple of projects I have been working on this week. The first question I am thinking about is emotion (generally, and desire and sensuality specifically) both in global politics and in our research about it.

Particularly, what is the role of desire in the the relationships we study? What is the role of desire in the relationships we have with the subject/object of our study? In these contexts, how are power and desire related? What is with our tendency to equate violence and power? As if violence can be read as a proxy for power? We have to be much deeper than tat, right? Didn’t Foucault teach us anything about power? Or, for that matter, about desire? What would it mean to think about desire and fantasy in IR?

So much interesting work in IR now is in artistic form – poetry, narrative, art, and story. we are doing that out of a desire to express, rather than just do our research. This is an important move, in my view (though it is equally important that to me that it is not totalizing).

At the same time, it is important that we do reflected expression – that we talk about the substance and implications of our art of IR, about what we perform and what we leave out, and not only about the act of expressing but of how and what we express.

Particularly, this weekend, I’ve been interested in the role of fantasy in our (performance-based and art-based and “normal” research). We talk about fiction and representation and art, which are all fantastic, but we don’t talk about the fantastic. Our performances are felt, but we don’t talk about desire. We (in the loose sense) posit the inseparability of the subject and the researcher of IR but don’t discuss the wants, needs, desires, and insecurities of self-as-researcher. So, while I don’t have the answers, I’d like to think about, and ask you to think about, not just how we do our research, but also how we feel it.

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Operation Omaid in Kandahar

The southern Afghan city founded by Alexander the Great (and which still bears a Pashto version of his name) is the latest target of the US/NATO/ISAF military forces.

Initial efforts to secure key roads into Kandahar began last week. “Operation Omaid [Hope]” as it has been dubbed aims to gain control of this city which is the original home of the Taliban movement. The operation is expected to take several months to complete.

The Taliban (i.e. the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) have already begun their counter-offensive, detonating seven bombs (including two suicide bombs) in mid-March that killed 35 people and wounded 57 more. On the propaganda front, they have vigorously denied claims that their representatives entered into negotiations with UN emissaries or the Karzai regime.

I thought it would be useful to see how the Afghan media is responding to the latest military initiative by foreign forces and the Taliban’s counter-measures. (Obviously, I am relying on English translations of the media).

1. Hewad (a state owned newspaper, published in Dari from Kabul) ran an article on 17 March titled “Conducting the National Peace Jirga” which stated:

“Operation Moshtarak will be followed by another massive operation in Kandahar Province but, as we witnessed, putting pressure on the Taliban to weaken them was not a good option to bring them to the table of talks. After the Taliban group left Marjah District, they took their revenge in Kabul and Kandahar Provinces and the Taliban passed the message to the foreign troops in Afghanistan that the explosions in Kabul and Kandahar Provinces were a response to losses in Helmand Province. The National Peace Jirga will only have results if the foreign troops stop launching operations on the bases of the Taliban and start building trust. Planning new operations on the bases of the Taliban destroys trust and the chance for negotiations and the continuation of the operations will also help the crisis in Afghanistan to last longer.”

The article’s argument relies heavily on the belief that peaceful negotiations are the only way to settle the conflict and that the trust necessary to lay the groundwork for negotiations can only happen if a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign forces is drawn up by the government. Notably, the argument parallels the demands of the Taliban, whose only precondition for negotiations is the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.

2. Hasht-e-Sobh (an independent daily out of Kabul) echoed very similar sentiments in an article written in Pashto on 17 March titled, “Major players in this war seem worn out.” The article also noted the incongruity of the launch of a military operation at a time when the Karzai government has announced a National Peace Jirga:

“The most recent bloody terrorist attack, which killed 35 and injured around 80 people in Kandahar city once again showed to foreigners that Taleban can strike wherever they want. NATO Commander, General McChrystal, should in the face of the current situation review his planned offensive in Kandahar Province. Instead, he should work for peace and support the efforts of the Afghan government to hold a consultative peace jirga early next year [i.e. March-April 2010 AD]. He should persuade Afghanistan’s neighbours and other regional countries to work for peace and to abandon their military, economic and political interests in favour of national interests of the people of Afghanistan. He should view the Afghan problem as an international issue and strive to find a solution within the framework of the traditional loya jirgas or grand assemblies and thus put an end to the war.”

The article discussed David Miliband’s recent speech at MIT and concurred with him that a political solution is the only way to end the war. The paper also favorably noted Representative Kucinich’s efforts in Congress to debate the war in Afghanistan (although the article mistakenly stated the initiative came from a US Senator).

3. Anis (a newspaper published in Dari out of Herat) ran an editorial on 16 March which argued that Taliban tactics reflected the militant organization’s failure and defeat in Helmand province:

“… When one side enjoys superior military resources and logistical facilities, the opposite side resorts to ambush and is forced to use means such as the planting of mines and suicide bombing. In the current situation, the government’s opponents are facing defeat in Helmand Province and have also lost their military positions in Pakistan. Therefore, the only way for the Taleban to continue the war is to carry out ambushes, plant mines along the roads and launch suicide attacks against civilians. In addition, the recent suicide attacks launched by the opponents in Kandahar Province are in fact their reaction to the recent defeats of the Taleban in Helmand. To retaliate against the government’s attacks, they may continue suicide attacks, ambushes and planting mines in the spring. Therefore, to repel the terrorist attacks Afghan security forces have to take effective measures to prevent ambushes and the planting of mines on the main roads, and to thus thwart the enemy’s plans.”

4. Sur Ghar (a newspaper published in Kandahar) ran an English article titled, “Experts believe that Marja style operations would be ‘useless’ in Kandahar” on 13 March. The paper quoted an Afghan expert, Gharzai Khwakhozai, who argued:

“If it takes weeks to take control of a place merely big as a village, how will they take control of a province or a city?” asked Khowakhozai. Marja is one of the 348 districts of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan.”

Khwakhozai believes that ISAF forces should be stationed on Afghanistan’s borders to prevent the flow of arms which he says are inflaming the conflict. One reads this type of argument quite frequently in the Afghan media. I think it is a way of pointing the finger and blaming foreign powers for the conflict rather than a serious strategic argument.

Overall, it would seem that while opinion is divided in the Afghan media on how to interpret the Taliban’s reprisal attacks earlier this month, there is a perplexed attitude towards a military operation coinciding with planning for a National Peace Jirga. The news editorials do not seem to agree that a show of force will knock the Taliban onto the negotiating table.

[Cross-posted at Afghan Notebook]

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Cyber-War: Emerging Threat or Phantom Menace?

Apparently the ruckus between Google and China amounts to a “cyber war.”

This sounds familiar. In late February, former director of national intelligence Michael McConnell declared on the WAPO opinion pages that we are losing some sort of “cyberwar.” Then earlier this month Obama administration cyber-czar Howard Schmidt announced “there is no cyberwar” at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco.

At Government Computer News, William Jackson asks a useful question: “How can we be at cyberwar if we don’t know what it is?”

Words have consequences. War entails specific risks and responsibilities and should not be entered into lightly. The Constitution lays out requirements for engaging in war, and the United States is a signatory to treaties that impose legal restrictions on conducting warfare, such as distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants and military and non-military targets. And once a nation engages in an act of war, it invites retaliation, regardless of its motives.

As of now, we have no workable definition of what constitutes cyberwar, and more often than not we lack the ability to accurately distinguish it from act of online vandalism.

For what it’s worth, Ronald J Diebert and Rafal Rohozinski have a new article in International Political Sociology on the concept of cyber-security in which they analyze the parameters of the debate over what concepts like “cyberwar” or “cybersecurity” mean. They point out there there are two sets of rhetoric here – one about risks to cyberspace, and one about risks through cyberspace.
They also argue that governance may be emerging more clearly in the former arena than in the latter, which essentially remains contested.

Perhaps the conceptual corollary is helpful: genuine acts of cyber-war might be understood as efforts to target infrastructure, whereas much of what we critique as cyber-war “hype” are simply concerns over conventional forms of espionage or sabotage using new media.

It’s hard to see how Google’s withdrawal from China fits either category, though. In fact, at Wired, Ryan Singer argues that the cyber-war hype like this itself night be “the biggest threat to the internet” as the hype encourages citizens to imagine that increased government surveillance or control over web traffic would be a public good. To draw on Diebert and Rohozinski’s typology (of cyber-war as risks to cyber-infrastructure), cyber-war hype might itself constitute a form of cyber-war – or at least, cyber-war-propaganda.

Well, one thing’s for sure: I smell some interesting dissertations in the near future to organize our thinking around these concepts.

[cross-posted at LGM]

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“Girls Don’t Do Math Past Algebra”


Today, a group of articles in the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and other newspapers, comment on the AAUW (American Association of University Women) report which will be webcast this Thursday.

These articles reminded me of a teacher that I’d had when I was young, who, despite my stellar performances in math courses, told me that girls don’t do, or need to do, math past algebra. Apparently, I am not alone, as the report lets us know that 40% of women who are now in the surveyed “STEM” (science and engineering) fields were discouraged at some point in their academic career from being in the sciences. While, if anything, that teacher’s sexism encouraged me to seek out education in math and science, story after story both related to this report and more generally can be told where women were explicitly discouraged from participating in or excluded from work in the sciences and engineering.

Just five years ago, at-the-time Harvard President Larry Summers (and current Director of the National Economic Council) argued that women are underrepresented in the sciences and engineering because of innate differences between men and women. I think there are two important things to say to this discussion: first, that women CAN do science and engineering as well as men can and shouldn’t be discouraged from it on any sort of (innate or social) capacity logic. Second, though, it might be important to explore the argument that our very conceptions of science are gendered. I have written about this in International Relations specifically in the journal Politics and Gender, but will make the argument briefly here …

In these fields, women’s underrepresentation is so grave that this “failure” to make it cannot be understood as individual or incidental, but, rather, as a consequence of structural barriers to women’s participation. Incidental explanations identify some factor or set of factors, such as educational differences, differences in the subfields of international relations that women are interested in, age differences, methodological differences, and so on, and “blame” women’s underrepresentation on those differences. These explanations imply that, if women had the “same” education, the “same” interests, and the “same” methods, then their experience in the subfield of international relations would be similar to men’s. As such, many who look for women’s equality in these fields are actively interested in finding more women who do “good work” and including them among the ranks of faculties. I have heard several department chairs and deans lament that they simply were unable to find a woman who met their criteria, and thus were unable to hire a woman to fill a vacant tenure-track line. In this scenario, senior colleagues explain, were there to be a woman who did the same work at the same level as the (more qualified) male candidate, then the department would have no problem hiring the person — women who were “the same” would be treated that way.

The problem, then, for those who consider women’s underrepresentation incidental, is that women are not the same. Because of perceived inferior preparation, skills, research interests, research methodologies, or other qualifications, women are often understood as less qualified job candidates and less desirable contenders for promotion. Women’s underrepresentation could be fixed by assuring that women got the same training, worked in the same areas, and obtained the same qualifications.

Still, there is a sociology to what is counts as “traditional” or “good” work. Feminists have described this as the “malestream,” rather than the “mainstream” because even where women are becoming more accepted as scientists, it is largely conditional upon socializing themselves into disciplines as defined by the men who came before them. If what is “traditional” is endogenous, then the problem of women’s underrepresentation is structural rather than incidental. Even were women numerically “equal” to men in terms of their participation and rank in the sciences, they would still be participating in a men’s world.

Perhaps the problem, then, is not that women’s work is nontraditional. Rather, it is that we consider women’s perspectives outside of tradition because tradition is laced with gender subordination. If “tradition” excludes women’s perspectives, indoctrinating women into tradition will not “fix” the gender disparities in these professions.

As such, instead of focusing exclusively providing women the “same” education and the “same” opportunities, perhaps it is time to question the value sciences assign to sameness. Perhaps it is time to stop thinking that women fall outside of the norm, and start redefining the norm in terms of the presence and importance of women’s perspectives in the sciences.

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Seeing the whole board on financial reform

Clive Crook does:

The problem is not just that specific rules – higher bank capital requirements, for instance – threaten profits and are therefore opposed. It is that all governments see themselves as partners of their industries in world competition. Regulators seek not a level playing field but one tilted to their own groups’ advantage. This is not a hidden bias. It is proudly advertised. A government that did less than stand up for its own companies would be seen as failing in its duty.

According to eToro Argentina, in finance, a footloose industry, this striving for regulatory advantage undermines rules imposed by other countries. Financial regulation will underperform until regulators work more closely with counterparts abroad than with those they police.

[…] Pieces of the needed reforms are reasonably clear. They include higher capital and liquidity requirements, linked to size and to the credit cycle. Orderly resolution arrangements must be designed for non-bank financial groups as well as banks. There is growing support for requiring contingent capital (bonds that convert to equity under stress) and subordinated debt (increasing creditors’ exposure to writedowns). These should strengthen market discipline over risk-taking.

Such measures will meet resistance, especially if done unilaterally. The industry will cry competitive disadvantage. International co-operation is therefore essential. But discussions among regulators are moving slowly. While America’s turf fights remain unresolved, it is not even clear who should speak for US regulators.

I would agree with Crook. If policy makers focus too much on the domestic arena their best efforts will be doomed to fail. Not only must they take into consideration how the effectiveness of their reforms will be partially determined by similar actions in other countries, but they should be using the international arena to their advantage.

One way would be to use international negotiations and commitments as a way to gain leverage over the powerful interests of the financial industry who see less regulation (even sensible regulation) as against their interests. There is a rich literature on the use of international organizations and agreements as commitment mechanisms, a way of “tying one’ hands” so that what are normally tough reforms domestically due to lobbying and special interest pressure become easier to resist. If the Obama administration wants to pass sensible financial reform it might consider focusing more on finalizing international standards across, say, the OECD in order to shift the domestic playing field to its advantage.

[Cross-posted at Signal/Noise]

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What is the status of CIA drone operatives in international law? (Short answer: I don’t know, but that shouldn’t matter.)


Despite our modern ideas about a separation between civilians and soldiers in international law (and then complain about the breakdown of the legal distinction in counterinsurgency conflict or situations like Pakistan), civilians have almost always accompanied military forces into the field. These include journalists, clergy (not within the armed forces of an army) and “camp followers” which may have included cooks, tailors, menders, prostitutes, etc.

That these individuals were there and an essential part of the operations of the armed forces, was accepted. Yet, because they were not formally “enlisted” they were considered as civilians and not subject to direct attack so long as they did not take a direct part in hostilities.
This doesn’t render the principle of distinction irrelevant of course. It’s still one of the key principles upon which the law of war rests. However, it does suggest that we sometimes forget that the line has not always been crystal clear between combatants and civilians.
Yet, a major recent difference has been the increasing technological dependence of the armed forces in their military missions. This has resulted in civilians working on computer and weapons systems, possibly crossing certain lines in terms of distinction and participating in a conflict in a direct way.
Efforts trying to regulate civilian participation have not been particularly successful. As is relatively well known, efforts to regulate private military firms (PMFs) have been less than satisfactory (and even the US government who employs them has trouble exercising jurisdiction over their behaviour). The Montreux guidelines are just that – guidelines – and without any enforcement mechanism.
However, the CIA drone issue is different from that of PMFs. The CIA is a state-sanctioned institution. It’s armed and uses force against other actors. So what does it mean for their status under their international law? Are they directly participating in hostilities? Is their participation allowed?


Other important “guidance” here comes from the (controversial) ICRC study on the direct participation in hostilities. This document has been, is and will be subject to a lot of scrutiny (and it will be interesting to see, exactly, which states consider it authoritative. I’m thinking not many…). However, for our purposes here, a lot of the criticism (typically directed to ‘insurgent’-like actors and a supposed ‘revolving door of protection’) does not really apply.


Actually, the position taken with regards to private military firms and civilian employees would seem consistent with what the United States has typically put forward:

III Private contractors and employees of a party to an armed conflict who are civilians (see above I and II) are entitled to protection against direct attack unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. Their activities or location may, however, expose them to an increased risk of incidental death or injury even if they do not take a direct part in hostilities.

The fifth point of the study, (V Constitutive elements of direct participation in hostilities) is more controversial as some might deem the criteria as far too narrow for the purpose of modern fighting. (ie: On just one point, the United States would likely argue that someone who did financing for a terrorist organization was ‘fair game’). While this might provoke more controversy for their targets, for our purposes, the DPH guidelines suit the CIA Drone pilots rather well.

In order to qualify as direct participation in hostilities, a specific act must meet the following cumulative criteria:
i. The act must be likely to adversely affect the military operations or military capacity of a party to an armed conflict or, alternatively, to inflict death, injury, or destruction on persons or objects protected against direct attack (threshold of harm), and
ii. there must be a direct causal link between the act and the harm likely to result either from that act, or from a coordinated military operation of which that act constitutes an integral part (direct causation), and
iii. the act must be specifically designed to directly cause the required threshold of harm in support of a party to the conflict and to the detriment of another (belligerent nexus).

Regardless of whether or not the threshold is too high or narrow, there is no question that what the CIA drone pilots are doing falls into this category.


Therefore, I would argue the two most important legal issues here are:

1. Is there participation in hostilities legal?
2. Are they subject to attack?

The first question is more difficult to answer than the second. I would argue that the default position regarding civilians accompanying armed forces is that their presence may be authorized by a state/military force (because of the increasing essential tasks that they perform). In this sense, I would argue that their presence is legal if they are authorized by a state and armed forces AND they carry out their operations in line with the laws of war. This implies that all actors should receive instructions and training in the laws of war.

Key to this framework – and I think this is rather obvious from what is stated above – is that although civilians may accompany the armed forces and assist them in a variety of ways, they remain civilians – not combatants or non-combatants (which, in US military parlance are considered to be chaplains and medical personnel). However, they are different from “regular” civilians in that their functions in relation to combat render them targetable.

If we take the case of a contracted computer specialist who accompanies a unit to a forward operating base, I would suggest: 1) His presence is legal. 2) His activities may constitute direct participation in hostilities 3) He may be subject to attack. 4) He, like the rest of the armed forces, must carry out his activities in line with the laws of war.

I think it is clear that for policy reasons the military should do its best to ensure that his participation does not constitute combat functions – although where one draws the line in this day and age is almost impossible to tell.

Article 4(A) of the Third Geneva Convention also makes it clear that should these authorized individuals be captured in an international armed conflict that they are to be given POW status. States/armed forces must therefore provide such civilians with appropriate identification cards.
However, again the CIA case is difficult because it poses several direct challenges to this scenario.

As suggested above, legal questions surrounding the participation of civilians revolve around civilians accompanying the military into the theatre of operations. The CIA case is different – many, if not most, of the operations seem to be coming from abroad or within the United States. Are the civilians therefore within the theatre of operations? And does distance render this ‘arithmetic’ irrelevant?

An important question here is whether or not the CIA operations can be considered as supporting military operations? The CIA program seems to operate at arms length from the DoD/Air Force Program – although how near or far is almost impossible to say. It may be that the CIA and US government considers the Agency to be part of the broader effort in the abstract “War on Terror” and therefore, yes, they are supporting military operations. They may also see themselves as working within a “self-defence” scenario whereby they are responding to the threat of terrorism posed by radical extremists in Pakistan.

Others, however, may see this as problematic because, legally, the conflict in Pakistan must be considered separately – not as an international armed conflict, but as an internal armed conflict and subject to a different set of international rules.

I think questions as to the status of the legality of the conflict in Pakistan are jus ad bellum issues and I will ignore them for the purpose of this post. I am also going to work from the assumption that a drone attack is an “armed attack” for the purpose of the laws of war and that this makes it the appropriate law to apply when considering the CIA operations.

I would therefore apply the following argument regarding the CIA drone pilots:

1. They are civilians.
2. Their activities constitute direct participation in hostilities in a law of war context.
3. They may be subject to attack, regardless of their location. The same may be said for a civilian who provides logistical support for military operations at the Pentagon. Of course, the same may not be said of a civilian who works at the Pentagon Best Buy (and yes there is one) who is supporting the staff who work at DoD, but is not directly participating in hostilities. This individual may be at risk because he/she works at a military target, but is not targetable. He/she must be taken into a proportionality consideration when a strike is being considered or planned.)
4. Their armed attacks must be carried out in line with the laws of war.

But what about their legality?

There is no question that the CIA is not part of the armed forces of the United States. Typically referred to as “other government agency” in military documents, one typically struggles to see them named within the DoD literature.

Yet international law stipulates that armed forces are not necessarily the only groups which may participate on the battlefield. For example, in a situation of a “mass uprising” (levée en masse), civilians may participate in an armed attack with immunity. Similarly guerrilla/partisan movements which follow certain rules have been recognized by the law of armed conflict since 1949.

However, none of these categories work particularly well. The CIA operatives do not meet the standards of these categories and nor were these categories ever really intended to apply to state actors. Ultimately, the Agency represents not “the” armed forces of the United States but “an” armed force of the United States. And this is essentially the main difficulty with regards to their legal classification.

Therefore, I simply can’t help but conclude that the CIA program is operating in a legal grey area – there is just not enough law or examples to render a crystal clear verdict on the status of the CIA operatives. The state-sanctioning of the activity means that they are not simply rogue individuals who are operating like some kind of armed group (unless you want to consider it a state-sanctioned armed group – in which case I don’t know how you would distinguish this from the armed forces). There are differences and developments here which international law has not yet had a chance to catch up with.

Practically, however, this should not make an operational difference. As I have suggested above, I think regardless of who is carrying out the attacks, they must be done in accordance with the laws of war. This is the really important key factor – at least for me. Not who is carrying out the attacks, but whether they are actually done in accordance with the applicable law.

It seems to me that there is no doubt that the individuals who are carrying out these activities are directly participating in activities and are targetable. Additionally, their civilian status does not relieve them of law of war obligations.

To me it would seem that the legality of the participation becomes really important if someone wanted to arrest and charge the CIA pilots for their missions. Practically speaking, I find this highly unlikely.

However, there is a more important issue of accountability here – what happens in a case of gross negligence? Or A clear violation of the laws of war? Who is responsible? I think this is where there is more room to be concerned. And how this will play out remains to be seen.

I’m curious as to what other international legal-politicos out there think of this. Am I missing something? Law simply does not have all of the answers – at the end of the day, I think it will be more helpful if the CIA program is going to have to be judged on its effectiveness vs the amount of damage it does and this will likely be done on political and moral grounds.

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Digital Burqa

A few days ago, Charli pondered “whether or not the Internet and social media empowers civil society or instead simply offers states new tools of repression and governance.” And she provided a link to an excellent video about Iranian bloggers. I haven’t been able to get the question or the video out of my head. This is not my topic/area of research, but I will offer a few tentative thoughts to see if it will spark some discussion…

What color is your burqa?

If we were to visualize the Internet, would we not see a vast social space populated by individuals (men and women) wearing burqas, niqabs, chadors, and hijabs? Even in social networks, how many people interact without securing a measure of (an admittedly illusory) “privacy”? Almost all of those who comment on this blog, for example, wear digital burqas, except the listed contributors who are hijabed. (For we are all aware of the Nietzschean dictum that to talk much about oneself is also a way to conceal oneself.)

(What fascinates me is that so many wear digital burqas voluntarily, particularly in societies which are nominally non-authoritarian. From whence does this fear of the gaze of others originate in supposedly free societies? But, I digress…)

If you ask individuals in authoritarian or non-authoritarian contexts why they inhabit these personal panopticons, they would probably tell you that their burqa gives them mobility in the public sphere while avoiding the gaze/persistent memory of undesirable others and perhaps the state. Their burqa also enables a measure of subversion and license (as does the actual burqa and niqab even in conservative societies.)

Repression is understood in this context as the lifting of the digital veil by the state and/or the incarceration of authors.

The real question for me is not why an authoritarian state occasionally seeks to lift the veil on suspected dissidents (all states do this), but why a strong authoritarian state tolerates this potentially subversive social space at all. Technophiles will say that the state has no choice in this digital age, but this argument is not convincing when one is dealing with strong, capable states. After all, how many blogs emanate from Pyongyang? Not many (if any) I suspect. States can attempt (and more of less succeed) to prevent the technology wholesale, the more challenging situation is to permit the technology but to censor/filter particular servers. So why take on this more difficult challenge in governing?

The Spider and the Web

There is often an assumption in debates about social networks in authoritarian countries that civil society is antecedent to the state. However, outside of the Anglo-American tradition civil society is certainly not an autonomous historical development. (Even within the Anglo-American tradition it is doubtful that civil society today is logically antecedent since the state shapes every element of civil society through public policies). Late developing states have consistently sought to create bourgeois civil society in a hothouse in order to catch up to the early industrializers. To borrow an evocative metaphor from Bruce Cummings’ work on the developmental state: the spider builds the web; there are no webs without spiders.

The challenge for late-industrializing states has traditionally been to create a bourgeoisie which can achieve hegemony over the existing social classes without fomenting a violent reactionary revolution.

I do not know enough about Iran since its (reactionary? alter-modern?) revolution to say why its state permits this potential site of resistance. However, I do think it is worth asking the question. My hunch (and it is only that) is that the state hopes to create a particular modern bourgeoisie with “Iranian characteristics” (on the Chinese model) while exposing and expunging the secular, cosmopolitan, counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. In Hegelian fashion, the state projects its role as restoring a threatened organic unity.

It is unclear to me whether the young bloggers/tweeters of Iran have established hegemony within their society. Internet penetration in Iran has grown dramatically in recent years and it is well above the regional average. However, the bloggers’/tweeters’ frequent appeals in English to a global audience cast some doubts in my mind. But again, I do not know enough and hope others will correct me. Perhaps, when the authoritarian state has stamped out real threats to its survival, it occasionally lets the reformers de-legitimize themselves by appealing to the international community in the language of the global hegemon. As the Iranian state frequently expresses concerns about foreign subversion, this seems like a plausible scenario.

In one conversation I had with an Iranian blogger (who ironically used Chinese software to acquire his/her chador), s/he rejected the notion that their struggles against the state were assisted by the US State Department’s efforts to buttress Twitter. Of course, the core issue is whether American assistance/intervention is perceived as marginal by the majority of the Iranian population.

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Margaret Moth


Margaret Moth died over the weekend after a long battle with cancer. Margaret was an incredibly talented photo-journalist who covered numerous conflicts. It was her video work, shot during the first months of the Bosnian war for CNN, that defined the war and set the standard for the way journalists — especially camera crews — filmed and reported the conflict. In July, 1992 she was hit and seriously wounded by a sniper’s bullet on sniper alley in Sarajevo. Despite her serious injuries and the long and painful recovery that followed, she returned to work to cover the Bosnian War and other conflicts.

I was always struck by how matter-of-fact she was — as she pointed out, she after all had stepped into the middle of the fight in Bosnia. But, she also believed strongly in the power of her work and the importance of giving the world a visual element to understanding war. She was an impressive person on so many levels. She will be missed.

She was featured in “Fearless: The Margaret Moth Story,” this CNN documentary made last summer:

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Methodology411: Nemesis


Nemesis. No, I don’t mean the tenth Star Trek film, a film that many of us Trekkers would like to simply imagine never happened (and thanks to J. J. Abrams’ rebooting of the franchise, we now can). Instead, I mean the long-theorized stellar companion to our Sun — perhaps a brown dwarf star — the existence of which could perhaps help to explain cycles of mass extinction on Earth. NASA’s WISE satellite, presently conducting a survey of the entire sky in the infrared spectrum, might be able to provide photographic evidence of Nemesis’ existence, although we wouldn’t be able to confirm that until about 2013 because of the time needed to process all of the data.

While it’s interesting in itself to think that we might be living in a binary-star system rather than in the single-star system that we’ve all been taught about for generations, what’s even more intriguing to me here are the curious methodological issues that the whole question of Nemesis’ existence or non-existence raises. Since we can’t see this hypothetical brown dwarf with any of our human-normal senses, any discussion of Nemesis necessarily takes place in the shadowy realm of the unobservable — which is a realm that anyone who has been following debates about scientific realism in IR or in the social sciences more generally has heard a lot about in recent years. In particular, we are often told that social structure, being unobservable, implies a scientific realist ontology in order to really make sense as a scientific concept.

I’m not sure that this is true either of social structure or of Nemesis, but not for the same reasons. There’s a key ambiguity in the notion of an “unobservable” that is sometimes exploited in scientific realist arguments in IR, in that the arguments often equivocate between things that theorists positing them say that we simply haven’t observed yet (like Nemesis) and things that theorists positing them say that we can’t possibly observe (like social structure, especially in the hands of scientific realists). Research implications follow, but first we have to be clear on the conceptual complexity involved.

First, a little basic ordinary-language philosophy. The most usual sense of the notion of “existence” involves something that we have direct sensory evidence of: I know that the book on my desk exists because I can see it, and can pick it up, and so forth. There are a whole series of conceptual calisthenics associated with teasing this notion out in a consistent way, many of which involve optical illusions or dreams or other hard cases, but I think that the basic point holds as far as ordinary speech is concerned and as long as we’re dealing with physical objects (and not definitionally transcendental objects like God or the soul; to say that such things do or do not exist gets us into a very tricky metaphysical realm that I want to avoid for the present discussion). If I don’t have direct sensory evidence of some physical object — if I haven’t actually seen a unicorn — it’s difficult for me to claim that it exists and to have those words mean what they conventionally mean in everyday speech.

In other words, our usual everyday notion of existence is pretty empiricist, to the extent that it relies on empirical evidence as the final court of appeal. Now, two caveats apply more or less immediately. First, relying on someone else’s direct sensory evidence does not seem to be a particularly complicated warrant, philosophically speaking; there are all kinds of practical or technical questions regarding the identification of reliable witnesses, but we do this all the time in everyday life so I see no reason that this ought to present any special conceptual challenge. Second, and a little more problematically, the boundary defining the things that are taken to be “direct sensory evidence” seems to be historically mutable. Most famously, the invention of the telescope did not immediately result in people regarding what one could see through a telescope as having the same epistemic status as what one could see with the naked eye; instead, it took time for the telescope to become popularly and philosophically regarded as a way of augmenting human senses such that telescope-mediated visual evidence was basically on par with direct sight. But once this was done, the telescope in effect ceased to present a perceptual problem, and looking through a telescope thereafter becomes a form of “direct sensory evidence.” Repeat the basic outlines of this story for the photographic camera, the scanning electron microscope, radar and sonar, etc., and we have a kind of “robust empiricism” which can deal with augmented human senses pretty easily.

The robust empiricist answer to the question of whether Nemesis exists, then, is pretty straightforward: look for it, and if you can see it, it exists. [I am not going to go into the various historical reasons why sight almost invariably gets privileged as the source of evidence in these discussions, but just realize that a) it does and b) that it does so is somewhat philosophically problematic, even though it doesn’t challenge robust empiricism to shift from sight to smell or touch.] One of the commentators on io9’s coverage of this story — which emphasizes the point that Nemesis is conjectured to cause periodic extinctions by disturbing the orbits of comets in the Oort Cloud and sending them speeding into the inner solar system — spells out the empiricist position on the issue quite well:

. . . we’re not even sure if the Oort Cloud is even there. Proof comes from observation, and not once have we EVER seen a comet at the distance required to prove the Oort Cloud is really there. We know the Kuiper Belt is there, because we can directly observe Kuiper Belt bodies. Not so with the Oort Cloud.

“Proof comes from observation” is the money-quote here, along with the implication that you could only really know that the Oort Cloud existed if you could get sufficient distance to actually see it and the comets that supposedly populate it. Otherwise, the Oort Cloud (the existence of which is accepted by basically all contemporary astronomers), and the brown dwarf Nemesis that might be affecting it, remain “theoretical” entities.

But note that this kind of robust empiricism has a directionality to it: even if we can’t presently have direct sensory evidence of the existence of the Oort Cloud or of Nemesis, there is nothing to prevent us from a) speculating about how its existence might help to solve certain puzzles and b) engaging in a more or less direct search for direct sensory evidence, which in this case means building a better piece of sensory augmentation equipment (the WISE satellite, which is basically designed to provide us with a better picture of the whole sky than we could get just by looking with our human-normal eyes — such survey-mapping is, so to speak, robust empiricism par excellence). Of course, we can’t say that something that we haven’t yet observed actually exists — or, better, we can’t say with any certainty whether it does or does not exist. But the point is that determining whether it does exist or not is a relatively straightforward matter of getting ourselves into the right position from which to observe it. Indeed, we might easily conclude that the point of scientific research is precisely to get ourselves in positions from which to observe as much as possible, and thus to steadily eliminate “theoretical” entities from our conceptual inventory by replacing them with observed ones.

In other words, Nemesis is what we might call an unobserved observable: an object that we could in principle observe under the proper circumstances, including the use of the proper sensory augmentation equipment. The appropriate research project for such an object, as I have suggested, is to find or build some way of observing it. Though there might be technical challenges or political obstacles to surmount in doing so, there is no reason in principle to suggest that the object couldn’t be observed, and hence no theoretical barrier to trying to do so. Matters are quite different with objects that the very theory and theorists that posit them declare to be in-principle unobservable: quarks, very high-energy fundamental particles like the Higgs boson, black holes, or social structures (at least as conceptualized by certain kinds of social theorists, in particular Marxists and feminists). The fact that the former three are thought to be in-principle unobservable because of physical laws, while the latter is thought to be unobservable because structures are dispositional conditions of possibility rather than entities reducible to their observed effects, is in this case immaterial; what matters is that all four of these objects are very different kinds of “unobservable” than Nemesis is.

As such, the terminus of research into any of these four objects cannot be a direct observation of them. According to the confinement principle of quantum chromodynamics, quarks cannot appear singly. The Higgs boson only exists at such high energy-levels that if one were to be created it would immediately decay into other particles (much like other fundamental particles, actually), so the best we can do is to indirectly detect such particles (which is why the massive machines built for the purpose are called particle detectors, and not particle observers). Black holes capture all of the energy within their event horizon, so all we can do is to infer their existence indirectly. And while we can observe what social structures make possible, we can’t build a structure-o-scope that would allow us to simply view capitalism or patriarchy — though we could and do measure the effects of those structures.

There’s more to say here, of course, particularly about how one might ever know that an in-principle unobservable object exists, and why it matters a lot if the unobservable in question is detectable or not — but I’ll save that for my next installment. For now, it suffices to conclude that whether or not Nemesis exists is a relatively straightforward question, easily answerable within the bounds of a slightly elaborated kind of common-sensical everyday empiricism, and the kind of fantastically impressive sensory augmentations that it easily accommodates.

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Things I Learned Doing My First Bloggingheads Diavlog

1) A small puppy, if walked real hard first, will sit quietly outside long enough for a decent taping with no unseemly background noise. (I had worried about that.)

2) It’s important to spell out your acronyms on the first use in speech just like in writing.

3) I say “um” a lot more than I ever thought.

Anyway, check it out. UN Dispatch’s Mark Leon Goldberg and I talk about pirate economics, the Somalia aid scandal, gender politics, and the coming Cylon takeover how popular culture figures in UN public relations strategies.

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The Latest on U.S. Militarism

In my U.S. Foreign Policy class this semester, students read the latest book from historian Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008). As in his prior work, Bacevich is critical of the apparent militarism in American foreign policy. Primarily, he argues that the U.S. is too willing to use military force as an instrument of policy and that the American people and its leaders overestimate the effectiveness of military power.

Arguably, another indicator of American militarism is its willingness to place former top military leaders into security policy posts that could well be topped by civilians. Already, the top military brass is very influential on U.S. foreign policy in their roles as military leaders. In fact, it sometimes seems as if Generals Petraeus and McChrystal have made all the key U.S. decisions bout Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most recently, for example, Barack Obama has selected retired Major General Robert Harding to head the Transportation Security Administration. Why should TSA be headed by a former general?By the way, Harding started a company that apparently overbilled the government millions of dollars for “interrogation” work in Iraq, so his nomination might not be assured.

Independent of that potential scandal, why should former military officials also currently serve in other top security posts? The former generals and admirals may well be qualified, but the U.S. assures greater civilian control of security policy if it keeps these positions in civilian hands. Yet, the Director of National Intelligence is former Admiral Dennis Blair. The current National Security Advisor is retired Marine General James Jones.

The practice of placing former military leaders into security positions in U.S. foreign policy is not unique to the Obama administration.

On my personal blog, I often wrote posts highlighting the fact that many former military leaders opposed the U.S. war in Iraq. Thus, I don’t mean to argue that all these leaders are dangerous hawks that threaten American democracy. Nor was I previously trying to argue that military opinion should trump the ideas pursued by civilian policymakers. Indeed, in those years, President Bush often said that he listened to his active Generals in regard to Iraq, so “the military’s” views were presumably heard (as if “the military” singular existed).

In this particular instance, I’m worried about the lack of civilian input on security policy issues. I’m in favor of listening to the views of people with military experience, but I also think that diverse perspectives should play a prominent role.

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Are you #^&@%! kidding me?


Our political discourse is seriously out of control. Retired Marine Corps General John J. Sheehan — an ardent opponent of gays in the military — testified before the Senate Armed Services today that the decision by the Dutch government to allow gays to serve in its military contributed to the events at Srebrenica in 1995. Apparently, the Dutch decision –and the overall “liberalization” of the Dutch military — contributed to its “weak” combat capabilities.

This is just absurd. The Dutch failure at Srebrenica is one of the most thoroughly investigated events of the past twenty years. These reports include extensive reviews of a wide range of things — including the structural flaws of the UNPROFOR mission, the small force-to-threat ratio in support of the six UN designated safe areas, weaknesses in the Dutch training and doctrine, and a host of other issues. Not one, not one suggests that gays in the military contributed to the failings. Seriously, you just can’t go before the Senate Armed Services Committee and make stuff up.

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Pondering Social Media and Global Civil Society

Random connections between things: Today, I’m at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy giving a guest lecture on global advocacy networks, in a class on Statecraft taught by my colleague Dan Drezner, who has an article coming out in the next issue Brown Journal of World Affairs on whether or not the Internet and social media empowers civil society or instead simply offers states new tools of repression and governance.

Then, with all that freshly bobbing around in my mind, my doctoral student sent me this video, which speaks to the same question of whether social media primarily empowers citizens or states. I don’t have time to formulate an informed opinion on the issue because I’m off to lunch, but the video is very good, and I wonder what readers think about this question.

Iran: A nation of bloggers from Mr.Aaron on Vimeo.

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The “Sea Witch,” Ann Hopkins, and Why We Never Seem to Learn about Sex and Gender


In the print version of Time Magazine, the story linked in the title of this post is itself titled differently. Instead of “The Rise and Fall of a Female Captain Bligh,” the story is called “The Sea Witch.” Much of the story is the same, however: a female captain in the United States Navy was relieved of her command for “cruelty and maltreatment” of her crew aboard the U.S.S. Cowpens. Among the (ir)relevant tidbits about Captain Graf in the article are: that she remains single, despite the fact that her sister married; that a chaplain once told her she was “a nice lady” who had “a hard job”; and that she “acted like a man.”

The “punchline” of the story, for Time Magazine, is that the Navy had long ignored “warning signs about her suitability for command” because of her gender – that is, that the Navy was looking for women officers, so willing to ignore that the available ones were actually bad at their jobs.

Twenty years ago, in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the United States Supreme Court paved the way for the award of one of the costliest individual verdicts in the history of U.S. jurisprudence to a woman named Ann Hopkins. Price Waterhouse had denied Ann Hopkins promotion to partner because she was a woman who didn’t comport herself as such – she was too “manly” – despite having risen quickly through the ranks of the company.

When I read the “Sea Witch” story in Time, I couldn’t help thinking how little we seem to have learned from Ann Hopkins and one of the landmark sex discrimination cases in U. S. history.


Other online articles and blogs (some not linked here in order to avoid potential spam for Duck of Minerva), characterize her “temperament” as “unnatural,” call Graf “leather-skinned,” blame her for humiliating men as well as women, call her a “bull dyke,” and questioning her sexual preference.

These comments are reminiscent of those made about Janis Karpinksi, the commander of several Iraqi prisons including Abu Ghraib during the prison abuse scandal, which I have written about elsewhere. But more, they are reminiscent of the comments made about Ann Hopkins that got the courts to award her backpay and partnership in the company.

Corporations, governments, and militaries are “including” women in their ranks at record levels, though women remain far from equally represented in positions of power. Still, this inclusion does not come with an automatic reform of the organizations which are adding women to their ranks. Instead, these organizations remain ones that value traits associated with masculinity (such as strength, rationality, and autonomy) over traits associated with femininity (such as interdependence, emotion, and care). This is, however, a catch-22 for their new women members, who can make a certain amount of progress by adopting traits associated with masculinity, but are constantly questioned about what has happened to their femininity.

Melissa Brown’s research about U.S. military recruiting ads captures some of this paradox. According to Brown, the U.S. military has begun to feature women in recruiting ads, either as the target of ads or alongside men. These ads, however, display women adept at the “masculine” jobs of the military, but with long hair, make-up, and often, high heels – which is not how many women doing military jobs actually look as they are doing them. The message seems clear: a woman soldier must be as capable of masculinity and masculine tasks as a (man) soldier, since masculinity is the measure of military prowess. But, as I have noted in analyses of the media coverage and military treatment of Jessica Lynch and Lynndie England, women must pair that militarized masculinity with traits traditionally associated with femininity, such as softness, innocence, kindness, and feminine appearance.

When are we going to get, individually or as a society, that is not about men and women but about masculinities and femininities? Whatever else Graf was relieved of her command for, she was relieved of her command because her behavior was so far from traditional understandings of women’s gender roles that it was unrecognizable as femininity. As one Naval Officer quoted in the Time story related, “she acted like a man, and she is now being punished for it.” Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins should have taught us that expecting those we perceive women to be “like women” and punishing them when they are not is unacceptable in any professional environment.

I don’t know about Holly Graf’s leadership skills – if many of the stories are to be believed, there were serious problems with the way she ran her command. But the stories about her profanity, verbal abuse, and condescension are not unique in stories of military leadership. Perhaps it is time to start asking more questions about the gendered nature of military leadership, and why it took a woman’s hypermasculinity to get us talking about it.

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Unlawful Combatants at the CIA

I’ve been thinking this weekend about Gary Solis’ WAPO op-ed of Friday about CIA drone pilots being unlawful combatants – unlike drone pilots serving in the US armed forces who may arguably be violating the laws of war but at least have the right under international law to engage in combat:

In terms of international armed conflict, those CIA agents are, unlike their military counterparts but like the fighters they target, unlawful combatants. No less than their insurgent targets, they are fighters without uniforms or insignia, directly participating in hostilities, employing armed force contrary to the laws and customs of war. Even if they are sitting in Langley, the CIA pilots are civilians violating the requirement of distinction, a core concept of armed conflict, as they directly participate in hostilities.

Moreover, CIA civilian personnel who repeatedly and directly participate in hostilities may have what recent guidance from the International Committee of the Red Cross terms “a continuous combat function.” That status, the ICRC guidance says, makes them legitimate targets whenever and wherever they may be found, including Langley.

I agree with his first point, but as I’ve explained at more length elsewhere, I think he is misreading the meaning of “continuous combat function.” And in so doing Solis makes a common conceptual error: conflating the lawfulness of combatancy with the legitimacy of targets.

Here’s the relevant part of the ICRC’s interpretative guidance on the issue of distinguishing civilians from combatants (that is, lawful v. unlawful targets) in asymmetric wars:

While members of organized armed groups belonging to a party to the conflict lose protection against direct attack for the duration of their membership (i.e., for as long as they assume a continuous combat function), civilians lose protection against direct attack for the duration of each specific act amounting to direct participation in hostilities. This includes any preparations and geographical deployments or withdrawals constituting an integral part of a specific hostile act.

In other words, the concept of “continuous combat function” only applies to members of the armed forces, never to civilians. You can shell a military encampment at night while the GIs are asleep (not participating in hostilities) and it’s not a war crime, because they remain military targets as long as they’re deployed in a conflict zone. However you cannot legitimately target a “civilian” – however guilty s/he may be of participating in hostilities at times – when s/he is not currently doing so. Or at least, so say the existing laws of war.

In correctly pointing out that there are unlawful combatants on both sides in the war on terror, Solis is implicitly suggesting that this makes those combatants – on both sides of the war – legitimate targets, a position that justifies military drone attacks on civilian terror suspects per se, rather than just when they’re engaged in hostilities. Not true.

UPDATED: A student of mine writing a humanitarian law dissertation pointed out an error in the earlier version of the post (now modified): civilians remain civilians (as opposed to combatants) even when they directly participate in hostilities.

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Rock ‘n Roll ‘n IPE


Just a shout-out to NPR Planet Money for sharing the rock ‘n roll reference in the Dodd financial reform proposal, or at least, Dodd’s summary of it. A “no escape” clause for companies seeking to evade supervision is called the Hotel California Provison. Yup, it’s right there in the text. We assume it’s referring to the line about how “you can check out any time you want…but you can never leave.” (although “we are all just prisoners here…of our own device” could also work).

Glad to know the people fighting the good fight for financial regulatory reform are totally cool folks. Now, whether they can get any bill passed is something else again.

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